The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere: Literature v. History

by Tim Bailey

Unit Overview

This unit is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These units were developed to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical and literary significance. Through this step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Over the course of three lessons the students will compare and contrast two different versions of one of the most iconic events in American history: the midnight ride of Paul Revere. The comparison will be made between the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a description of the event written by Paul Revere himself. Students will use textual evidence from these two sources to draw their conclusions and write an argumentative essay.

Lesson 1

Objective

The students will listen to a reading of the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” written in 1860 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Using a graphic organizer and the text of the poem, they will analyze both the meaning of the poem and the story that it is telling. Student understanding of the text will be determined during classroom discussion and by examining the graphic organizer completed by the students.

Introduction

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of the most popular poets in American history. In 1860, as the American Civil War loomed on the horizon, Longfellow wrote a poem telling the story of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, eighty-five years after the event. Longfellow had set out to write a poem that would inspire a feeling of patriotism and unity as the United States was tearing itself apart. He sought to show Paul Revere’s bravery and independence. What he created was a folk hero. In the years following its publication in The Atlantic Monthly, Longfellow’s poem began to be taken as historical fact. Textbooks began to use the poem as the basis for teaching what had actually happened during the night of April 18–19, 1775.

Materials

Procedure

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lessons individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. Read the poem aloud to the students (there are also several dramatic readings available online).
  3. Hand out the abridged text of “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Make certain that students understand that the original text has been abridged for this lesson.
  4. The teacher then “share reads” the poem with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  5. Hand out the Graphic Organizer: “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Students will look at the chunks of text from the poem and determine which words or phrases are the most important; they will copy those words and phrases into the box on the right of the chart. After they have determined what is most important they will summarize the text in their own words.
  6. Students can brainstorm as partners or small groups but must complete their own organizer in order to complete the assignment. Remember to emphasize that they are to first use the author’s own words to determine what is important in the text and then to summarize what it means to them.
  7. Class discussion: Have groups or individual students share their summaries and compare them with other groups’.

Lesson 2

Objective

The students will read a letter written by Paul Revere in which he describes the events surrounding his famous midnight ride on April 18, 1775. Using the text of the letter and a graphic organizer they will analyze one of the most iconic moments in American history as told by the one person who would know best what actually happened. Student understanding of the text will be determined during classroom discussion and by examining the graphic organizer completed by the students.

Introduction

Paul Revere provided three accounts of his ride on April 18, 1775. His first two accounts, a draft and a corrected copy of a deposition, both dated 1775, were made at the request of the Massachusetts Provisional Congress. These depositions, taken from all eyewitnesses to the skirmish on Lexington Green, were compiled in the hopes of obtaining proof that the British had fired the first shot.

Though written twenty-three years after the event, the most complete account of the ride is Paul Revere’s letter to Jeremy Belknap, Corresponding Secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society, dated 1798.

Materials

Procedure

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lessons individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. Hand out the Graphic Organizer: Paul Revere’s Letter. Make certain that students understand that the original text has been abridged for this lesson.
  3. The teacher then “share reads” the letter with the students.
  4. Students will look at the chunks of text from the letter in the graphic organizer and determine which words or phrases are the most important in that text; they will copy those words and phrases into the box on the right of the chart. After they have determined what is most important, they will summarize the text in their own words.
  5. Students can brainstorm as partners or small groups but must complete their own organizer in order to complete the assignment.
  6. Class discussion: Have groups or individual students share their summaries and compare them with other groups’.

Lesson 3

Objective

The students will compare and contrast the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” with a letter written by Paul Revere in which he reflects upon the events that occurred that April night in 1775. The students will analyze the similarities and the differences between the poem and the primary source document. The students will then write a short essay arguing the validity of the poem as a reliable source of historical information.

Introduction

For many years the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has been used to teach what happened in the early morning hours of the first day of the American Revolution. Paul Revere himself wrote letters in which he described, in great detail, exactly what happened that night and in the first hours of morning. How reliable is the poem when compared to the writings of the man who was actually there?

Materials

Procedure

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the graphic organizer portion of the lesson individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students. However, each student is responsible for writing his or her own essay.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. The students should have the two completed assignments from lessons 1 and 2. They will be referencing them to fill out today’s graphic organizer.
  3. The students will complete the Graphic Organizer: Compare and Contrast. Students should use exact wording from the two texts, both the poem and the letter, as they draw their comparisons. This will give them better textual evidence when they write their essay.
  4. The students will write an argumentative essay that answers the question “Is Longfellow’s poem a reliable source of information about this event?” The students must use textual evidence from both the poem and the letter to make their arguments.

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