A treasure trove of fascinating facts to prompt students' writing! Learn on what date in June the first night baseball game was played in 1883; when and what aviation accident happened in 1785... what popular amusement park ride first opened at the Chicago World Columbian Exposition 1893... when Tony Hawke completed skateboarding's first front-side 900. MORE!
by James Wayne
Regular contributor to the Gazette
June 1, 2008
The character trait for June is CHARITY.
Concern for the well-being of others
The first seismograph was installed in California in 1888. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, and droughts, happen in every part of the world. Have you ever survived a natural disaster? Tell what it was, and what you did.
Norma Jean Baker was born in 1926. She changed her name to Marilyn Monroe and became one of the most famous movie stars of all time. If you were going to change your name, what would you change it to? Why did you choose that name?
Scottish explorer James Ross determined the location of the North Magnetic Pole in 1831. This is the spot on the earth's surface to which a compass needle points, and is not the same as the North Geographic Pole, but is fairly near to it. How do you think traveling and exploring would be different if there was no Magnetic Pole, and compasses didn't work? List 3 ways.
In 1843, Sojourner Truth begins working as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. An escaped slave, she provided information about the Railroad to Harriet Beecher Stowe, who used it in Uncle Tom's Cabin. After the Civil War, Sojourner Truth campaigned for equal rights for freed slaves and for the right of women to vote. If you could interview Sojourner Truth about her life, what are three questions you would ask her? Why those questions?
President Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom in 1886, becoming the first President to marry while in office. The new Mrs. Cleveland was 19 years younger than her husband. She was the youngest First Lady in history, and was wildly popular for her kindness and charm. The couple had two children and remained happily married until he died in 1908. Describe the prettiest or most interesting wedding you have attended or heard about.
In 1897, rumors swept the country that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemons) had died. Many newspapers printed his obituary. He sent out a message saying, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," but enjoyed reading the biographies in his obituaries and sending corrections for them. Suppose you were to read a printed biography of yourself that listed your birthday wrong. Write a correction note for such an error.
The first night baseball game was played in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1883. Most baseball players say it is harder to play at night, despite the lights. Write three reasons this might be so.
In 1800, President John Adams moved into the still-unfinished White House. The Capitol building had only been started, there were few other public buildings, and most of the land of Washington, D.C., was still covered with forest. What are some problems you might have if you moved into a brand-new house in a brand-new neighborhood where there were many unfinished things, such as stores, houses, schools, and public places?
In 1965, Ed White became the first human being to go outside his spacecraft and do a space walk, protected only by his space suit. Protection is one of the most important jobs of clothing. Name some other articles of clothing that protect you, and tell what they protect you from.
In 1940, the last ships evacuating British and French troops from the Nazis left the beaches of Dunkirk. More than 700 fishermen, sailors, and motorboat owners sailed their small boats across the English Channel to rescue soldiers while under attack from the Nazis, rescuing thousands who could not reach the naval ships, which had to stay in deeper waters. Monuments have been erected where famous events have taken place on land. Where would you think a monument to something that happened at sea should be placed?
In 1624, the settlement of Nieu Amsterdam was chartered by the Dutch West India Company. Later its name was changed to New York City. List at least 5 things you might like to see or do if you were going to visit New York City.
The draft, compulsory armed service for American men between 21 and 31, begins in 1917 for World War I. If the United States ever needed to draft people for the armed services, some people think both young women and young men should be drafted. Others think only young men should be drafted, as has happened in the past. How do you feel about this? Explain the reasons you feel as you do.
In 1940, tires made from synthetic (artificial) rubber began being sold in the United States, because warfare had stopped importation of natural rubber. Modern tires are made of both natural and synthetic rubber and other materials. Make a list of things you use that are not produced in this country. Which ones would be hardest to replace if you couldn't get them?
Frank Samuelson and George Harpo began to row across the Atlantic Ocean, leaving New York in 1896. It took them 54 days to reach France. Suppose you were going on a trip that meant you would be alone with one other person for 54 days. Who would be the other person you would pick? Why that person?
In 1816, volcanic ash and gas from the eruptions of Tamboura, a massive volcano in modern Indonesia, blocked so much sunlight that the entire climate of the earth was changed. 10 inches of snow fell on this day in Boston, and 1816 was known as "the year without a summer." Suppose there should be such a year now. How would your life change if the entire summer were cold and snowy? List 5 ways.
In 1755, Nathan Hale was born. A schoolteacher who joined George Washington's Continental Army, he volunteered to try to find out what the British army was planning to do in New York City. He was captured and sentenced to be hanged as a spy. His last words were, "I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Being a spy is dangerous work. Make a list of dangerous jobs, and write about what makes each one dangerous.
June 7: The first ship sailed through the Panama Canal in 1914. Pretend you were planning an ocean cruise. What place would you like to cruise to? What stops would you like to make along the way?
Henry Ford tested his first hand-built automobile in Detroit in 1896. Carmakers are always looking for ideas to improve cars. Think of something that could be added or changed about modern cars that might make them better, safer, or more comfortable. Describe your idea.
Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks was born in 1917. She once wrote, "We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond." What do you think she meant by this?
In 1954, Ford Motor Company unveiled a new model, the Edsel. Although a well-built car, its unusual styling made it a target of jokes, and it never sold well. It was often called "a Mercury sucking a lemon" because of its oval-shaped grill. What are some products you see that look funny or silly to you? Make a list and rate them, then compare your list with your classmates.
Francis Crick, who helped to discover the DNA molecule with his co-worker James Watson, was born in 1916. The discovery of DNA has led scientists to discover the causes of many diseases. What branch of science is most interesting to you? What are some things you might like to investigate scientifically?
In 2002, Serena and Venus Williams became the first sisters ever to end up ranked one and two in women's tennis for the year. What is an activity that you like to do with your brothers or sisters? If you don't have any brothers or sisters, what is an activity you like to do with your friends?
Geoffrey Chaucer, the first notable writer in the English language, was given a job in the government that allowed him to write. He wrote The Canterbury Tales, a series of stories told by people traveling to Canterbury to entertain each other. If you were traveling with your friends, what kind of story would you tell them?
June is National Safety Month. Describe an unsafe situation you know about, and what you think should be done about it.
This is Pet Appreciation Week. Describe your pet, or a pet you would like to have.
Happy birthday, Donald Duck! The first cartoon featuring him came out in 1934. He is famous for his bad temper, which is funny in a cartoon, but not funny in real people. What are three things you can do to help you deal with a bad-tempered person without losing your temper yourself?
Charles Hires began bottling and selling root beer, the first commercially successful soft drink, in 1869. Many people think that soft drinks should not be sold in school because they are bad for the teeth of young people and cause obesity. Write a paragraph about how you feel about selling soft drinks in school.
In 1752, Ben Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm and proved that lightning and electricity were the same thing. Today is Kite Day. Describe or draw a fabulous kite.
In 1938, Pandora, a giant panda, arrived at the Bronx Zoo. She was the first live panda seen in America, and caused a wave of "pandamania," including a fad for stuffed pandas. What kind of stuffed animal is your favorite? Why do you like it?
Football coach Vince Lombardy was born in 1913. He was a very successful and highly respected coach. After his retirement, the NFL named the annual coaching award for the best professional football coach after him. He believed strongly in conditioning, and once said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." What do you think he meant by that?
Today is Eat What You Want Day. Plan a "perfect" meal.
In 1867, Austria and Hungary joined together as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The two countries had the same ruler, who became emperor of the whole country. What are four problems two countries, with two different languages, would have combining to become one country?
Babe Didrikson Zaharias became the first American woman to win the British Amateur Ladies' Golf Championship in 1947. She won many other golf tournaments, and also won Olympic medals in track. Many sports historians consider her to have been the best female athlete of all time. Who is your favorite female athlete? Why do you like her?
June 13: Dorothy L. Sayers, novelist and playwright, was born in 1893. She once wrote, "The great advantage about telling the truth is that nobody ever believes it." Have you ever told the truth, but not been believed? How did that make you feel?
Irish poet William Butler Yeats was born in 1865. Here is one of his most famous poems:
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
Yeats was living in London when he wrote this poem. Why do you think he was so anxious to go back to the remote lake in Ireland at that time?
The famous Chinese philosopher Confucius said, "When an ordinary person makes a mistake, he apologizes in words. When a superior person makes a mistake, he apologizes by actions." What do you think Confucius meant by that? How can you apologize by actions?
A handyman from Vermont, Isaac Fischer, Jr., patented sandpaper in 1834. Prior to his invention, all smoothing of materials had to be done with files or rasps. Many jobs and hobbies make use of sandpaper. Have you ever used sandpaper for any projects you have done? Tell about it. If you haven't used sandpaper, tell about some other interesting project you have done?
Today is Flag Day in the United States. Today, countries, states, and organizations have flags. In past times, families had flags as well. Design a flag for your family. Describe your design so that others could visualize it.
Folk singer Burl Ives was born in 1909. He sang both serious and comic folk songs, including I know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. What is your favorite humorous or comic song? Get together with your friends and be prepared to sing it to your class.
In 1922, President Harding became the first American President to be heard on the radio when he made a speech dedicating a memorial to Francis Scott Key, the writer of the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Before this, few American had ever heard a President speak. How important do you think it is to see a candidate on television or hear him or her on the radio before you vote? Which is more important: what you see, what you hear, or what you read about the candidates?
George Washington was appointed commander of the armed forces of the American colonies in 1775, a year before they became the United States. Make a list of the problems he would have in trying to organize his new command.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was dedicated in 1934. It is the most-visited American national park. List four national parks you would like to visit and rank them from first to last in the order you would like to visit them. Tell why you chose those parks, and that order.
The world's first aviation accident happened in 1785, when two French hot-air balloonists collided and died. Today flying is much safer than driving, based on accidents per mile. What are 4 things you can do to avoid becoming the victim of a traffic accident?
Today is the Feast of St. Vitus, patron saint of actors and dancers. What are three advantages and three disadvantages of becoming an actor or dancer?
In 1752, Ben Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm to prove that lightning was made of electricity. This was a very dangerous experiment that might have electrocuted Franklin. List 6 rules for using electrical appliances safely.
In 1963, Valentina Terishkova became the first woman to fly in space. She was a citizen of the USSR (now Russia) and a very skilled parachutist. She had to sky dive out of her capsule at 20,000 feet to survive her 3-day space trip. Imagine that she was coming to visit your class. What are 3 questions you would like to ask her?
Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post newspaper for many years, was born in 1917. At one time, Ms Graham was considered the most powerful woman in America because of the influence of her newspaper. Today, many people prefer to get their news from other sources than newspapers. Where do you get most of your news: newspapers, magazines, television, radio, or the Internet? Why do you prefer to get your news that way?
This is the annual World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. One of the greatest problems facing many people in the world is the shortage of pure water for drinking and for crops. What are some things you can do to prevent waste of water? Make a poster against water waste.
Billy Barker was born in 1816. He discovered two different gold mines, finding the second after he wasted all the money he got from the first. He then became rich again, wasted all his new wealth, and died in poverty. If you suddenly became very rich, what steps would you take to make sure that you were able to hold on to your money?
French Emperor Napoleon was defeated by an allied army led by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in 1815. Wellington said, "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton," the famous high school he attended before he joined the army. How do you think his playing sports in school helped him as a general? Do you think playing sports helps people who enter other professions? Support your answer with reasons.
This week is Principals' Week. Write a thank-you note to your principal.
The first movie theater opened in Pittsburg, PA, in 1905. Called a nickelodeon, because admission was only a nickel, the early theatres were generally small and showed only very short films because of the low power of the projectors. Do you prefer to watch a movie at a theater, or wait until you can see it at home on disk? Give reasons for your answer.
In 240 B.C., the Greek-speaking philosopher Eratosthenes of Cyrene deduced that the earth had the shape of a sphere, and estimated its diameter, making an error of less than 3000 miles, despite having no telescopes or modern measuring instruments. If he had them, he might have been even more accurate. Think of three tasks you have done that would have been easier if you had better tools. What were they? How would better tools have made the task easier?
In 1782, Congress approved the design for the Great Seal of the United States, which is shown on the back of the one-dollar bill. They chose as a motto "E Pluribus Unum," a Latin phrase that means, "Out of many, one," recalling how the United States was made into one nation out of many states. Some people think the motto is not very exciting or dramatic for a nation like the United States. If there were a competition to choose a new motto for the US, what would you suggest? Tell why your suggestion would be appropriate. (Teachers in other countries: discuss the motto of your nation and what it means, and ask your students to consider alternate mottoes.)
The first annual Swiss Cheese Festival was held in Middlefield, Ohio, in 1970. What kind of cheese is your favorite? Write a slogan or motto promoting your favorite cheese or cheese dish. (If you don't like cheese, write about another food you like.)
Famous guitarist Chet Atkins was born in 1926. His books on how to play the guitar were among the most popular music books ever published, and are still used. Who is your favorite instrumental player (not singer)? Why do you like that player?
French writer Jean-Paul Sartre (pronounced SART-ruh) was born in 1905. He wrote, "Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you." What do you think he meant by that?
In 1893, the first Ferris wheel, designed by engineer Charles Ferris, opened at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. What is your favorite amusement park or fair ride? Tell what it feels like to ride it.
Today is Constitution Day. The United States Constitution was finally ratified in 1788 and became the basis for the American government. A constitution is a written plan for running an organization, such as a nation, state, or club. Suppose you were trying to write a constitution for a club. What are four problems such a constitution would have to solve? How would you solve them?
Today is the birthday of the saxophone, which was patented in 1846 by Antoine-Joseph Sax. What is your favorite musical instrument? List some songs you would like to learn to play (or can already play) on your favorite instrument?
The first law allowing 18-year-olds to vote in all federal elections was signed in 1970. Young soldiers fighting in Vietnam had complained that they could fight and die for their country, but were not allowed to vote in most states until they were 21. Many people who are eligible to vote do not do so; some countries, including Australia, require people to vote or pay a fine. Do you think that having to pay a fine if you don't vote is a good idea? Defend your answer.
June is National Rivers Month. List all the ways you can think of people use rivers.
Swimmer Johnny Weissmuller broke four swimming records in one day. He won gold medals for swimming in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, then became a movie star playing Tarzan. If you were determined to break a record in sports, entertainment, or some other activity, what record would you try to break? Why do you want to break that one?
In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the law known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, which gives every American veteran money for education. Many Americans still join the military to get money for their education. Why do you think so many people believe education is so important? List 5 reasons.
In 1934, William Bayly was convicted of murder based on tiny particles of remains found after he cremated the body of his victim, Sam Lakey. He was the first person convicted of murder even though the body of the victim had not been found, marking a major advance in forensic medicine. There are now many TV shows about forensic medicine. Some people like them, others find them gory or disgusting. How do you feel about them? Defend your opinion.
Oliver Lippincott became the first person to visit Yellowstone National Park, instead of visiting it by train or horse-drawn coach. Today almost all visitors to national parks travel by car or bus, but there are still many places that can't be reached by cars or buses. Think of some place you would like to visit that does not have paved roads. Why would you like to go there? How would you get there?
Luxemburg was founded in 963. A tiny country between France, Germany, and Belgium, and is one of the oldest countries in Europe. It is smaller than the state of Rhode Island. List 4 ways that living in a very small country would be different from living in a large one.
Most trees in the northern hemisphere will have finished their annual growth. All the food they create from now on will be used to make seeds, or stored for the winter. List five kinds of trees you like. Tell why you like each one.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta loved this poem by Kent M. Keith. She had a framed copy on the wall of her office. Read it and briefly state what you think it means:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered…
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives…
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies…
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you…
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you may spend years building, someone may destroy overnight…
If you find serenity and happiness, people may be jealous…
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow…
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough…
Give the world the best you have anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it's all between you and God…
It was never between you and them.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn River was fought in 1876. Sioux warriors let by Chief Crazy Horse defeated the 7th Cavalry, commanded by General George Custer. Most scholars believe Custer was defeated because of his poor planning before the battle. Have you ever failed to accomplish something because of poor planning by yourself or someone else? Describe what happened and tell how better planning may have made the outcome better.
Another prompt based on the previous event: Why do you think that this event is usually referred to as Custer's Last Stand, rather than Sitting Bull's Victory?
Pearl Buck, American daughter of Chinese missionaries, was born in 1892. She came to admire the Chinese people, especially the poor farmers, and her books tell in very realistic ways of their lives. Although they were set almost entirely in Asia, they became very popular in the United States and Europe. Many people like reading about times and places that are different from their own. What other countries or times do you like to read about? Tell some of the stories or novels you have read about those places and times that you enjoy.
Atlantic City, New Jersey, opened a new beachside Boardwalk for visitors and tourists. This is the same Boardwalk that is in the original Monopoly game, which was based on the streets of Atlantic City. Plan a Monopoly game based on the streets and features of your town.
In 1787, Edward Gibbon, a famous English historian, completed the manuscript for his three-volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Later, a servant burned most of the manuscript by mistake, and he had to rewrite it. Have you ever had something you worked hard on ruined by the carelessness of others? How did you feel? What did you do?
In 1999, Tony Hawk successfully completed skateboarding's first front-side 900 at the X Games Best Trick competition. This trick requires the skateboarder to do two and a half rotations off the halfpipe. Skateboarding and snowboarding are among the newer sports that have become popular, although some of them can be very dangerous if done wrong or carelessly. Do you prefer these new sports or do you like the older sports better? Give reasons for your preference.
Helen Keller, who became a famous author even though she was both blind and deaf, was born in 1880. She once said, "I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble." What did she mean by this?
June 28: Congress declares the first Labor Day holiday in 1894. The holiday is now celebrated in September of each year. Think of something you have done on a Labor Day holiday that you really enjoyed. Tell about your experience.
In 1820, scientists proved that the tomato itself was not poisonous (although every other part of the tomato plant is). Several scientists demonstrate their confidence in their experiments by publicly eating tomatoes. Tomatoes are now among the world's most popular vegetables. List 5 ways you like to eat tomatoes. (If you don't like tomatoes, or are allergic to them, tell what your favorite vegetable is, and list 5 ways you like to eat it.)
The Geophysical Research Satellite was launched on 1963. Its measurements of the earth gave us the first truly accurate information of the earth's exact size and shape. It also helped confirm that the continents are moving. North America, for instance, is racing northwest at 3 inches per year! Make up a cheer for North America, the fastest moving continent (or another continent, if you prefer).
In 1950, the US won its first-ever World Cup game by defeating England 1-0. The US did not win another World Cup game until 1994. Why do you think the US is so bad in World Cup play? List five things the US could do to makes its teams more successful.
This is also National Skin Safety Month. Summer sunburn is not only painful, it can lead to skin cancer. Make a poster or slogan to encourage people to use sunscreen.
The original Globe Theatre, where William Shakespeare produced his plays, burned down during a performance of the play Henry VIII in the year 1613.It was rebuilt in modern times. What plays have you seen, or do you wish to see? Why those plays?
Boeing, the world's largest manufacturer of aircraft, was founded in 1916. Some people like to ride big jetliners, others prefer small private planes, and still others like to ride helicopters. If you could take a trip on one of these aircraft, which one would you choose? Why that one?
Lena Horne, famous African-American jazz singer and actress, was born in 1917. She once said, "It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it." What do you think she meant by that?
This is the end of the first half of the year: six months have passed, and six months remain. List five things that have happened to you or your community since January and tell whether each of them had a good or bad effect.
Today is Tom Sawyer Day. Tom Sawyer was famous for tricking his friends to do his work for him. What chores do you hate to do?
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.