Education:Railroads and Telecommunications


Title of lesson

Railroads and Telecommunications


This lesson is created for my high school US History students.

Time Required for completed lesson

2class periods/1 Block



Common Core State Standards



Materials Required

3 or more student computers with internet access, chalk/white board, dictionaries

Anticipatory Set

When students enter room, have the following “do now” on the board. “If you were to create a railroad across the entire country, what do you think you would need? Think about: the physical structure, the planning/ scheduling, workers and what is required to keep it operating”.

Discuss student answers, especially prompting toward the need for communications, then show them the image of the railroad and telegraph line. Tell the students this class will be spend debating “did the rise of telegraph lead to the rise of railroad or did railroads lead to the rise of the telegraph? And the interdependency of the two”. Procedures:

  1. Learners will use available dictionaries or computers to define the use of “telegraph”.
  2. Class should break into groups and rotate through stations. There are 3 stations therefore depending on your class size the class may be split into 3 groups (1 of each station) or 6 groups (with 2 of each station). In stations, learners will analyze the importance of railroads. Instruct students to keep note if each station’s presentation of the subject is consistent.
    • First station views clips of the PBS American Experience documentary “The Transcontinental Railroad”, available through PBS or YouTube (
    • Second station will use the San Francisco Museum’s website to gain more insight. ( Students should view the photos and resources on the site and answer the following using the:
      • What is the Union railroad?
      • What is the Pacific Railroad?
      • What happened in 1869?
      • Who are the “Big Four” and what did they do?
      • Why is this significant?
    • In the last station students should use the internet to research images of the following, and jot down the link and a brief description of the image:
      • The Transcontinental Railroad
      • A telegraph
      • A telegraph line
      • A train schedule
  3. Class should discuss student findings, discussion should include: the unification of the country as a result of the railroad and the use of the telegraph along rail lines.
  4. Students should consider the question posted in the “do now” and write a brief passage about their opinion on the matter. “Why did railroads need more efficient communication? Why might a rail line be the perfect place to also build a telegraph line? Do you believe the rise of telegraph lead to the rise of railroad or did railroads lead to the rise of the telegraph?”


Writing should be assessed for understanding of the conveniences railroads and telegraph provided for the nation and the connections draw between the two.


Websites provided


Cooperative learning groups.

Audio/visual supplements included


Class should discuss what the students wrote about in their writing assignment.