Curricular Unit Information

Unit Title: Building East of the River
Course: DC History and Government
Grade Level: 12
Unit Length: 5 Days
Length of Class Period: 90 Minutes

Personal Stake:
Geography can have great meaning within a community.  The terms "southside" and "wrong side of the tracks" are synonymous with poverty and crime riddles areas of many American cities.

 When I first moved to DC, I was struck by how prevalent the identity of "East of the River" was in job interviews.  An assistant principal asked if I had what it took to teach "East of the River."  After teaching in the community of Congress Heights for a year, I can say with certinity that there is something to that particular identity.

This Unit is an exploration of the construction of the identity of "East of the River."  It is an attempt to survey what has been done to bridge the Anacostia (or Eastern Branch) River from the founding of the City of Washington to today. 

Unit Topic:
Students will use this unit to explore the topics of construction of community identity throughout the history of the city.  They will do this through analysis of primary sources, including maps and newspaper articles from the past 212 years.  Not only will they develop reserach skills, but they will also use several primary and scondary sources to evaluate attempts to bridge the natural divide of the Anacostia River.

DCPS Content and Skills Standards:

12.DC.7:  Students describe the effect the Civil War had on life in Washington, DC, and they explain the effects of Compensated Emancipation adn the Emancipation Proclamation on the city.

12.DC.7.5:  Explain how the city responded to the problems that accompanied the sudden surge of population (e.g., soldiers and escaping slaves). 

Common Core Standards (connections):

Reading Standards for Literacy in history/Social Studies 6-12


1) Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

3) Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

6) Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same histoical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.

7) Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

9) Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources. 

Methods of Inquiry:

Students' primary mode of inquiry will be through analyzing primary documents.  Using graphic organizers, they will contextualize these sources in order to evaluate the presence of the Anacostia River in the development of community identity.

Students will also read newspaper articles and opinion pieces from the past two centuries in order to gain a better understanding of how idenitty has not been static over that time period. 


Students should emerge from this unit with the skills to identify and analyze human-environment interaction and how that interaction is often influenced by political and social forces of human-human interaction.  They should have a nascent understanding of the way community and landscape shape individual identity.  This lesson will then encourage them to look outside local neughborhoods and identify larger patterns in the soci0-economic history of the District of Columbia.

Essential Questions:

How has the presence of the Anacostia River influenced settlement "East of the River"?

  1. What efforts have been made to physically connect these two parts of the city?
  2. Who has tried to connect them?
  3. How did the Civil War and emancipation influence the growth of the area "East of the River'? 
Assessment of Student Learning:

Diagnostic Assessment:

After discussing the various roles of water in both history and their daily lives, students will complete a quick-write in which they discuss the effects of the presence of the Anacostia River on their lives East of the River. 

Formative Assessment:

At the end of each lesson, students will return to the essential questions for that lesson, which are connected to the essential questions for the unit.  They will be asked to complete a short assignment that evaluates a selection of primary documents.  Each day's assignment will conclude with an abbreviated version of the possible projects for the summative assessment.

Informally, they will be required to construct a historical narrative and revise it throughout the lesson. 

Summative Assessment:

 How has the presence of the Anacostia River influenced settlement "East of the River"?

Students will choose at least three pieces of evidence from guided research (articles, maps, etc.) that illustrate an answer to this essential question.  Once the evidence is selected, student will have the option to answer the question through the creation of a:

1) Brief Essay

2) Op-Ed Piece

3) Poster Display

4) PowerPoint Presentation 

All options will require students to build arguments based around the primary sources we explored.


Sources must be differentiated for students.  Generally, this can mean assigning particular soruces to students based on their learning styles and reading abilities.

For the purposes of preparing this lesson plan to be functional with my current students, many of the sources are visual in nature.  Literacy is a major obstacle, as I am sure it is in many classes.  For reading portions, the questions are designed to create pauses in the task to slow the pace and allow for more information to be processed.  This will also allow for discussion when neccessary.

The methods of inquiry should remain the same - and students will have a choice in their final product so they may be able to complete a task that speaks to their individual strengths. 

Community and Cultural Resources:

Anacostia Community Museum 

Frederick Douglass House

Library of Congress - Maps Division 

Daily Instruction:
Provide a numbered list of lesson plan titles that correspond to the lesson plans that you create.

1) Original Settlements

2) Civil War and Reconstruction

3) 20th Centruy

4) Tomorrow's Bridges

5) Project Assessment

Opening Up the Textbook

Compare the Textbook Narrative to Different Sources

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