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One-Room School Lessons - Lesson Plan

Background Notes

Henry R. Pattengill (1852-1918) published the Michigan School Moderator from 1884 until his death in 1918. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he was elected Michigan's Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1892 and re-elected in 1894. The Michigan School Moderator provided teachers with the latest education-related news, suggestions for lessons, advertisements for school-related products and more. One recurring feature in the Moderator was a report on "morning exercises" from various schools around the state. These reports provide a glimpse into the type of work done in Michigan classrooms during the late 19th century.


  • Students will be able to perform a simple recitation.
  • Students will be able to discuss the differences—and similarities—in education in the late 19th century, pioneer days and today.

Michigan Social Studies Curriculum Content Standards

This lesson presents an opportunity to address, in part, these standards:

  • SOC.I.2. Comprehending the Past. All students will understand narratives about major eras of American and world history by identifying the people involved, describing the setting, and sequencing the events.
  • SOC.I.3. Analyzing and Interpreting the Past. All students will reconstruct the past by comparing interpretations written by others from a variety of perspectives and creating narratives from evidence.

Materials Needed


Although "Growing Up in Michigan" portrays life at the end of the 19th century, most students will associate one-room schools with pioneer or settlement days. Visit a one-room school that shows pioneer education in Michigan if there is one in your area. Learn all you can about school during settlement days. Then encourage students to ask parents and grandparents about what they know about one-room schools. They should discover that the schools were still used well into the 20th century in rural or remote areas. Some are still used as families look for alternate types of educational opportunities.

Learn more about the late 19th century. Using the encyclopedia, the Internet and other resources, look up information about the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution. Determine ways in which schooling might have changed from settlement days to these more "modern" times.

Plan Victorian-era school lessons. For ideas and a model, see the Lessons from the Michigan School Moderator, 1884-85. According to the Michigan School Moderator, schools often opened the day with exercises that included singing; brief readings by the teacher and the pupils, interesting facts about notable men and women, consideration of current events, and "Golden Thoughts" that had been written on the chalkboard and memorized. Include all these elements in your lessons.

If possible, select some lessons from the McGuffey Eclectic Readers. Ahead of time, assign some recitations for performance. Authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were widely read in the schools. You will find their poems in the McGuffey Eclectic Readers and in many anthologies. Plan an arithmetic lesson from Ray's Arithmetic or other math text.

Include a lesson in penmanship. Penmanship was an important subject of study. While pupils in the youngest grades might have still used slates to practice their letters, use of pencils and pencil tablets in all grades was common. Older students learned Spencerian script which they practiced with steel-nibbed pens dipped into ink wells.

Questions for Discussion or Research

  1. Who was Henry R. Pattengill? What did he mean to Michigan?
  2. What is Spencerian Script? Who was Spencer? Why did he design the letter style that bears his name?
  3. Had you realized that designers develop the various styles of printing and writing that you see? Collect samples from magazines and newspapers for a display.
  4. Look up and discuss the meaning of these terms: Industrial Revolution (Industrial Age), Victorian Age.

At the Museum

  • Visit these exhibits and compare the education-related information you find: Settlement and Growing Up in Michigan, 1880-1895.
  • Listen to the "morning exercises" in the classroom (push-button audio program). Memorize the "Golden Thought for the Day" that you hear in this recitation: "Do not look for wrong or evil, You will find them if you do; As you measure for your neighbor, He will measure back to you" (Alice Carey).


  • Exercises: a program or activities done as part of a regular academic routine, including recitations of a secular or religious nature, songs, pledge to the flag, etc.
  • Industrial Revolution/Industrial Age: Years of social and economic change after the Industrial Revolution when manufacturing shifted from the making of things by hand to the manufacture of goods in factories.
  • Nib: A pen point Script: Handwriting, as distinguished from printing
  • Victorian Age: The period of the reign of Queen Victoria of England (1837-1901)


  • Cobblestone: The History Magazine for Young People. See these issues: America at Work: The Industrial Revolution (9/81, Vol. 2, No. 9); Old-time Schools in America (11/81, Vol. 2, No. 11); American Clothing; Then and Now (10/85, Vol. 6, No. 10); Toys of the Past (12/86, Vol. 7, No. 12). For subscription and back copy information, see
  • Freeman, John Crosby (1991). Victorian Style. NY: Crescent Books.
  • Gulliford, Andrew (1984). America's Country Schools. Washington, DC: The Preservation Press.
  • Lindberg, Stanley W. (1976) The Annotated McGuffey: Selections from the McGuffey Eclectic Readers, 1836-1920. NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.
  • McGuffey, William Holmes (1920). McGuffey Eclectic Readers (Revised). NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
  • Ray, Joseph (1877). Ray's New Intellectual Arithmetic. N.p.: Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. (Reprinted in 1985 by and available from Mott Media, Inc., 1000 East Huron St., Milford, MI 48042)
  • Ray, Joseph (1877). Ray's New Practical Arithmetic. N.p.: Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. (Reprinted in 1985 by and available from Mott Media, Inc., 1000 East Huron St., Milford, MI 48042)
  • Rosenberg, S. H. (Ed.) (1979). Rural America A Century Ago. St. Joseph, MI: American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
  • Schlereth, Thomas J. (1991). Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915. NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • Westerhoff, III John H. (1978). McGuffey and His Readers: Piety, Morality, and Education in Nineteenth-Century America. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • VIDEO: Learning to Write Spencerian Script with Michael Sull (55 minutes). Purchase from Lettering Design Group, 5830 Nall Avenue, Suite 2, Mission, KS 66202. (

Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 08/09/2010

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