Integrating Visual and Written Sources of Information (Common Core Reading Standard RH 7): An Activity on the Marshall Plan

Originally posted on November 29, 2012 by Shennan Hutton

The teacher leaders who are designing lessons for our History Blueprint Cold War unit have sent in the first drafts of their lessons for our review. I want to share an activity designed by Gena Arriola-Salas for Lesson 1, The Causes of the Cold War. It supports Common Core Reading Standard for Literacy in History/Social Studies RH7: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. The historical investigation question of the lesson is: “How did geostrategic interests coincide with and /or override ideological aims in determining the policies of the US and the USSR?”

Gena’s activity has students read an excerpt from a speech by Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the author of the Marshall Plan, given in 1947. Focusing on the devastation of the European countries after World War II, the excerpt provided a rationale for the Marshall Plan by directly connecting the economic problems of those nations to the fate of the world economy. As Marshall said, “Thus a very serious situation is rapidly developing which bodes no good for the world. The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down.” What Marshall did NOT say was that the U.S. also wanted to prevent those countries from turning to communism. 

Nevertheless, those who heard the speech, and indeed Stalin in the Kremlin, understood that “good for the world” meant a capitalist world economy. Americans also understood that the Marshall Plan was intended to support Truman’s policy of containment, as the cartoon drawn by Edwin Marcus makes clear. The Soviets did not allow their client states in Eastern Europe to accept Marshall Plan funds. 

First, the activity has students read the speech excerpt and identify the referrers (that is, identify the person or thing to which each pronoun refers.) Gena also breaks up the text into 7 smaller blocks and guides students’ comprehension by posing a content question for each. This literacy activity (supporting Common Core Reading Standards RH2 and RH4) serves two purposes: 1) It slows student readers down and focuses their attention on critical details that they might miss in skimming; and 2) it helps English Learners and students who read below grade level to understand the text. [Literacy Strategy 2 Referrers Lesson.] 

After students read the text, they analyze the Edwin Marcus cartoon and answer these questions: 

1. Who is the bear representing? Why does the bear look so menacing?

2. Why does the man representing Western Europe look so scared? 

3. Look back at the Marshall Plan speech and find evidence in the speech that shows the urgency in getting the plan approved.

At the end of the analysis, the teacher should return to the historical investigation question of the lesson: How did geostrategic interests coincide with and /or override ideological aims in determining the policies of the US and the USSR?

The teacher might ask the students: What do these sources reveal about geostrategic interests? What do these sources reveal about ideological aims? Did they coincide or did one override the other? What Why didn’t Marshall directly state something about communism? How would the Soviets react to this plan? The teacher should have students cite evidence from the text or the cartoon to support their answers. 

In the coming weeks, I’ll share more from the Cold War unit lessons as they develop.

George C. Marshall, photographer unknown, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Accession number: 2000-5. (Nov. 27, 2012).
Edwin Marcus, “While the shadow lengthens,” published in the New York Times on March 14th, 1948. Used by permission of the Marcus family.