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Reading personal items:
What items say about their owners

Introduction
Ordinary items contain a wealth of details about our lives. Items saved for many years suggest strong attachments - not always in a happy sense - to the items and perhaps to the place and time the items bring to mind. For this activity, students examine an image of a personal item and interpret its use and meaning to its current and previous owners.

Standards

Students will:

  • Demonstrate the ability to examine history from the perspectives of the participants (SS Benchmark I-D Performance Standard 7:2).
  • Describe primary and secondary sources and their uses in research (SS Benchmark I-D; 9-12:3).

Outcomes
Students will:
  • Examine an item from the collection
  • Evaluate the details of that item for historical clues about the item's use and its owner
  • Create a vision of everyday life in prison camps from the items POWs brought home
Materials
Artifact packet from Curriculum Resources, First Impression lesson
Reading Items
Additional resources
National Archives (www.archives.gov/)
Library of Congress American Memory Project (http://memory.loc.gov/)
Procedure 

  1. Print Reading Items worksheet, one for each group of students (2-4 students per group).
  2. Select a personal item from Battle for Bataan Artifacts to demonstrate exercise (use the personal items artifacts from the First Impressions lesson).
  3. Display demonstration photograph via overhead projector or other projection method. Model how to complete the worksheet, facilitating responses from students.
  4. Divide students into groups and distribute worksheets. Have students examine an item and describe the story it tells by completing the first impressions and second look portion of the worksheet.
  5. Students look for details that suggest aspects of life as a POW. (Details section of the worksheet).
  6. Students present their conclusions about their items to the class. Discuss if the pictures of POW life are consistent from the items examined.

Assessment
Students will be assessed with the group presentation rubric.

Presentation
Invite each group to present their inferred facts and discuss how these deductions led to an understanding of the life of a Prisoner of War (POW). Discuss as a class how much of these inferred facts are historically accurate.

Extension
Owner's perspective. Conduct an imaginary interview with the original owner of the artifact. Ask the owner: How the object was used? What can you tell us about the wear marks on the item? Or why aren't there any wear marks? Why did he or she save the item? Does it seem peculiar that it was saved for so many years? Use these answers to create a label for a museum display.

What represents you? Write about an object you own or use that most represents you. What would this object tell people 60 or 70 years from now about your life? How would this represent your values and your community?