The Power of Journals: Going Beyond the Text

Grade: 8

Subjects: Social Studies, English Language Arts

Concepts: Journaling, understanding frame of reference/bias, colonial period captivity phenomenon, Native American relations

Skills: Reading comprehension, vocabulary, small and large group discussion, historical context

Materials: Handouts, Vocabulary and Historical Terms, Quiz

Time: 2 class periods (set up activity is 4 days prior)

Focus Questions

  • What can we learn about captivities during the colonial period that are not in the text?
  • What is the reliability of personal accounts?
  • What does it mean to express yourself through journal writing?

Instructional Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Define vocabulary and historical terms
  • Identify reasons for Native American captivities of Europeans during the Colonial Period
  • Empathize with European and Native American cultures of the 18th century
  • Construct their own journal and make a personal connection to the past
  • Explain the value and pitfalls of using a journal as a historical source

Rationale and Background
Connection to the NH Framework Proficiencies

Introductory Activity

  1. Ask students to keep a journal of their activities for four days. Students should list their activities from the time they arise until bedtime. Ask them to keep a record of what they think and feel along with what they eat and do.
  2. After four days, ask students to hand in their journals.
  3. Conduct a whole class discussion, asking:
    • How often did you write?
    • Did you include absolutely everything? If not, what kinds of things did you leave out?
    • Would someone close to you see the events of your day differently? How?
    • What does your thoughts and feeling show about your perspective on life?
    • How is your perspective different from your classmate or teacher?
    • Years from now, if someone “discovered” your journal, would it tell them everything they needed to know about your life today? Why or why not?
    • Why do historians need to be alert when using a journal to learn about a historical time period?

Transition to the lesson, by telling students they are going to look deeper into the answer of the last question. Tell them the goal of the lesson is to show the unique role of historical journals in helping students understand historical figures and time periods.

Instructional Resources or Materials

Instructional Procedure

  1. Distribute the Handout: Selections from: a Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Johnson along with the list of Vocabulary and Historical Terms for students to use as a resource while reading.
  2. Ask for a student volunteer to read the Introduction while the rest of the class follows along.
  3. Have students read the rest of the selections on their own, using the vocabulary list as a resource. Put any other unknown vocabulary words on the board with their definitions.
  4. When everyone has finished, have students get into groups of three. For accountability, ask that each group member choose a role as: Leader, Speaker and Quizzer.
    • The leader facilitates the answering of the questions among group members.
    • The speaker shares the group’s responses with the whole class.
    • The quizzer tests the team’s knowledge of the vocabulary terms.
  5. Once all the groups have had time to answer the questions and review the vocabulary, lead a whole class discussion about the questions and journal in general. Go over the answers integrating information on how historians would use this primary source to construct a picture of Susanna Johnson’s experience and colonial life at that time. Wrap up discussion questions may include:
    • What did you learn about the value of journals?
    • What new insights do you have of the Colonial Period?
    • What was Susanna Johnson’s perspective as shown by her writing?
    • If historians discovered a Native American journal about Susanna Johnson’s captivity, what might it have said? Would it be similar or very different than Mrs. Johnson’s version? Why?
    • What precautions (in terms of author bias etc.) must students take when reading historical journals?


  • Students will keep a journal of their thoughts and activities over a four day period
  • Students will complete the questions at the end of the handout
  • Students will take a Quiz on Vocabulary and Historical Terms
  • Students will participate in small group and whole class discussions

Curriculum Modifications/Extension