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Ben Franklins 300th Birthday Bash



  • Social Studies
    --Current Events
    ----U.S. History
  • Grades

    Grades 2-up

    News Content

    A new exhibit helps us understand why Ben Franklin is such a popular figure in U.S. history.

    Anticipation Guide

    Before reading, ask students to tell what the word "great means to them. Explain that it is often said of someone that "She is a great person or "He is a great leader. But what does it take to be a great person or a great leader? What are the characteristics of a "great person? As students share their thoughts, write them on a sheet of chart paper or on the black/whiteboard.

    News Words

    Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: anniversary, convince, exhibit, propose, wealthy, and Declaration of Independence. Discuss the meanings of any of the words that might be unfamiliar to students. Then ask them to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • The governor will _____ a law to prevent people from talking on cell phones while they are driving a car. (propose)
  • She became a very _____ woman because her company was so successful. (wealthy)
  • Brendas grandparents just celebrated their 50th wedding _____. (anniversary)
  • Our familys favorite _____ at the Smithsonian museum is the one with the airplanes and space capsules. (exhibit)
  • How can we _____ the principal that we need a longer recess time after lunch? (convince)

    Read the News

    Click for a printable version of this week's news story Ben Franklins 300th Birthday Bash.

    Reading the News

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

    * Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

    * Students might first read the news story to themselves; then call on individual students to read the news aloud for the class.

    * Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write a note in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

  • The title of the current traveling exhibition -- Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World -- was chosen because so many of Franklins achievements stemmed from his life-long desire to understand and improve the world around him.
  • The exhibit includes original copies of five of Americas founding documents -- including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution -- all of which Franklin signed. Among the other artifacts are the earliest known portrait of Benjamin Franklin (1746); a printing press that Franklin actually used; the only surviving copy of Franklins first almanac; and the top portion of a lightning rod erected by Franklin.
  • Bens father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow-maker. (He used the fat of cows to make candles, soaps, and other things.) Josiahs first wife died. Ben is the child of Josiah and his second wife, Abiah. Altogether, Josiah had 20 children; Benjamin was the 15th child and youngest son.
  • Ben learned printing from his older brother, James. James created the New England Courant, the first independent newspaper in the colonies.
  • In 1733, Ben Franklin first published Poor Richard's Almanac, an almanac that brought him great notoriety. He sold about 10,000 copies of the almanac each year. The almanac included information of many types as well as popular sayings such as "A penny saved is twopence clear" (which we often hear today as "A penny saved is a penny earned") and "Fish and visitors stink in three days."
  • Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at the age of 84. About 20,000 people attended his funeral. He is buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.

    Franklin Firsts

  • Ben was well known as an author, editor, politician, printer, scientist, philosopher, publisher, inventor, civic activist, and diplomat.
  • He is remembered for his experiments with lightning, weather, and sound. He was a prolific inventor too. Among his inventions were the lightning rod, the Franklin stove (an iron furnace used to heat homes safely while using less wood), the library chair, swim fins, a long-reach device, and bifocals.
  • Franklin played the violin, the harp, and the guitar. He also composed music and invented an instrument called the armonica. (Dont confuse the armonica with a harmonica; the harmonica was invented many years later.)
  • Franklin and several others organized the first public library in Philadelphia. The librarys success encouraged the opening of libraries in other American cities.
  • As Postmaster, Ben helped set up the postal system in Philadelphia.
  • He organized the first volunteer firefighting company in America and set up the first fire insurance company too.
  • He printed a new type of currency that would be much more difficult to counterfeit than previous types.
  • In his later years, slavery became an issue in the United States and Franklin was among the first to take a stand. He wrote several essays in favor of slaverys abolition.

    Comprehension Check

    You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

    Recalling Detail

  • How many years ago was Ben Franklin born? (300 years ago)
  • What is the date -- the month and day -- of Bens actual birthday? (January 17)
  • Where is the special Ben Franklin exhibit being shown right now? (in Houston, Texas)
  • What type of work did Ben do to earn his wealth? (he was a printer)
  • Why did Ben travel to France around the time of the Revolutionary War? (to try to convince the French to help the colonists win independence from England)
  • What are some of the things that were invented by Ben Franklin? (a stove, eyeglasses, swim fins)
  • On what U.S. currency does Ben Franklins picture appear? (the $100 bill)

    Think About the News
    Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to respond again to questions you asked before reading the news story. Then discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. You might use the think-pair-share strategy with students; they can use it to discuss the characteristics and qualities of a "great American and the people they think qualify to be called "great Americans.

  • First, arrange students into pairs to discuss and list responses to the question.
  • Then merge two pairs of students together to create groups of four students. Have them discuss and add to the ideas they generated in their pairs.
  • Next, merge two groups of four students to form groups of eight students. Have students create a new combined list of ideas.
  • Finally, bring all students together for a class discussion about the characteristics of, and examples of, "great Americans.

    Think some more. Benjamin Franklin liked to study things and work on inventions. What types of devices have you thought about inventing? Explain how one of your inventions would work.

    For older students. When he was in his late twenties, Ben Franklin listed 13 virtues that he felt were an important guide for living. Have students arrange those 13 virtues from most to least important. Then you might have students use the think-pair-share strategy above to discuss and come to an agreement about the five most important virtues on the list.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Critical thinking. Ben Franklin is one of the most-often quoted people in American history. You can find a long list of Franklin quotes at The Quotable Franklin. Share some of those quotes with students. Ask students to interpret the quotes for you. Do they agree or disagree with the messages behind those quotes?

    Civics and service-learning. Ben Franklin believed in civic duty -- in doing things to better the community, and the world, where he lived. Ask students to help you list some of the things Franklin did to better his world. In order to celebrate the anniversary of Ben Franklins birth, Starbucks Coffee and the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary partnered to present a Ben Franklin Coffeehouse Challenge. That grassroots program was designed to encourage lively and informal discussions during which a diverse range of civic-minded individuals 21st century Ben Franklins -- could share their thoughts on particular local issues and, most importantly, generate potential solutions. Six of those proposals were awarded grants of $3,000 to carry them out. You can share with students some of the actual contest proposals. After sharing some of the ideas, arrange students into small groups and have them brainstorm proposals that would help make their community a better place to live.

    Language arts. This epitaph activity from the Franklin Institute shares Ben Franklins desired tombstone epitaph and challenges students to write their own. It is one of many activities from the Institutes collection of Ben Franklin Enrichment Activities.

    More cross-curriculum activities. The folks at the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary have created these Ben Across the Curriculum Activities. Click one of the grade-level links at the top of the page to find activities appropriate for your classroom.


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    National Standards

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
    NL-ENG.K-12.7 Evaluating Data
    NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
    NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    GRADES K - 4
    NSS-USH.K-4.1 Living and Working together in Families and Communities, Now and Long Ago
    NSS-USH.K-4.3 The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage
    GRADES 5 - 12
    2: Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)
    NSS-USH.5-12.3 Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2006 Education World