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Teaching Guide

Teaching the Spanish-American War

More isms than you can count.

GO TO STUDENT LEARNING GUIDE

The Spanish-American War was between the Spanish and the Americans—that's the easy part. If you want your students to dig a little deeper—and you do—into issues like racism, colonialism, yellow journalism, and other -isms, we've got the tools you need.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing historical documents (and we don't mean a first-edition Harry Potter) and creating a timeline of events, among loads of other activities.
  • essay questions to put the conflict into context.
  • modern resources showing elements of the war that are still raging today.

With all this material in their brains, your students will be able to ace a few Jeopardy! categories someday, too.

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: It was Theodore Roosevelt who advised that when it came to foreign policy, the U.S. should "speak softly and carry a big stick." But his foreign policy advice didn't end there. He also thought that nations who wielded the big sticks had certain responsibilities.

In this exercise, your students will evaluate Theodore Roosevelt's description of America's responsibilities in the Philippines and his ideas about the obligations of "great and high-spirited nations." They'll examine a quote from Roosevelt, discuss it in small groups, reflect on their discussions in writing, and share their ideas with the rest of the class.

Length of Lesson: One class period.

Materials Needed: 

  • The quote provided in Step One, below
  • Writing materials

Step One: Show your students the quote below. Project it and read it aloud while students follow along on their own devices or with a hard copy.

"The guns that thundered off Manila and Santiago left us echoes of glory, but they also left us a legacy of duty. If we drove out a medieval tyranny only to make room for savage anarchy we had better not have begun the task at all. It is worse than idle to say that we have no duty to perform, and can leave to their fates the islands we have conquered. Such a course would be the course of infamy. It would be followed at once by utter chaos in the wretched islands themselves. Some stronger manlier power would have to step in and do the work, and we would have shown ourselves weaklings, unable to carry to successful completion the labors that great and high-spirited nations are eager to undertake."
– Theodore Roosevelt, 1899

Step Two: Define any words or phrases that are unfamiliar (medieval tyranny? savage anarchy? infamy?) and then divide students into small groups.

Step Three: Have students discuss the following questions within their groups. Encourage them to take notes so they'll be ready to report out to the class.

  1. How, according to Roosevelt, did the United States acquire responsibilities in the Philippines?
  2. If the U.S. does not control the island, what will happen? 
  3. What does this imply about the people of the Philippines?
  4. What sort of nation does Roosevelt want the United States to be?
  5. What are the qualities and responsibilities of "great and high-spirited nations?"

Step Four: Bring the class back together and give the small groups a chance to share their ideas. Be sure to go back through the questions, placing emphasis on creating a class summary of the kind of nation Roosevelt wanted the U.S. to be.

Step Five: Give students 5-10 minutes to freewrite in response to the following question.

Do you agree with Roosevelt's idea of the kind of nation the U.S. should be? Why or why not?

Psst! Freewriting means writing with no worries about grammar or spelling. The idea is just to get their thoughts down on paper to help them process and prep them for further discussion.

Step Six: Bring the class back together again and give students a chance to share some the ideas from their freewrites. Follow up by asking them the questions below.

1. Do some nations have international responsibilities to...

  • Impose order?
  • Build up economies?
  • Provide education?
  • Spread religion? "Civilization?"
  • Improve health?

2. If yes, who? And how? And if no, why not?

3. How obligatory are these responsibilities?

  • What if countries resist assistance?
  • How far should a "manly" nation go in order to save a "wretched" nation from chaos?

Step Seven: Finally, encourage students to make connections between Roosevelt's approach to foreign policy and the present day U.S. approach to foreign policy. You can use the questions below to help guide your discussion if you wish. Or... you can assign the questions below for homework and have your students write a brief essay addressing one or more of them.

  1. Have their been recent interactions with foreign countries in which the U.S. could be characterized as having carried a big stick? Point out one or more such interaction and explain how the big stick analogy applies.
  2. Think of a contemporary instance in which the U.S. could be seen as a conqueror of sorts. Did the U.S. follow through and fulfill the responsibilities Roosevelt implies are incumbent upon "great and high spirited nations"? Explain your answer by citing examples of how the U.S. did—or did not—follow through. 

Instructions for Your Students

It was Theodore Roosevelt who advised that when it came to foreign policy, the U.S. should "speak softly and carry a big stick." (Which actually sounds like great advice for the characters in a horror movie. Along with, "Don't go into the basement alone.")

But Roosevelt's foreign policy advice didn't end there. (And the characters in horror movies always go into the basement alone.) 

Roosevelt took things one step further by implying that the nations who wielded the big sticks had certain responsibilities.

In this exercise, you'll examine Roosevelt's view of the duties of conquerors and see if you agree. You'll also see whether or not the U.S. has been following—or ignoring—Roosevelt's advice for the past 100+ years. 

Step One: Take a look at the quote below. 

"The guns that thundered off Manila and Santiago left us echoes of glory, but they also left us a legacy of duty. If we drove out a medieval tyranny only to make room for savage anarchy we had better not have begun the task at all. It is worse than idle to say that we have no duty to perform, and can leave to their fates the islands we have conquered. Such a course would be the course of infamy. It would be followed at once by utter chaos in the wretched islands themselves. Some stronger manlier power would have to step in and do the work, and we would have shown ourselves weaklings, unable to carry to successful completion the labors that great and high-spirited nations are eager to undertake."
– Theodore Roosevelt, 1899

Step Two: Spend a few minutes helping your teacher and classmates to define any unfamiliar words or phrases (medieval tyranny? savage anarchy? infamy?) and then work with your teacher to divide the class into small groups.

Step Three: Discuss the following questions within your small group. Be sure to take notes as you talk so you'll be ready to report out to the class.

  1. How, according to Roosevelt, did the United States acquire responsibilities in the Philippines?
  2. If the U.S. does not control the island, what will happen? 
  3. What does this imply about the people of the Philippines?
  4. What sort of nation does Roosevelt want the United States to be?
  5. What are the qualities and responsibilities of "great and high-spirited nations?"

Step Four: Get back together with the rest of the class and share some of the ideas discussed in your small group. By the end of this discussion, you should have a pretty solid idea of the kind of nation Roosevelt wanted the U.S. to be.

Step Five: Take 5-10 minutes to freewrite in response to the following question.

Do you agree with Roosevelt's idea of the kind of nation the U.S. should be? Why or why not?

Psst! Freewriting means writing with no worries about grammar or spelling. The idea is just to get your thoughts down on paper to help you process and prep you for further discussion. 

Step Six: Back to the big group again. Share some the ideas from your freewrite and listen to what others have to say. Follow up by discussing the questions below with your teacher and classmates.

1. Do some nations have international responsibilities to...

  • Impose order?
  • Build up economies?
  • Provide education?
  • Spread religion? "Civilization?"
  • Improve health?

2. If yes, who? And how? And if no, why not?

3. How obligatory are these responsibilities?

  • What if countries resist assistance?
  • How far should a "manly" nation go in order to save a "wretched" nation from chaos?

Step Seven: Now let's see if we can make some connections between Roosevelt's approach to foreign policy and the present day U.S. approach to foreign policy. The questions below can be used to help guide a class discussion. Or... your teacher may assign the questions below for homework and have you write a brief essay addressing one or more of them.

  1. Have their been recent interactions with foreign countries in which the U.S. could be characterized as having carried a big stick? Point out one or more such interaction and explain how the big stick analogy applies.
  2. Think of a contemporary instance in which the U.S. could be seen as a conqueror of sorts. Did the U.S. follow through and fulfill the responsibilities Roosevelt implies are incumbent upon "great and high spirited nations"? Explain your answer by citing examples of how the U.S. did—or did not—follow through. 

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR?

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