New York City “Then” and “Now”

Social Studies/English Language Arts Integrated Thematic Unit

New York City “Then” and “Now”

Fourth Grade

By Diana Pyatigorsky


Students in grade four will explore the topic of New York City history throughout a unit spanning two weeks.  This unit is primarily a Social Studies unit but integrates components of English Language Arts such as reading, writing, grammar, speaking, listening and art.

Curriculum and Standards

This unit addresses the social studies standards that require students to identify “different events, people, problems and ideas that make up a community’s history” by introducing them to a historical time period as well as an important event in New York City history. It also helps them practice collaborative working in groups or partnerships during the project-making portion of the unit. The curriculum also requires that students listen to various types of literature to illustrate how families lived in their community at different times. The historical fiction selection The Snow Walker by Margaret K. Wetterer introduces the student to literature that takes place in a particular historical time period. The major project of the unit will be the creation of a “Then and Now Mural,” where students will design pictures and write narratives about their findings. Other assignments will include: illustrating pictures, writing about past events, discussing stories, and publishing. Mini-lessons on sentence structure, grammar and writing will deal with noting details, writing components, identifying and defining action words, and sequencing stories.



Name: Diana Pyatigorsky                                                     

Subject: Social Studies/Language Arts

Grade: Fourth

Lesson Title: New York City “Then and Now


The Snow Walker” by Margaret K. Wetterer

Historical photograph of late 19th century New York City

Paper, Pen/Pencil and Chart paper

Pre-assessment of Student Knowledge: Students have been immersed in a unit on Historical Fiction and have explored different time periods, people, culture and language. The majority of students are writing and reading fluently. Five students struggle with comprehension.

(B)Students were able to accurately complete a KWL chart on life in New York City from the time of the book to present day. This includes forms of transportation, jobs, and communication.


Social Studies

Standard 2:   World History

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments and turning points in world history and examine the broad sweep of history from a variety of perspectives.

English Language Arts

Standard 2:   Language for Literary Response and Expression

Students will read and listen to oral, written, and electronically produced texts and performances from American and world literature; relate texts and performances to their own lives; and develop an understanding of the diverse social, historical, and cultural dimensions the texts and performances represent.


Standard 4:   Understanding the Cultural Contributions of the Arts

Students will develop an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape artistic communication and how the arts in turn shape the diverse cultures of past and present society



Thinking Objective: Students will be able to compare and contrast life in current and old New York City.

Mastery Objective: Students will explain/describe how life has changed in New York City.


Introduction and Motivation:

Students, remember when we talked about important events that have happened in New York City? Today we are going to read a book that takes place in New York in 1888, over one hundred years ago? In 1888, there was a huge blizzard in New York City. Does anyone know what a blizzard is? In the story, there is a little boy who braves the storm to some very important things.

As we read, we are going to try really hard and focus on all the things that are different about life back then. 1888 was long time ago and people lived very differently. Do you think people had computers and televisions back then? Why not?

Essential Questions to promote accountable talk discussion:

  1. What is a blizzard? Would you go out in a blizzard, like the little boy did, to deliver medicine to elderly people?
  2. In what ways was life different back in 1888 in New York City
  3. In what ways was life the same as it is now in New York City?

Direct Teaching:

Read aloud of The Snow Walker.

Teacher models making a T-Chart labeled “Then” and “Now” on each side. While reading, teacher stops periodically to discuss what students notice about life back then. Teacher fills in their noticing on the “Then” side. After finishing the story, go back to the chart and discuss what has replaced the things they noticed and write them on the “Now” side.


Independent Work

Each student will receive a historical photograph of NYC in the late 19th century. They will use their knowledge to become “detectives” to interpret their photograph. Students will list, describe and explain what they notice that is different and similar between Then and Now.

Closure: Students share out their detective discoveries and begin publishing their “Then and Now” writing pieces.

Assessment-Teacher will assess student’s knowledge of differences and similarities between current life in NYC and life 150 years ago through observations during class discussion of read-aloud and grading of “Then” and “Now” writing pieces using a rubric.

Diversity: This lesson continues the work of opening a window into a past cultural experience through the use of historical fiction texts.  Allowing students to create their own journal entries brings to life the understanding of their own culture in respect to other cultures throughout history.


Using project-based and creative learning activities, students that struggle with comprehension are able to use their imaginations to show that they understand the content. This lesson also supports concreteness of the topic with the use of pictures and personal narratives.

Rivington Street Library:Children reading on Rivington roof

Accountable Talk Questions

  1. Who do you think took this picture, and why?
  2. How is this similar to and different from a library today?
  3. Why do you think those similarities and differences exist?


View in South Street, New York 1878

Accountable Talk Questions

  1. Why would an artist draw this picture?
  2. What types of transportation do you see?
  3. Are there this many types of transportation today? Why or why not?
  4. Are there any streets that have this much activity today? Why or why not?

Division Street in 1861

Accountable Talk Questions

1. Describe what you see in this image.

2. Where is this place located?

3. How has the area changed by this point?

4. How might people in this place get their food, what kinds of work might they do, what might be the benefits or drawbacks of living in this time as compared to now?

Outdoor privy

Accountable Talk Questions

1. How would you describe the condition of this privy?

2. Considering that this is the only toilet facility for the apartment building, what might be some health issues that arise?

3. What are some other health issues that might be problems for people (based on this photograph)?

1876 Immigrants                                                                                                           

Accountable Talk Questions

1.  What do you see in this photograph?

2. What do you think is the message of this photograph?

3.  Do you think this photograph provides evidence that this area is a “slum”?


Rubric for Student Work

Fails to Meet Standard

Approaching Standard

Meets Standard

Exceeds Standard

Relates basic facts about an historical event and identifies theme. Demonstrates an understanding of basic facts and about a historical event as an example of a particular theme. Demonstrates an understanding of the basic facts and context of a historical event and its relation to theme. Demonstrates an understanding of the significance as well as the contextual influences on a historical event and their relations to theme.
Demonstrates an understanding of context in which the historical even took place. Demonstrates an understanding of the historical context in which the historical even took place Relates social studies concepts and understanding to personal experience and prior knowledge. Relates concepts and understanding to personal experience and knowledge from other academic disciplines.
Identifies community ideals as they relate to personal behavior Relates community ideals to personal experience and behavior Demonstrates an understanding of community ideals as they relate to personal experience and behavior as well as historical events. Applies community ideals to personal experience and behavior as well as historical events.

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