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A Teacher's Guide

Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth

About the Guide

This guide is designed to enhance students' mastery of key content and skills in United States history, geography, and language arts (including drama) by studying the life and times of eminent actor Edwin Booth and his infamous brother, John Wilkes Booth. It is intended to be used in conjunction with Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth, by award-winning author James Cross Giblin, as well as with your textbook or other supplemental materials. The lessons will complement curriculum in the social studies, particularly antebellum, Gold Rush, and Civil War history and geography. The guide also includes creative and expository writing exercises and provides insight into the history of the nineteenth-century American theater. Each lesson is designed with multiple objectives in mind to make the most efficient use of teachers' time. The lessons in this guide may be used with students from upper elementary through high school, based on educators' judgments about what is most suitable to the experience level and abilities of the students in their classroom and the curriculum of their district and state.

The guide consists of six lesson plans drawn from topics investigated in Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth:
    • The Historian's Craft
    • Brothers — A Poem in Two Voices
    • Good Brother
    • Bad Brother
    • Brother versus Brother: The Human Face of the Civil War
    • Liberty in Time of War
Within each lesson plan you will find all or most of the following information:

    • Synopsis of lesson
    • National curriculum standards met by this lesson (based on Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning standards and benchmarks, www.mcrel.org)
    • Time required
    • Materials needed
    • The lesson, with lesson-starter and lesson procedures
    • Assessment rubric
    • Interdisciplinary activities
Although the study guide is designed so that the six lesson plans provide an integrated unit of studies, it is not expected that students will complete all the listed activities. Teachers may assign selected activities to their classes, allow students to choose an activity for themselves, or set up independent learning centers with the material needed for suggested activities. Also, teachers may wish to give students the opportunity to earn extra credit by completing some activities as independent work. Recognizing the time and accountability constraints facing classroom teachers, we encourage you to select and adapt the activities that best meet your students' needs and abilities, curriculum requirements, and your teaching style.

This study guide was written by Jean M. West, an education consultant in Port Orange, Florida.

Lesson Synopses

These lessons are most appropriate for high school students, grades 9–12, but may be suitable for middle school students, grades 6–8.

Lesson One: The Historian's Craft
In this introductory lesson to Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth, students will examine the challenges facing historians and biographers. Students will look at a fairy tale villain (such as the wolf from the Three Little Pigs or the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz). The class will discuss why it is important to write about history's villains while avoiding the traps of over-demonizing or over-glorifying them.

Lesson Two: Brothers — A Poem in Two Voices
Students will begin to examine the lives of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth in this lesson. Using a handout of quotations from Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth and an organizational chart, small groups will select from the quotations and organize the words of the two brothers. They will culminate the activity by using the brothers' words to create a found poem with two voices.

Lesson Three: Good Brother
In this lesson, students will begin to examine how historians and biographers work to create a full, balanced account of people of the past, in this case focusing on the problem of the "good brother" or any "hero." Students will begin by talking about "what's in a name," and brainstorming the characteristics of the stereotypical "good brother." The class will follow up with research in Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth, along with other sources, to determine how Edwin Booth compares with the stereotype of "good brother." The students will express their findings in a choice of culminating written activities.

Lesson Four: Bad Brother
In this lesson, students deal with the historian's dilemma of how to write about people in the past who have committed wicked deeds. Students will analyze a well-known cartoon, "Satan Tempting Booth to the Murder of the President," on p. 115 of Giblin's book. Then they will read Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth to try to determine when and how John Wilkes Booth, a man "who seemed so loveable and in whom all his family found a source of joy in his boyish and confiding nature," turned into "a villain" (Edwin Booth, quoted on p. 5).

Lesson Five: Brother versus Brother: The Human Face of the Civil War
The rift between Edwin and his younger brother John was repeated between hundreds of brothers, neighbors, and friends during the Civil War. Because pupils today are nearly one hundred-fifty years removed from the participants, they will research a human aspect of the war and prepare a written report, skit, project board, or computer slide-show about their findings.

Lesson Six: Liberty in Time of War
John Wilkes Booth chafed at the limits on his ability to express his political opinion due to the authorities and public opinion; the Lincoln conspirators were tried by a military tribunal. Students will research what happens to personal liberties when the nation is threatened by investigating how treasonous behavior was handled by the U.S. government during the Civil War, the Red Scare, World War II, and the McCarthy Era and then present their findings in a panel report.

Additional Resources
A list of additional resources relevant to the topics presented in this guide

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