Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Introduction to Mr. John Brown
Mary Myers
American History
Time Frame:
2 Class Sessions
Civil War

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • Think/pair/share
  • Individual thinking/observations/writing
  • Brainstorming/making observations of photos/mural
  • Active timeline
  • Ticket out the door
  • Students will read, write, speak, listen



  • This lesson would be used as an introduction to John Brown and his role in Kansas History. The 7th grade state standards are listed below but John Brown is a pivotal character in Kansas. The state of Kansas wants us to explicitly teach about John Brown and the events leading up to him and what happened due to his actions in Kansas.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • K) describes the role of important individuals during the territorial period (e.g., Charles Robinson, James Lane, John Brown, Clarina Nichols, Samuel Jones, David Atchison, Andrew H. Reeder).
  • (A) analyzes the importance of Bleeding Kansas to the rest of the United States in the years leading up to the Civil War (e.g., national media attention, caning of Senator Charles Sumner, Emigrant Aid Societies, Beecher Bible and Rifle Colony, poems of John Greenleaf Whittier, John Brown).

Examines different types of primary sources in Kansas history

  • and analyzes them in terms of credibility, purpose, and point of view (e.g., census records, diaries, photographs, letters, government documents).
  • uses at least three primary sources to interpret the impact of a person or event from Kansas history to develop an historical narrative.
  • compares contrasting descriptions of the same event in Kansas history to understand how people differ in their interpretations of historical events.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Classroom textbook  http://www.kshs.org/p/the-kansas-journey/14883

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Photos of John Brown: www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2954.html
  • Mural of John Brown by John Steuart Curry

Full description of activity or assignment.

Students will work alone to examine and make observations about the Mural of John Brown in quarter sections of the print. The learner will list all observations for 2 minutes per quarter piece.


Students will work in small groups and share what they saw and answer the question as a group:

What is really happening in this photo?


The groups will share aloud to me and I will write down those observations. We will discuss the emotions in the painting and what we feel it is saying about John Brown and his character.


We will read the 2 pages from our textbook that are specifically about John Brown and completed a FRAME about him and his life.


The students will have baggies of events of the section that have cut sentence strips in them. The students will be paired to piece the events (make a sentence strip timeline) back together in time order on their desks. This activity requires them to move, think, speak.


After making sure the students have the events in proper order, I want each student to draw 6 small pictures (cartoon timeline) to solidify the events in their minds about the ordered events.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:


Then, I want to re-visit the photo that we started with and answer the question:

What does this photo say about the man who is John Brown? What are is the painter trying to say about John Brown?


I will give the kids a sentence strip (ticket out the door) to answer this question on and this will be how I look at what they think about John Brown.