Bil Johnson

Yale University
Lecturer at Brown University

Bil has over 25 years of experience as a public school teacher. Before his current role as a teacher at the Urban Assembly School in NYC, Bil was a senior lecturer at Brown University.

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Using Graphic Organizers to Review


The Big End

Bil Johnson
Bil Johnson

Yale University
Lecturer at Brown University

Bil has over 25 years of experience as a public school teacher. Before his current role as a teacher at the Urban Assembly School in NYC, Bil was a senior lecturer at Brown University.


We’ve taken the speed racer course through American History. And as a result, we haven’t really covered everything you need to cover. But we have touched on what I think are the most important elements that you need to study, to really be prepared for the AP US History course.

What we’re going to do in this last episode is, we’re not going to try to review everything we’ve covered. What I want review are some strategies and some ideas, to kind of remind you to relax and really to make your life a little bit easier, and also to have some fun with the test. Remember, this is all about having fun with history. It’s not about making yourself crazy.

We’re going to bring back some old friends we had from earlier episodes. But before we do that, here are some people, places, events, concepts that you should be familiar with for the APUSH, The Advanced Placement US History exam. If you’re not familiar with that little acronym, APUSH, that’s what it is. It is a push to take this exam, there is no doubt. But you’re going to be really well prepared.

Some of the things that I didn’t spend any time on, and it’s in your bonus materials and you can always refer back to this list. But these are things that certainly are important topics. Immigration, the late 19th century in particular, when we had waves of eastern Europeans coming to the United States. I did reference Asian Immigration along the way. But I didn’t spend really any time on that, those waves and waves of European immigrants from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

My family, my parents' parents, my grandparents on both sides came to America during that period of time and I left them out. But you can look them up and it's an important topic, immigration.

Gay rights and Gay Liberation, I mentioned in passing, kind of starting with Civil Rights and the Women’s Liberation movements of late 60s. But certainly in the 21st century, this is an issue that’s really coming to the fore and something you should pay attention to.

Analyzing political cartons, I didn’t take any time to do that. I think it’s a pretty easy thing to do. I think you’re probably pretty good at it already. But you want to pay attention to that, and you want to make sure you do that. So get a review book, look at the sample exams, there’s always some political cartoons. You can just Google political cartoons and look at them, and maybe sit with a friend. It’s a good way to practice studying together.

The Red Scares, I didn’t mention these. In 1920, the Palmer Raids, the fear of communism in this country has always been great. Communism is the great antithesis to capitalism. And in the 1920s there was a great fear because Russia had overthrown the Tsar and become a communist country. There was a concern that communism would spread. So in the 1920s, there was a thing called the Red Scare. And Louis Palmer, the Attorney General in Massachusetts led these raids to oust communists. People were deported.

In the 1950s it happens again. Again after World War II, with China becoming communist also, the Korean War. A lot of people know about Senator Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism. It’s a second wave of being afraid of communism. The Rosenberg trial, and execution for stealing a bomb secrets, lots of facts. There is tons and tons of facts and you can’t know them all. But you can make yourself familiar with them.

Some other things that I didn’t really go into depth about, I might have mentioned in passing.

The space race starting in 1957, when the Russians launch the Sputnik, which is just a little satellite. Not much bigger than my helmet here, but it orbits the earth. It’s man-made. The only other satellite before that was the moon, but now we’ve got man-made satellites. Now if you don’t know it, half of those phone calls you’re making on your cell phone, a lot of the reception you’re getting on your TV, somehow they’re satellite communication going on. The news programs are getting all their stuff from this satellite. It’s really crowded up there now. But the space race is something to pay attention to.

Transcendentalists. In the 1830s, 40s, 50s, of course this is a philosophical movement, it’s a literally movement. Emerson, Thoreau you should probably become familiar with that. Thomas Paine, brought up to the American Revolution. Thomas Paine of course wrote the pamphlet common sense. That was something that really inspired people. These are the times that Try Men’s Souls, The Summer Soldier, etcetera. Worth taking a look at. You should know his name.

Same with Samuel Adams of course. I’m afraid too many people now associate it with the beer. But the fact is Samuel Adams was an organizer of the American Revolution, and in fact he was the person who probably took the Boston Massacre and made it a great piece of propaganda. But very few people know the Boston Massacre. The British soldiers when they went to trial were defended by John Adams, kind of an ironic twist there. But Samuel Adams used the engraving by Paul Revere to show it was this massacre, when in fact seven patriots were shot.

Daniel Webster, John C Calhoun, Henry Clay. In the early 19th century, when Andrew Jackson is really the prominent leader, these are the people who really are up there with Jackson, along with John Quincy Adams. Daniel Webster the senator from Massachusetts, John Calhoun from South Carolina, Henry Clay from Kentucky. Clay is known as the great compromiser.

Te Missouri Compromise of 1820, The Compromise of 1850. Henry Clay probably more than any individual, prevents the US from entering the Civil War till 1861. His compromises holds of the Civil War. John Calhoun is the one who brings out the Nullification doctrine. He probably more than anyone wants to force us into a civil war. Daniel Webster is the voice of reason and probably the greatest orator, probably the greatest speaker of that time, and is famous for his speeches. Particularly in debate with Calhoun.

Some other people; John Brown. You’ll see John brown depicted any number of ways, based on the book or account that you read. But John Brown and abolitionist, believed in violence. He tried to lead an insurrection of escaped slaves, and of course was caught at Harper’s Ferry in 1839 and executed. bBt certainly a real fuse towards the civil war.

Jefferson Davis was the president of the confederate states. You should probably know that name at the very least. Frederick Jackson Turner, I think I alluded to his Frontier thesis. Certainly in the 1890s, Turner’s thesis about the end of the frontier, really helps Americans deal with the fact that now they are a continental empire, and that their character was shaped by always having a frontier in front of them. And so what are we going to do now? What we saw is, we’ve got a pretty good navy and we expanded further.

Malcolm X, I didn’t mention in the Civil Rights movement, but certainly an important figure and someone whose philosophy initially is very different form Martin Luther King Junior. But he is very significant and probably spun some other groups like the Black Panthers. I really don’t want people to think these were negative. They were political groups that had a point about black liberation, and black equality, and Malcolm was certainly one of those.

Now this I’ve mentioned, and I’ve shown you before, and obviously I can't emphasize it enough, the presidential graphic organizer. If you arrange one of these, and you use it as a study guide for your AP US History test, you’re going to be able to look at American history, and do the cause and effect. The connections, the ideas for the document based questions, the free response essay. You take your president, what was the domestic policy? What was the foreign policy? What was the significance or importance? Fill this in.

Again, keep in mind way back when, when we were talking about the multiple choice test. What’s the most important thing in a fair test? Not the trivial question. Is it going to be Jay’s treaty? Probably, that’s something that would pop up, or maybe the farewell address. Certainly the national bank and domestic policy for Washington. And then Adams, Jefferson, Madison, etcetera. So please use this stuff. This is going to help you.

I mentioned the compare and contrast using the G -GREASES. And I want to just do a quick example for you. And that is, if you remember this, it’s Geography, it’s Government, it’s Religion, it’s Economics, it’s Art and Architecture, it’s Science and Technology, it’s Education and it’s Social and Cultural Values. One of the great compare and contrast things, and I challenged you to think about this earlier. But you might just think about this because this will really help you prepare for essay questions. Not just on this exam, but in almost any of your courses, but particularly history courses. But as important this will really sharpen your critical thinking.

So if we say what’s it like in the USA today? We can fill out well we know the Geography. And we can say what’s about the government and religious freedom, and we’ve got a capitalist economy. We’ve got all kinds of art, science and technology obviously booming. Education, kind of an interesting mess right now. Social cultural values, we’ve got all kinds of things happening with debates about abortion and gay marriage. That’s the USA today.

I mentioned challenge, if we look at the US in current terms as an empire, has it stuck up against Great Britain in 1900 when Great Britain was the greatest empire in the world. Well Geography, we know there was that great phrase “The sun never sets on the British empire”. Constitutional Monarchy, kind of similar, religious freedom. When we start to see maybe there’s some similarities here, so maybe these empires have a common thread. But maybe we want to go back and look at something crazy, like China in 1400 when it was really an incredible empire that did span the world. They were sending ships around. I really recommend a book called 1421. by a guy named Menzies. It talks about the Chinese discovering South America and North America. And he’s got facts, he’s got his evidence, he’s a good historian.

But take a look at China, what was it like? Where did their geography touch? What kind of government? Well they had an emperor but, what else was going on there? What was the major religion and what were the other ones and were they tolerant to religion?

So you start to get those kind of critical thinking juices flowing, if you do this as an exercise. But it also sets you up for potentially writing some great essays. I recommend you do the compare and contrast, G-GREASES and that’s another graphic organizer that’s really going to help you out. The other thing that’s really going to help you, I think are timelines.

And here are the topics I would recommend you create timelines. Along with your presidential graphic organizer, these timelines can really help. Westward expansion. Just start with 1607, running up to the present. What were important dates in Westward expansion? "Landmark" Supreme Court Cases, a good way to remember those, also the cause and effect, also the chronology. Treaties and doctrines, another good way. Development of self-government. I’m going to use this example in one moment, to show you how to do one of these timelines. How did self-government evolve in the United States? Literary, arts topics. I mentioned the transcendentalist a moment ago, what other artist or writers do we need to take note of? Wars and diplomacy, we have two episodes about that. But you might want to set up a timeline to trace that.

Let’s take a look at the development of self-government. Here is a quick timeline. If I were doing it, I’ve got in Virginia, the House of Burgesses. Which is kind of the beginning of a representative, it certainly is a legislative body. So there is something that’s important because we still have a legislature on local level, state level, federal level.

1620, there is the Mayflower compact. If you’re not familiar with that, you should be. 1620 is when the pilgrims land in Massachusetts. Once again, what we see in the early years, it's always Massachusetts and Virginia, VA and MA. The Mayflower Compact agreement. Before they got off the ship, they signed an agreement that they would set up a government to run the colony that they were going to establish. A little self-protection, a little bit hey we need some rules. One of the things you see that emerges very early on in America, are the idea that we need rules.

In Connecticut, in 1639, we get the fundamental orders. The fundamental orders of Connecticut.

This is a colonial constitution. And I mentioned already, if you happen to see a car from Connecticut, the license plate says constitution state. This is the constitution they're talking about, this was the constitution. It outlined a government that they were going to have in 1639.

1643 we get an interesting beginning of the colonies working together, and that is the New England confederation. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island decide they need to bend together a little bit, because they’re a little concerned about the native Americans. Tightly so, native Americans were starting to get a little concerned about these white people who just keep taking their land. So you get the New England Confederation, the beginning of organized government between different colonies. And the same thing in 1754, just before the French Indian war, the Albany Plan of Union and Ben Franklin is behind this.

You may know later there is the little snake drawing, that's like it's New York and Connecticut and Massachusetts. And it says that basically divided you’ll die. The snake won’t live, but if it’s all together, it will be a lot more powerful. That’s behind the Albany Plan of Union idea, that the colonies have to work together. If you think about that, 1754, within 20 years, the colonies are together enough to have a pretty successful revolution.

That’s what I would recommend you do with those timelines. And as I said, I’m going to back up for one second so you can see. You might want to do a timeline about Westward Expansion. You don’t have to do all of these. You could.

But basically you can do what I just did and maybe do a section on self-government, and then maybe do one on Westward expansion that doesn’t start till the 19th century. Supreme Court Cases, obviously those don’t start until 1903 with Murbary vs. Madison. That’s one other way. Basically, some of the stuff that was left out, those are some of the strategies I think you need to employ. It’s really just in preparing for the AP US History test, again I would say, the key thing is just to calm down.

I really recommend that you go to There’s a great article by Martin Kelly there. Ten tips for preparing for the US History exam and one of the best ones is to have a good breakfast. Get a good night sleep and have a good breakfast. I totally support that idea.

Keep in mind, this is not one of the ten most important days in your life. Don’t put extra pressure on yourself. Have fun with the test. Have fun with being confident that you know what to do. That you’re going to be well prepared. I think if you follow the tips that you’ve been given, in this series of episodes, and you just basically go over that stuff and you think about American History in a cause and effect fashion. Think about who are the important people. Remember that the test is a fair test, it’s not out to get you. It wants to know if you actually know your stuff in American History. Put all that together, stay cool, step back, look at it all and really just have some fun with History and go get it.

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