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Teaching Guide

Teaching Postwar Suburbia

Rockin' the suburbs.


Suburbia used to be more utopia and less "Disturbia." Students might have a hard time believing that people could live the American dream without Rihanna, but with our help, you can convince them otherwise.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity on how the American dream was sold: 1950s advertising.
  • lessons about Levittown, the quintessential American suburb.
  • related historical resources, like info on the 1950s, the Cold War, and the Home Front during WWII.

Our teaching guide won't leave you stuck in the suburbs…not that there's anything wrong with that.

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

1. Briefly introduce Levittown, the landmark postwar suburb built on New York's Long Island, and show your students these images of the community:

2. Direct your students to this site, where they can tour Levittown and learn more about the design and production process.

3. Ask them to consider the following questions:

  • What design features were dictated by cultural considerations or aesthetics?
  • What design features were dictated by economy?
  • Where did the Levitts learn their production techniques?
  • In what sense were these houses assembled rather than built?
  • To what extent were they built by laborers rather than craftsmen?
  • Why did the living room face the rear of the house?
  • What understanding of suburban life did this reflect?
  • How did these communities affect the American landscape?
  • Did they enhance the "look" of America?
  • Is this a fair way to assess these developments?
  • Would you have bought one of these homes?

Instructions for Your Students

In the years following World War II, the Levitts applied to the housing industry the same principles of mass production that Henry Ford had earlier used to make automobiles. As a result, homeownership became far more possible for many Americans. But, many critics complained, this came with a price. Homes in places like Levittown, they said, were cookie-cutter boxes with neither character nor charm. Take a look at these images and be prepared to explore Levittown.  Is this place the embodiment of the American Dream, or a new kind of suburban nightmare?

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