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Teaching Guide

Teaching Great Inventions of the Gilded Age



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

Transcendentalist philosopher argued that more communication was not necessarily better communication. People would be wiser to explore nature and themselves in pursuit of truth rather than engage in meaningless superficial talk. In this exercise your students will consider the applicability of Thoreau's philosophy in light of all of the communications technologies developed over the past 150 years.

1. Share this 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?

Instructions for Your Students

Telegraphs, telephones, cells, email, text messaging, twitter—the telegraph was just the first in a series technological developments improving communication. But have they actually improved communication? Read this quote from nineteenth-century philosopher Henry David Thoreau and apply it to all of the new communication tools we now possess. Do these improve or clutter communication?

"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


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

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