© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
 
Teaching Guide

Teaching Great Inventions of the Gilded Age

Eureka!

GO TO STUDENT LEARNING GUIDE

Things invented during the Gilded Age: the telephone, the record player, the light bulb. Things just as important, but invented a little bit later: Shmoop and our teaching guides.

It's easy to think of all these things as facts of life, but when teaching the Gilded Age, you need to transport students back in time to when all this stuff was a novelty, not a necessity.

In this guide you will find

  • activities that transport your students to the Chicago World's Fair.
  • current events and articles that ask if we're currently in a "new" Gilded Age (The Gildedest Age?).
  • discussion questions asking students to explore the implications of these brand-spanking-new inventions.

We haven't built a time machine (yet), but this guide will do the Gilded Age justice.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 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.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: Some people insist that more is better, while others stand firm that less is more. Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau was definitely in the latter camp. 

Thoreau argued that more communication was not necessarily better communication. He believed people would be wiser to explore nature and themselves in pursuit of truth rather than engage in meaningless superficial talk. (We're guessing he wouldn't have been a fan of The Real Housewives of New York City.) 

In this exercise your students will explore the applicability of Thoreau's philosophy in light of all of the communications technologies developed over the past 150 years—everything from telephones and fax machines, to radios, television, cell phones, the Internet, email, text messages, and social media. They'll consider it all and try to decide: Is more communication better communication, or are we just cluttering up the wires (and the wi-fi) with a bunch of superficial talk?

Length of Lesson: One class period + an optional writing assignment.

Materials Needed:

  • Thoreau's quote (below in Step Three)
  • Ample chalk, dry erase, or Smart board space for brainstorming

Step One: Begin by brainstorming with your students all of the ways in which we are able to communicate in today's world. Think radio, TV, email, handwritten letters, text messages, sign language—anything and everything your students can come up with. Keep a list of all student ideas on the board. 

Step Two: Place checkmarks next to any of the methods of communication that were available during the time of Thoreau's quote (1854). 

Give students a chance to marvel at how the field of communications has changed in the last 150+ years.

Step Three: Share the following quote with your students and use it to explore the benefits of new communication tools.

"We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

The following questions may facilitate your discussion.

  • What was Thoreau suggesting?
    • About the value in extending our circles of communication?
    • About an unquestioning belief in technology?
  • How useful are all of the new communication devices?
    • Are some more useful than others?
    • Which do you use when you have something important to communicate?
  • Which do you use the most?
  • Which consumes more of your time?
    • How much time do you spend "communicating" daily?
  • What would happen to your relationships if these devices were eliminated?
    • Would they be damaged?
    • Would they improve?
    • Would you have fewer friends? Better friends?
  • Scroll through your last 20 text messages—how many of them contained "necessary" information?
    • How many added depth to your relationship with the other party?
    • If messages like these made up the entirety of your interactions with people, would you be content?
  • Would the quality of our relationships and the depth of our communication improve if we were unable to communicate with our friends and family so easily?

Step Four (Optional): If you want to take things one step further, have your students complete the following writing assignment. 

Surely, back in 1854, Thoreau could not possibly have imagined that such forms of communication would one day exist. He was railing against the telegraph, remember. How do you think he would have felt about social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr? Or about email, texting, or YouTube? 

In a brief essay (1-2 pages), write about modern communication from Thoreau's point of view. Using Thoreau's voice as much as possible, explore the use of modern forms of communication and explain whether or not more communication does, in fact, lead to better communication.

Instructions for Your Students

Some people insist that more is better, while others stand firm that less is more. Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau was definitely in the latter camp. 

Thoreau argued that more communication was not necessarily better communication. He believed people would be wiser to explore nature and themselves in pursuit of truth rather than engage in meaningless superficial talk. (We're guessing he wouldn't have been a fan of The Real Housewives of New York City.) 

Today, you'll explore the applicability of Thoreau's philosophy in light of all of the communications technologies developed over the past 150+ years—everything from telephones and fax machines, to radios, television, cell phones, the Internet, email, text messages, and social media. 

You'll consider it all and try to decide: Is more communication better communication, or are we just cluttering up the wires (and the wi-fi) with a bunch of superficial talk?

Step One: Begin by brainstorming (with your class) all of the ways in which we are able to communicate in today's world. Think radio, TV, email, handwritten letters, text messages, sign language—anything and everything your students can come up with. Someone should keep a list of everyone's ideas on the board. 

Step Two: Place checkmarks next to any of the methods of communication that were available during the time of Thoreau's quote (1854). 

Take a minute to marvel at how the field of communications has changed in the last 150+ years.

Step Three: Read the following quote and use it to discuss the benefits of new communication tools.

"We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

You can use the questions below as a guide for your discussion.

  • What was Thoreau suggesting?
    • About the value in extending our circles of communication?
    • About an unquestioning belief in technology?
  • How useful are all of the new communication devices?
    • Are some more useful than others?
    • Which do you use when you have something important to communicate?
  • Which do you use the most?
  • Which consumes more of your time?
    • How much time do you spend "communicating" daily?
  • What would happen to your relationships if these devices were eliminated?
    • Would they be damaged?
    • Would they improve?
    • Would you have fewer friends? Better friends?
  • Scroll through your last 20 text messages—how many of them contained "necessary" information?
    • How many added depth to your relationship with the other party?
    • If messages like these made up the entirety of your interactions with people, would you be content?
  • Would the quality of our relationships and the depth of our communication improve if we were unable to communicate with our friends and family so easily?

Step Four (Optional): If you want to take things one step further (and your teacher may want you to, so listen up), complete the following writing assignment. 

Surely, back in 1854, Thoreau could not possibly have imagined that such forms of communication would one day exist. He was railing against the telegraph, remember. How do you think he would have felt about social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumbr? Or about email, texting, or YouTube? 

In a brief essay (1-2 pages), write about modern communication from Thoreau's point of view. Using Thoreau's voice as much as possible, explore the use of modern forms of communication and explain whether or not more communication does, in fact, lead to better communication.

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING GREAT INVENTIONS OF THE GILDED AGE?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
back to top