I think most history teachers would agree that teaching students about the intricacies of war can be an overwhelming task. There is so much to cover and so little time to cover it. The Mexican-American War is no different. Students need to understand the political background, geography, and intentions of both countries. In order to accomplish this, I use informational text, a map activity, and an assessment.
The informational text lays the foundation for learning. It provides students with the context and background needed to understand the conflict between the two countries. First, the text identifies the causes and effects of the war. In order to ensure student comprehension and focus, it is recommended that the text be read aloud together as a class. During the reading, I like to focus on the tier-two and tier-three vocabulary terms. The new terms are printed in bold, making them easier for students to identify. As a class, we use context to discuss the meaning of the new words. Students then sketch a picture in the margin to represent the meaning. Requiring students to create a visual representation of the new word is especially important. Based on research, the effective use of visuals can improve comprehension, enhance retrieval, and increase retention. After discussing and working with the new terms, we move into the guided reading portion of the lesson. Students are instructed to:
1. Underline three things American settlers had to do to purchase land in Northern Mexico.
2. Circle the reasons Texans revolted against the Mexican government.
3. Put a square around the name of the rivers each country believed to be the southern border of Texas.
4. Place a star next to one effect of the Mexican-American War.
After completing the guided reading, students are prepared to dive deeper and apply their newly acquired knowledge of the Mexican-American War. To do so, students compose original sentences in which they correctly use the new vocabulary terms. Next, students answer text-based comprehension questions to ensure their understanding of the reading. Finally, students complete an extension activity describing how things might be different today if Mexico had won the war.
Incorporating map lessons and activities into your instruction is an essential way to encourage critical thinking, increase engagement, embrace differentiation, generate connections, and support cross-curricular learning. Incorporating a map lesson into your instruction of the Mexican-American War is a great way to reinforce and differentiate learning. The map directions require students to label and color code the following: United States, Mexico, the area in dispute, Rio Grande River, Nueces River, Pacific Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico. In order to successfully complete the map activity, students will need to utilize a reference map. Projecting a reference map for all students to view works well. Since the Mexican-American War was sparked, in part, by a dispute over geographical boundaries, the map lesson provides students with a strong point of reference when it comes to further analysis.
The short assessment ensures all students clearly understand the important aspects of the Mexican-American War. It includes three parts: vocabulary, comprehension, and a map analysis. I specifically designed the assessment to provide me with clear results that can be broken down if needed. That way, identifying the concepts that may need reteaching are clear.
The Mexican-American War lesson and assessment detailed above is designed to build upon itself. The inherent scaffolding and differentiation ensure that it is meeting the needs of all learners. Additionally, providing students with a variety of activities encourages engagement and helps to sustain focus.