“The Big Book of ABC’s” Assignment

Below is an assignment I have given to three different U.S. 1877-Present survey courses. I present it below in its entirety, exactly as I assign it to my students. “The Big Book of ABC’s” is designed to help students do the following:

1) Work well in a group. I have found that students abhor group work, but I try to impress upon them that it is an important skill to learn. I stress that working in groups will serve them well in their personal and professional lives – whether they like it or not. The whole assignment balances the grading of the group work with the grading of their individual papers (40 and 45 points, respectively). This way, students inclined to coast through group assignments know they will be held responsible for their contributions and ambitious students have another venue in which to showcase their work.

2) Process and distill information. As you will see in the assignment, and in the student examples below, that group members need to make decisions about what content is most important and how to succinctly share that content and its relevance. Many students are surprised with the number of revisions they had to do before creating a successful “letter.” Students are giving the opportunity to justify their choices in their individual essays and argue why their choices were successful.

The examples I have provided you below are not perfect, but serve as an example of how students approach the assignment.


The Big Book of ABC’s

The students will create an American History 122 ABC book. This will be a collaborative effort not only amongst members of your group but for the class as a whole.

We are going to collectively make an ABC book explaining 26 of the most important concepts of 19th– and 20th– century America.

The format is simple. “A is for ______, B is for _________” etc.

Students must submit a list, in order of preference, of which ABC book team they would like to be part of. The student must also submit a 250 word essay (“Persuasive Paragraphs,” worth 10 points) as to why they are particularly suited to their first choice. Each team will work together to make an ABC book for their theme. The theme teams are:

1) Politics/Military: People, places, things or ideas related to the political/military life of the American republic.

2) Culture: People, places, things or ideas related to culture, society, and/or religion. This can include pop culture, youth culture and mass media.

3) The Bad and Sad: People, places, things or ideas related to the most negative aspects of American history. This can include natural disasters, atrocities and riots, serial killers and hate groups.

4) The Underrepresented: People, places, things or ideas related to groups often underrepresented in the telling of the American story. This can include (but is by no means limited to) women, ethnic, racial and religious minorities, laborers, immigrants, children, the disabled, the LGBTQ community.

5) American Technology and Business: People, places, things or ideas related to technology and/or business. This can include industrial and/or consumer technologies, business men and women, and advertising, etc..

Each team will have 7 members. All members are expected to participate! I will give you a little bit of time for the group to meet on January 18th to exchange contact info and plan a meeting. (You may also want to create a Facebook event or group and communicate that way.)

After each of the theme teams have finalized their alphabet, the team will put them into the PowerPoint template I have provided. The book is worth 40 points, all group members will get the same grade.

Once assembled, we will now share your creation with the rest of the class. As a group, we are going to vote online, letter by letter, which is the best representation of the period. 4 of the theme teams will be represented by 5 letters, and one will have 6. Voting is worth 5 points.

Individual Essay: Identify the letters for which you were most responsible and justify your choice of subject as well as the PowerPoint’s text. This paper will be 4 to 5 pages long. This essay is worth 45 points.

Grade breakdown:

Persuasive Paragraphs: 10 points

The Big Book of ABC’s: 40 points

Individual Essay: 45 points

Voting: 5 points


Examples of some of my students’ letters are below:




Culture L


Letter B




underrep L