Lesson Plans

Extension Activities Inspired by Student Reporting from The 1857 Project

University City High School juniors (from left to right) Ian Feld, Zoe Yudovich, Reuben Thomas, Merrick Hoel, Kelis Petty and John Ruland stand with materials created as part of an exploration of The 1619 Project in their classes. Image by Christina Sneed. United States, 2020.

Resource Overview:

Gateway Journalism Review invited students at Kirkwood and University City high schools to write essays inspired by the New York Times’ 1619 project, a landmark project that evaluated the lasting impact of slavery on the United States through essays, creative writing, and photography by more than 30 contributors. The effort was part of an educational outreach effort sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The participants at Kirkwood are reporters and editors of the Kirkwood Call, where Mitch Eden is the advisor. The students at University City are in Christina Sneed’s AP English Language and Composition course.

Essays by eight students were published by the Gateway Journalism Review as part of The 1857 Project (pgs 64–77). Inspired by The 1619 project, The 1857 Project is a special issue of the Gateway Journalism Review that chronicles the history of racial injustice in St. Louis, Missouri and Illinois. It is called "The 1857 Project” because of the important events that happened in St. Louis that year,  such as the Dred Scott decision and the Lincoln-Douglas debates. This 80-page spring issue explores the history of race in the land of Dred Scott through visual and written pieces from journalists, activists, students, and educators.

The six activities below are inspired by the students’ essays. They can also be adapted to supplement students’ explorations of The 1857 Project. 

Extension Activities:

1. Create a Photo Essay that Explores Contradictions in Your Own Community

  • Read the following excerpts from The 1857 Project
    • From “Can Missouri show political correctness, equality?” by Malcia Greene, Gateway Journalism Review [PDF, page 1] 
  • Analyze the text
    • The state of Missouri has an unofficial slogan as “The Show Me State,” but the official motto is: “Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto," which means, "Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” Consider the purpose of a slogan or motto, and analyze the repetition of the command, “Show me!” throughout the student’s essay.
    • Develop a thorough response to explain the juxtaposition between what is said and what is done within this student’s community. 
    • Reflect upon similar contradictions within your community and create a photo essay to share the emotions of your story using a series of photographs.
  • Create a photo essay
    • Follow the steps below to create a photo essay that captures a contradiction that you observe in your own community:
      • It’s important to figure out what your message is and shoot with a purpose.
      • Make sure you have a wide variety of images. Photographing a large collection of images can give you a wide pool to choose from.
      • Be a ruthless photo editor. Your editing process should be blunt. If a shot is beautiful but won’t work in your essay, don’t use it. However, don’t edit any images on the same day you shoot; it’ll be easier to be objective if you let a little time pass between shooting and editing. 
      • Choose your top 10 images, making sure each photo serves your original concept for the story.
      • Ask for outside input. Get a trusted friend to help you: Give them your top 100 photos and a written description of the overall story, and let them select what they think are the top 10 photos. Compare how their choices align with the 10 photos you selected. Where did they differ? Ask your friend why they chose photos that were different than yours, making sure you listen to what they say without arguing about any of their choices; your job is to listen and understand what they saw in the images, and why they made the choices they did.
      • Make your final selections. Keeping in mind your discussion with your trusted friend, make your final selections for the 10 best images that tell your story.
      • Write captions for your final 10 images to enhance your visual narrative. If you feel like your images could use some text, add it. However, if you think the images can stand on their own, then you can present them as they are.
  • Extend your learning by reading the following supplemental texts:

2. Conduct a Research Project that Explores Redlining in your Community

  • Read the following texts from The 1857 Project:
    • From “Redlining’s Long Lasting Mark” by Rachel Finan, Gateway Journalism Review [PDF, page 1] 
    • From “Northside Knights” by Emma Lingo, Gateway Journalism Review [PDF, page 2] 
  • Analyze the texts:
    • According to the texts, what is redlining?
    • What details pop from these two excerpts? What is surprising to you?
    • According to the excerpts, how have redlining practices affected communities in St. Louis?
  • Conduct a short research project to discover the historical practices of redlining in your area. 
    • Print a map of your region. 
    • Highlight neighborhoods influenced by redlining.
    • Write a brief description of its positive and negative impacts on the creation of the neighborhoods' laws, schools, lifestyles, and systems.
    • Then, write a reflection about your thoughts and feelings regarding this information and the narrative it tells about where you live.
  • Extend your learning by reviewing the following supplemental texts:

3. Analyze and Write: Reflecting on the American Dream

  • Read the following excerpts from The 1857 Project
    • From “There’s Never Been a Proper Apology for Slavery” by Kiden-Aloyse Smith, Gateway Journalism Review [PDF, page 2] 
    • From “Re-examination of the American Dream” by Sahra Jamal, Gateway Journalism Review [PDF, page 2] 
    • From “The American Dream is Based on a Whitewashed Version of History” by Zoe Yudovich, Gateway Journalism Review [PDF, page 3] 
  • Analyze the texts:
    • These essays make statements about the American Dream from the teenage perspective. Compare and contrast the students’ writings by identifying similarities and differences in their style and craft.  
  • Reflect and write:
    • Reflect upon these authors’ assertions. Then, write a short expository essay that explains your perspective regarding the American Dream. Use details from the texts above as a part of your explanation.
  • Extend your learning by exploring the following supplemental texts:

4. Visualizing Key Details from Personal Essays by Students on Racial Injustice

  • Read the following essays from The 1857 Project:
    • “Mixed In: Life as a ‘Mixed’ Student at KHS” by Charlotte Heinrich, Gateway Journalism Review (p.67)
    • “Summer Chores Remind Me of the Hard Work of African Americans Building America” by Reuben Thomas, Gateway Journalism Review (p.74)
  • Analyze the texts:
    • Find 3 significant passages from each of the essays. Write them down.
    • Draw an image that captures your thinking about each passage that you selected. 
    • Write a caption to explain your thought process in relation to the selected passages.
  • Reflect and Write:
    • Write a short essay that describes how personal anecdotes related to race issues impact your perceptions of race. Include details from the essays above, as well as your own research to support your essay.
  • Extend your learning by exploring the following supplemental texts from The 1857 Project:
    • “White Racism Continues in the American South Because of Past Human Slavery” by Franklin McCallie, Gateway Journalism Review (p.78)
    • “Civil Rights Act Didn’t Help When Students Wanted a Burger and Fries” by Franklin McCallie, Gateway Journalism Review (p.79)

5. Evaluate Author’s Purpose and Write: Exploring Responses to “The Idea of America” by Nikole Hannah-Jones for The 1619 Project from The New York Times Magazine

  • Read and analyze each of the following essays from The 1857 Project and evaluate the authors’ effectiveness in supporting the claims they outline.  
    • “Black People Have Right to Claim America as Their Own” by Merrick Hoel, Gateway Journalism Review  (p.77)
    • “Hannah-Jones Tried to Be Passionate, Not Objective — and She Was Right” by John Ruland, Gateway Journalism Review (p.72)
    • “The Divisive Effect of The 1619 Project’s Evidence” by Ian Feld, Gateway Journalism Review (p.76)
  • Analyze the texts: 
    • Which author presents the most persuasive argument? Explain your response and provide relevant text evidence to support your assertion.
  • Write an analytical essay:
    • Write a short essay that outlines which author presents the most persuasive argument, what techniques the author used, and why you think those techniques were effective. Be sure to provide relevant text evidence to support your assertion.
  • Extend your learning by exploring the following supplemental texts:

6. Write a persuasive letter to educational leaders that argues for changing the way U.S. History is taught within schools. 

  • Read the following essays from The 1857 Project
    • “Kirkwood Redistricting Raises Questions About Race” by Maddie Meyers, Gateway Journalism Review (p.68)
    • “Ignoring True History of America’s Founding Can Hurt Later Generations” by Kelis Petty, Gateway Journalism Review (p.75)
  • Analyze the texts:
    • Which author presents the most persuasive argument? Explain your response and provide relevant textual evidence to support your assertion.
  • Write a letter to an educational leader in your community:
    • Option 1: Write a persuasive letter to one of the Kirkwood School District’s educational leaders to argue whether or not racial diversity should be a major determinant in their efforts to redistrict school boundaries. Include relevant details to support your assertion.
    • Option 2: Write a persuasive letter to educational leaders to argue for changing the way U.S. History is taught within schools. Include relevant details to support your assertion.
  • Extend your learning by reading the following supplemental text: 
Educator Notes: 

The questions and activities above can be used by students on their own, in small groups, or with their entire class. The activities are aligned with the following national ELA, Social Studies, and Historical Thinking Standards:

Key Ideas and Details:


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

Craft and Structure:


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.


Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Students engaged in included lessons and activities will draw upon skills in the following five dimensions of historical thinking:

1. Chronological Thinking

2. Historical Comprehension

3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation

4. Historical Research Capabilities

5. Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making


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