ALEX Lesson Plan

Birmingham: The Magic City

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Alabama Department of Archives and Hist
System: Informal Education Partner
School: Informal Education Partner
The event this resource created for:Alabama History Education Initiative
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 33752


Birmingham: The Magic City


Students will use primary source documents and images to gain an understanding of what led to the founding and growth of Birmingham in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This lesson was created as a part of the Alabama History Education Initiative, funded by a generous grant from the Malone Family Foundation in 2009.

Author Information: Kris White (Cohort 2: 2010-2011); Bear Exploration Center Elementary School; Montgomery County School System; Montgomery, AL

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 4
Alabama Studies
10 ) Analyze social and educational changes during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for their impact on Alabama.

Examples: social—implementation of the Plessey versus Ferguson "separate but not equal" court decision, birth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

educational—establishment of normal schools and land-grant colleges such as Huntsville Normal School (Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical [A&M] University), Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama (Auburn University), Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (Tuskegee University), Lincoln Normal School (Alabama State University)

•  Explaining the development and changing role of industry, trade, and agriculture in Alabama during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the rise of Populism
•  Explaining the Jim Crow laws
•  Identifying Alabamians who made contributions in the fields of science, education, the arts, politics, and business during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.4.10- Recognize social and educational changes in Alabama during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
SS.AAS.4.10a- Identify what Jim Crow laws were; "separate but not equal"; NAACP.
SS.AAS.4.10b- Identify Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and other Alabamians of the early twentieth century.

Local/National Standards:

National Standards for History, 1996 Standards of Historical Thinking for Grades K-4 (p. 15) Standard 1 – The student thinks chronologically. 1A – Distinguish between past, present, and future time Standard 4 – The student conducts historical research. 4B – Obtain historical data Standard 5 – The student engages in historical issues-analysis and decision-making. 5A – Identify problems and dilemmas in the past 5B – Analyze the interests and values of the various people involved Standards in History for Grades K-4 (p. 29) Topic 2, Standard 3 – The people, events, problems, and ideas that created the history of their state 3E – The student understands the ideas that were significant in the development of the state and that helped to forge its unique identity.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, (Bulletin 111, 2010) Chapter 4 Learning Expectations: Early Grades Standard 2 – Time, Continuity, and Change, p. 70

Primary Learning Objective(s):

The student will:

• Analyze the significance that location plays in the founding and growth of towns, specifically Birmingham.

• Examine how the availability of transportation and resources leads to the growth of towns and cities.

• Explore perspectives of the relationships, culture, and events of the founding of Birmingham that can be gained through images.

• Empathize with people from the past.

• Describe and illustrate reasons leading to the fast growth of Birmingham.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

0 to 30 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

• History of Elyton Land Company and Birmingham, Alabama (Copy of document attached as Elyton Land Co. PDF.)

• Modes of Transportation Photos (attached)

• Four-Fold Graphic Organizer (attached)

• Document-based Essay Questions (attached)

• Image-based Questions (attached)

• Wall map of Alabama or the southeastern United States

• Wall map of the world or a globe

• One square piece of white copy paper – approximately 8.5” x 8.5” or larger - per student

• Colored pencils or crayons – enough for all students

Technology Resources Needed:

• Computer with internet access

• Digital projector


Background information for teacher:

• Birmingham, Alabama (bûr'mĭng-hăm')

o It was first settled in 1813 as the town of Elyton. o Blast furnaces began operating in late 1800s because of the rich iron ore and other mineral deposits.

o The city was laid out at the intersection of two railroads.

o It was incorporated in 1871 and grew rapidly as an industrial center, earning it the nickname “Magic City.”

o The location of the county courthouse was moved from Elyton to Birmingham.

o The “iron boom” in Alabama began in 1880, which is the year Alice furnaces started operating.

o Birmingham was once called the “Pittsburgh of the South.”

• Birmingham, England (bûr'mĭng-əm)

o This was a major industrial center and was a center of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century.

• Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

o This was once an industrial center.

Suggested reading: Davis, Christopher. "The Role of the Elyton Land Company in Birmingham During the Depression of 1873 to 1879 ." Samford University, Copyright 2001. Web. 6 Jul 2010. .

See also, the Encyclopedia of Alabama article on Birmingham


• The students should have an understanding of the economic condition of the South after the Civil War and the necessity of rebuilding the southern economy.


Engagement/Motivation Activity:

The teacher will start the lesson by asking these questions:

o Have you ever heard of Birmingham?

o What do you know about Birmingham?

o Do you know why it became a city?

o Do you think transportation played a role?

o Why did they decide to call it Birmingham? (Have a student do a quick internet search to find this answer if it is not known by any students or share the reason – found in background/preparation section.Tie this in with Step 1.)

Step 1 Have students locate Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England, on a world map or globe. Make geographical comparisons.

Step 2 Discuss the importance of location, transportation, and availability of resources with regard to where cities are located.

Step 3 The teacher or student will read indicated portions of Chapter 1 (listed below) of the History of Elyton Land Company and Birmingham, Alabama, a primary resource document. Students will discuss these excerpts as the teacher walks through the points of the article using document-based questions. (Copy of document attached as Elyton Land Co. PDF.)

• Page 3, first paragraph; contains: …South and North Railroad …in course of construction from Montgomery to Decatur… knowing that there were immense deposits of coal and iron ore in Jefferson County, and knowing also that the above mentioned railroad must cross the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad… around the intersection of the two roads and forming a corporation for the purpose of building a town thereon.

• Page 7, second paragraph; contains: …vast possibilities of Birmingham Page 10, first partial paragraph; contains: Birmingham grew and prospered…

Step 4 After discussing the Elyton document, the teacher will ask these questions:

• What role did railroads play in the building of Birmingham?

• What was the importance of the railroad? (You may wish to explain that Elyton is now a community within Birmingham.)

Step 5 Then the teacher will show at least four of the seven images of transportation (attached) from this time period using a document camera or computer and projector and will use image-based questions to engage students with these primary resources. The following images are saved in the Word document: Modes of Transportation Photos and can be found individually on the internet as follows:

Great Southern Railroad engine

Mule-drawn streetcar

Barges on the Warrior River

Railroad yard in Montgomery

Barge and train transporting coal

Image of streetcar track in downtown Birmingham

The students will compare modes of transportation of the time period and will discuss transportation by river, highway, and rail. Step 6 Students will complete the graphic organizer assessment and then share and display their products. (Simple directions for the teacher on how to fold the graphic organizer are attached as a Word document: Four-Fold Graphic Organizer.)

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Assessment Strategies

• Students will use a fold-it graphic organizer to show and tell four reasons that led to Birmingham becoming a city and earning the nickname “Magic City.” Students will label each flap with a reason and description or explanation, then draw a related illustration on the back of each flap. In the center square of the graphic organizer, students will illustrate a scene from Birmingham in the late 1800s or early 1900s. (Sample of Four-Fold Graphic Organizer attached.)


Students will create a three-column graphic organizer by folding a piece of paper into thirds and then unfolding it. (Make hamburger-like folds – or fold the paper to make short, wide columns – not hotdog ones, which would be long and narrow.) Students will then write one of these headings at the top of each column: liquid highway, concrete highway, and steel or rail. Beneath each of these headings, students will list as many methods or modes of transportation as they can. For example, boat would be listed under liquid highway.


Provide one completed example – showing a reason and an illustration – of the fold-it graphic organizer assessment activity.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.