Here’s motivation for your students to write, embedded in fun facts and hip history!
by James Wayne
Regular contributor to the Gazette
January 1, 2009
The character trait for January is; INTEGRITY.
Honor and justice
January 1: In 45 B.C., the Romans began celebrating New Years on January first. Before that, they celebrated New Years on March 21, which their mythology said was the date of the creation of the world. The dates of holidays are seldom moved. If you could move the date of a holiday, which one would you move? To what date would you move it? Why would you move it?
Three famous Americans of the Revolutionary War era were born on this day in 1735: Betsy Ross, Paul Revere, and General Anthony Wayne, hero of the Battle of Stony Point. Do you share a birthday with a famous person or a friend? Suppose you could get together with several other people who had the same birthday as you do. What are some things all of you might do together to celebrate?
In 1898, the cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan (New York City) merged to form one city. For a long time, divided as they are by the East River, it was impractical to combine them, but new bridges made it easier. Suppose your town was to be combined with another town nearby. How do you think things would change? (If you don't live in a town, what do you think would happen if the people in your area suddenly agreed to form a town?)
January 2: Author Isaac Asimov was born in 1920. He wrote more than 500 books, including science, science fiction, mystery, and humor. He could write very fast, but many other authors are much slower. Do you have a favorite author whose next book you are waiting for? Who is the author? Why do you like him or her?
In 2001, Derrick Seaver, age 18, took office as a member of the Ohio General Assembly. He is the youngest person ever elected to state office in the United States. Only 18 states allow people younger than 30 to serve in the state legislature. Do you feel this is right or wrong? Give three reasons for your opinion.
In 1900, someone made a smart remark to Queen Victoria, and she replied, "We are not amused.” How do you respond when someone says something they think is funny but is really hurtful or insulting? What could you say to prevent the situation from becoming worse?
January 3: Josiah Wedgwood, English potter and industrialist, died in 1795. He developed many new techniques that made china and other pottery stronger, prettier, and cheaper. He popularized the custom of decorating china with designs in sets that all had the same pattern. Suppose you were designing a set of pottery for the month of January. Describe some designs you think would be appropriate.
The Roman statesman Cicero was born in 106 BC. A powerful speaker, he argued against the growing domination of Rome by the military. His speeches were written down and are still studied by people who want to learn to speak well. Who is the best person you know who gives speeches? What makes that person a good speaker? List as many reasons as you can.
In 1892, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, was born. Which character in this series is your favorite? Note: the character, not the actor. If you have not read the books or seen the movie, what is your favorite character in some other book? List 3 traits of this character that makes you like him.
January 4: Isaac Newton was born in 1642. Among his many scientific discoveries and theories, he was the first person to suggest that artificial satellites could be created. His discoveries in the field of optics lead the modern techniques of making glasses, binoculars, and contact lenses. How would our life be different if glasses, binoculars, and contact lenses had never been invented? Name 4 ways.
In 1984, Wayne Gretsky scored 8 points in one hockey game, a professional record. He once said, "You miss a hundred percent of the shots you never take.” What do you think he meant by this?
Thomas Stevens completed the first journey around the world on a bicycle in 1887. He rode a bike with a huge front wheel, a small back wheel, and no brakes. List four problems he would face on such a long trip with such a bicycle.
January 5: President Harry Truman was sworn in after his election in 1949. He once said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” What do you think he meant by that?
Today is George Washington Carver Day, in honor of the famous African-American scientist. Born a slave, he helped to found the Tuskeegee Institute and discovered hundreds of new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other southern crops. Think of something that people use for one purpose now, and try to invent a new use for it.
In 1759, the French writer and critic Voltaire said, "Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes.” What do you think he meant by that? Do you agree?
Work begins on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. It is painted red-orange, not gold. What building or structure made by people do you think is the most beautiful? Why do you think so?
January 6: George and Martha Washington were married in 1759. Both of them endured hardship and danger during the Revolutionary War, as many families are experiencing today. What are some things you can do to help families whose members are separated by war?
(Based on the Washington's wedding anniversary mentioned above) What are five things a couple needs to have a good family life?
Heinrich Schliemann, the archeologist who discovered the ruins of Troy, was born in 1822. Everyone thought Troy was a myth, but Schliemann used clues in the epics about the Trojan War to find the actual location of the city. If you could visit any ancient or legendary place, where would you go and what would you want to see when you got there?
The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes was supposedly born on this day in 1854, according to Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the stories. Sherlock Holmes is famous for his ability to solve strange mysteries and difficult puzzles. What puzzle would you like for Sherlock Holmes to solve?
January 7: In 1610, Galileo became the first person to see the moons of Jupiter through his telescope. He saw the four largest and named them from mythology: Io, Ganymede, Europa, and Calisto. What would you name them?
In 1887, Thomas Stevens finishes the round-the-world bicycle trip he began in 1884. If you could ride your bicycle to a special place, where would you go?
In 1782, the first bank in North America was opened. Many people use banks to help them save money safely, and to borrow money for cars, houses, and other things. How would your life change if there were not banks?
The modern process for distilling gasoline from crude oil was patented in 1913 by William M. Burton. This made gasoline very cheap. Until then, electric cars, which ran on batteries, had been cheaper to run than gasoline cars, even though they were slower and could not go as far. Now the cost of batteries has come down and the cost of gas keeps going up. What are the disadvantages of an electric car? What are its advantages?
January 8: In 1790, new President George Washington delivered the first State of the Union address to Congress. Washington once said, "It is far better to be alone than to be in bad company.” What do you think he meant by that? Why do you think he believed it to be true?
Elvis Presley was born in 1935. What is your favorite Elvis song? If you don't like any Elvis songs, what songs do you like?
In 1815, a British army attacked New Orleans, LA, and was soundly defeated by the Americans led by General Andrew Jackson, for whom Jacksonville was named. Jackson, Washington, Lincoln, and LaFayette are only some of the famous Americas for whom towns or cities have been named. Among living Americans, who do you think deserves to have a town named after them? Why do you think so?
Steven Hawkings was born in 1942. He has won the Nobel Prize for physics despite the fact that he is paralyzed and can only communicate using a computer that “reads” the movement of his eyes as he looks at a board with the alphabet on it. He has even written several books using this method. Write about someone you know or have heard of who has overcome a handicap to accomplish something worthwhile.
January 9: In 1493, Christopher Columbus's crew caught a manatee. Columbus thought they were the origin of the stories of mermaids, and said they were not nearly as beautiful as people thought they were. Think of some of the mythological creatures you have heard or read about. If one of them were real, which one would you prefer to see? Why that one?
Today is the Roman festival of Agonalia, a feast in honor of Janus, god of beginnings and endings. On this day, Romans would make plans and projects for the new year, the origin of New Year's Resolutions. What goal would you like to set for yourself this year?
In 1793, President George Washington watched the first hot-air balloon trip ever made in the United States. In 1923, an early ancestor of the helicopter, the autogyro, made its first successful flight, and in 1969, the first supersonic passenger plane, the Concorde, made its first flight. If you could ride in a balloon, a helicopter, or a supersonic jet, which one would you choose? Why that one?
Now that you have had a chance to think about it a while, what Christmas present do you wish you had given to someone? Why?
January 10: Ray Bolger, the actor who played the part of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, was born in 1904. The Scarecrow wanted brains, the Lion wanted courage, and the Tin Woodsman wanted a heart. Which of these three do you think is the most important for having a happy life: to be smart, to be courageous, or to be loving? Tell why you think so.
In 1968, the American spacecraft Surveyor 7 landed on the moon and began to send back pictures of its surface. Some people think that only machines should be sent into space because of the danger. Do you agree or disagree? Give 3 reasons for your answer.
The first jeeps were made for the United States armed forces in 1942. The jeep was a light, simple replacement for the horse, which has to be fed whether you needed to ride him or not. Jeeps became popular after the war among people who wanted to travel to hard-to-reach places. If you could go to any remote, hard-to-reach place (like the desert, the jungle, or some remote mountain range) where would you choose to go? What problems do you think you would have reaching that place?
1878, the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote was first introduced. It was not passed until 1920. Why do you think it took men so long to give women the right to vote?
James Wayne has taught third grade and every grade from fifth to twelfth during a full-time career of 34 years, either in regular classrooms or in AG or AP classes. He began his writing prompts as a way to help teachers improve writing scores in his district. A native of North Carolina, James is a graduate of Duke University and a Vietnam Veteran, having served with the 101st Airborne Division. He continues to work part time for Onslow County Schools as a coordinator of the Academic Derby, a televised scholastic competition serving elementary, middle, and high schools. James resides in Jacksonville, North Carolina.