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Teaching Guide

Teaching the 1950s

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TV might have warped everyone's perceptions of the 1950s as a time of happy days, family values, and big dinners around the dining room table every night. But…uh…none of those shows were exploring nuclear anxiety or the subversive Beat culture. That's where the good stuff is.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing the dangerous-to-children's-welfare pop culture of the time, like comic books and Elvis Presley's gyrating hips.
  • lessons creating a timeline of public anxieties.
  • discussion questions on politics, the economy, and that American life.

And much more.

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  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
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Instructions for You

Television was introduced into the American household during the 1950s. In this counterfactual exercise, your students will consider how Americans' lives and history would be different had the television never been invented.

1. Share these statistics with your students.

Number of television sets in the US in 1946: 7,000
Number of television sets in the US in 1960: 50 million
Number of television sets per household in 2009: 2.86
Percentage of households with at least one television set in 2009: 99
Average number of hours that the television is on daily in US homes: 6.75
Percentage of Americans that watch television while eating: 66
Number of hours spent by average child watching television weekly: 28
Number of hours spent by average child in school weekly: 25
Number of commercials seen annually by average child: 20,000
Number one product in advertising seen by children: fast food

2. Ask your students to brainstorm all of the ways in which Americans' private lives would be different had the television not been invented. Ask them to sort their observations into these categories:

  • Families
  • Communities
  • Health
  • Entertainment
  • Personal consumption

3. Next ask your students to brainstorm ways in which American public life would be different without the television. Sort their observations into these categories:

  • Politics
  • History

Instructions for Your Students

How many hours a week do you watch TV? How many commercials do you see in a year? A person asked this question in the 1940s would have answered, most likely, zero. But the 1950s brought television into the American household and our lives have not been the same since.

How would your life be different without the television?

How would America be different without the television?

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Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    Test Review    
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