Education:Good Vibrations - How Americans Fell in Love with the Telephone


Grades 9-11/U.S. History II; Grades 9-11 Physics or Physical Science

Time Required for Completed Lesson

Two 80 minute blocks or four 40 minute periods


Social Studies: 6.1.12.C.3.a 6.1.12.C.5.a 6.1.12.C.12.c 6.1.12.C.12.d 6.1.12.C.14.d 6.1.12.C.16.a

21st Century Life and Career: 9.2.12.E.3

Common Core State Standards

Grades 6-12 (CCSS for ELA & Literacy in History/Social Sciences and Technical Subjects) Craft and Structure 4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone. 5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole. 6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.


A computer connected to the Internet, a video projector that can connect to a computer, speakers, whiteboard/blackboard, copies of 20th century and 21st century telephone/cellphone advertisements

Anticipatory Set

Ask students these questions in sets: How does a car work? Why do you know you want one? How does an iPad or computer work? Why do you know you want one? How does a cell phone work? Why do you know that you want one? [The point here is for students to realize that we do not necessarily understand the science behind the things we Americans most want and/or use, yet we are told through advertising or society that we want and need one/it]. (5-10 minutes)


1. (Day One) If necessary do any kind of review about the era of the 1840s and the beginning of the expansion of the railroads and telegraphs. If you are teaching that now, then bring your students up to speed regarding the westward expansion of the railroads and the telegraph.

2.To show students how a telegraph works, visit and show this short video from the United States National Library of Medicine: (If you are able to, you should try and co-teach with a science educator working on a unit like this at the same time – it would be a tremendous experience!) The video explains the rudiments of the telegraph and demonstrates why it would be an important device in a nation as big and spread out as the United States. (2 ½ minutes)

3. Segue into the evolution of the telegraph into the telephone. You should conduct some of your own research and construct a brief presentation for your students on the use of Morse Code [and probably find a hand out or website with the code on it]and important figures and milestones in the development of the telephone (Alfred and Theodore Vail, Alexander Graham Bell). The length and depth of the presentation should be appropriate for your student’s learning level, but any one segment should no more than 15 minutes in length [if you need to exceed 15 minutes]. (15 minutes)

4. Show the students this video from How Stuff Works to demonstrate how the telephone works: (3 minutes)

5. After the students have viewed the videos have them create a t-chart in pairs that compares and contrasts the telegraph and telephone. Discuss the class’ findings one the students are done in their pairs (10 minutes)

6. Segue into the advertising analysis activity by asking students if it matters that they know or don’t know how a particular complex device (computer, car, cell phone, TV, radio, DVD player, etc.) works? (5 minutes)

7. Then ask them how companies market complex devices and gadgets to non-scientifically geared consumers. Ask students to identify devices that advertisers use to get people to buy things. (5 - 10 minutes)

8. Present to your students the concepts of logos, pathos and ethos. These are psychological or philosophical bases for making appeals in writing and advertising. A great resource for this can be found at . Be sure to find examples to share with your students, as well as develop or find samples where they can identify one, two or all three. They need this skill to be able to complete the assignment the next day. (30 minutes, broken up into smaller segments of student interaction)

9. Homework: Find three advertisements in print or online (which can be printed out) for cell phone service. It does not matter if they come from the three major cell phone carriers or if they all come from one.

10. (Day Two) Secure computers or a computer lab for your student, and have them go to the following website It is maintained by the Porticus Centre and contains digitized artifacts related to AT&T.

11. Prior to the lesson look at the various primary source document analysis sheets provided by the National Archives Select one that would best allow students to analyze the advertisements from AT&T, or select elements from each which you would put into your own data collection sheet.

12. Include questions on the data collection sheet about the pathos, logos, and ethos of each ad as well so that students understand what the company is telling consumers. (*remember that AT&T was considered a natural monopoly and was trying to convince people to subscribe to the service, not just to subscribe to AT&T. AT&T was selling an idea and a promise as much as a product. You could tell students that an alternative was telegrams (not really used for personal use) or the U.S. Postal Service).

13. Additionally, include questions or a space for students to explain how the science of telephony is being represented or explained to the non-scientific public. Have them identify the purpose of incorporating the science of telephony into the advertisements

14. Have students on their own, or in pairs, browse through the advertisements for phone service and analyze them using your sheets. (45-50 minutes from Step 10)

15. Discuss the students’ findings briefly, and then have them share their advertisements for modern cell phone service with the class. As a class look for contrasts and parallels between the old AT&T ads and the new cell phone ads. (25-30 minutes) Check off the students that brought in the ads, and collect the data analysis sheets.

16. For homework students should read from the history of AT&T at up to the point that is most sensible for your class. Use this reading as an anticipatory set for the next day’s activity or for the period in history you’re studying.


1. Instructors can create scaffolded analysis sheets for students of different learning abilities. 2. Instructors can also create glossaries for the advertisements. 3. Advertisements can be analyzed as a class with a greater emphasis on oral expression of student thinking over written expression of student thinking.


1. Grade or give formative assessment feedback to the students on their advertisement analysis.

2. Prepare an ad not chosen from the Porticus site for inclusion on the unit test. Create a test item dealing which has student analyze the ad, and the response should also touch upon pathos, logos, and ethos as well as historical perspective.


Students will use literacy skills throughout the lesson, as well as primary source analysis skills. The rudiments of the science of telephony will be employed at the beginning of the lesson, and students will see how technological advances can play on human emotional responses and compel consumer behavior.

If possible, co-teach this lesson with a colleague who is teaching about telegraphy and telephony or electric current at the same time.


1. If you are teaching about monopolies, or will touch upon the AT&T monopoly, have students identify what the company is selling since it has no legitimate competition.

2. Use the history of AT&T to enrich your study of any particular era of U.S. history.

3. Have students reflect upon their initial responses to the anticipatory set. Do the kind of appeals in advertising used in the early and mid-20th century work now?

4. Have students create their own advertisement for a complex product that operates due to complex principles of science. The students do not have to understand the science that makes the products work, but should highlight the “miracle” of science that makes the product wonderful.

5. If you can, find clips of Lily Tomlin’s “Ernestine” the Operator from Laugh-In. Have students view various clips and infer what Americans thought of AT&T by the late 1960s, and use this as a segue into discussing the Divestiture of January 1, 1984.


Telegraph v. Telephone Sheet Media:Good_Vibrations_T-Chart.doc

Document Analysis Sheet Media:Good Vibrations Document Analysis Sheet.doc

Resources are hyperlinked in the lesson plan steps

Submitted by: Keith Dennison, Hunterdon Central Regional High School.