Lesson Plan

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Changing Communities: Past vs. Future

This lesson plan introduces students to changes that have occurred in western North Carolina, through two hundred years of national and regional development. Students will learn about the geographical, political, and technological issues that have influenced change in mountain communities using oral histories by Madison County residents. They will learn about the history of road building in the North Carolina mountains, and the relatively recent decision to connect two halves of interstate highway in Madison County. They will compare and contrast the negative and positive changes that road construction has brought to the region, and listen to oral histories of locals who have experienced both good and bad effects. Through discussion with classmates, they will create a list of the advantages and disadvantages of both tradition and development. After collecting and reviewing information about the construction of Interstate 26 through Madison County, students will write an editorial. In this editorial, students will clearly state their position on the Interstate 26 debate, and will support their argument with evidence from the oral histories.

Grades 8, 11 & 12 - Social Studies, Grade 10 - English Language Arts

Classroom Time Needed: 3 50-minute class periods, or 2 90-minute block class periods

Learning Outcomes
Curriculum Alignment
Materials and Resources
Supplemental Information

Learning Outcomes

Students will recognize the complexities of community development, and understand the arguments both for and against modernization.

Through the use of oral histories, students will relate history to the personal experiences of North Carolinians.

Students will formulate their own opinions about this controversial issue and express them in an editorial.

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Curriculum Alignment

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grade 8 Social Studies

Goal 9: The learner will explore examples of and opportunities for active citizenship, past and present, at the local and state levels.

  • Objective 9.01 - Describe contemporary political, economic, and social issues at the state and local levels and evaluate their impact on the community.

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grade 10 English Language Arts

Goal 3: The learner will defend argumentative positions on literary or nonliterary issues.

  • Objective 3.02 - Produce editorials or responses to editorials for a neutral audience by providing a clearly stated position or proposed solution and relevant, reliable support.

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grades 11 & 12 Social Studies - Contemporary Issues in N.C. History

Goal 10: The learner will examine local and community issues and identify ways to make positive contributions.

  • Objective 10.01 - Compile a list of local and community concerns and issues.

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Materials and Resources


Excerpts Handout (Word document) - One copy for each student

4 oral history excerpts (mp3 files)

Online and print resources for student research on the Interstate 26 corridor construction project in Madison County, North Carolina.

Technology Resources

  • Computer
  • Speakers
  • Internet connection
  • CD player (in lieu of the computer, speakers and internet connection, if you have burned your own CD)

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Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts and review the information resources included in this lesson plan.

Students should be familiarized with the geography of the I-26 corridor. It is a nine-mile section of highway located in Madison County, NC. Completed in 2003, I-26 now runs from Columbus, OH to Charleston, SC. Localities mentioned in the oral histories include towns, mountains, and mountain passes in Madison County and Buncombe County, NC. Find the area on a wall map or online by searching for Mars Hill, NC, in Google Maps.

Warm-up: Historical Effects

Review with students the ways in which the mountains of western North Carolina have affected the regions development throughout history:

  • North Carolina's Final Frontier: Settlement of the Mountain Regions, 1775 to 1838
  • Mountain Area History
  • Change in the Mountains (the fifth section, 21st Century, discusses the Interstate 26 construction project and may want to saved for the latter half of the lesson)

Links to these web resources are provided in Supplemental Information.

Activity One: Taking a Look at Geography and Demographics

Review how western North Carolina's rugged geography has affected the county's development. The region is home to the Balsam, Black, Blue Ridge, Great Smoky, and Nantahala Mountains and several of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River.

Focus on the importance of transportation in the process of regional and national development. Consider the impacts automobiles, the rail system, and modern highways have had both locally and globally. Looking at the first four sections from Change in the Mountains, use the website to review one mountain county's (Madison County, NC) demographics from the colonial period to the early 21st century.

Emphasize to students that the mountains slowed development in western North Carolina for many years, but that technological advancements in transportation have opened the area to change.

Lead a class discussion about the demographics of western North Carolina. How have the demographics changed throughout the decades?

In preparation for class two, ask students to think about building, development, and change that has or is occurring in their own communities and neighborhoods?

Activity Two: Listening to the Oral Histories

Review what students already know about development in western North Carolina, asking themto summarize significant shifts throughout history.

Ask students to share stories about building, development, and change within their own communities and neighborhoods.

Introduce the concept of oral histories, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the "regular person" to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history. Ask students to come up with more reasons why we should value oral histories - such as allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, making connections between generations, passing on the art of storytelling, etc. More resources about oral histories are provided in Supplemental Information.

Hand out transcripts of the oral histories, and ask students as they listen to take notes on the speakers' experiences and opinions.

Play the first oral history excerpt, from Jerry Plemmons and allow students a minute or two to record their thoughts.

Play the second oral history excerpt, from Richard Lee Hoffman Jr. and again allow time for students to record their thoughts.

Play the third oral history excerpt, from Taylor Barnhill and allow time for students to record their thoughts.

Play the fourth oral history excerpt, from Mayor Raymond Rapp and allow time for taking notes.

Follow up with discussion questions:

  • Which speakers did you feel support the construction of Interstate 26? Which are against the construction project? Did any of the speakers seem undecided?
  • What are some of the specific negative and positive consequences of interstate construction expressed by the speakers?
  • Ask for any other opinions or thoughts about the oral histories.

Activity Three: Discussing building, development, and changing communities

Divide students into small groups. Assign one student to be the recorder, and ask groups to brainstorm about the positive and negative changes interstate construction could bring to a community. Some prompts that could be given to students:

  • What are reasons a business owner would support plans to bring an interstate highway through their town? What are reasons they would not support plans for interstate construction?
  • Can you imagine ways a new interstate in your community would affect you personally?
  • Is economic development necessarily a good thing?

Encourage students to think back on the experiences the class heard in the oral histories or stories they've heard in their own communities to come up with ideas.

Share the ideas that the groups have come up with among the whole class, writing a list of pros and cons on the board.

Ideas of potential benefits that may be mentioned:

  • commuting to school and work outside of town would be made easier, thus encouraging people not to move away for education and career opportunities
  • more people coming through town would boost the local economy
  • improving the town's economy would create more jobs locally
  • larger roads could handle increased traffic and improve safety

Ideas of potential negatives that may be mentioned:

  • new businesses brought by the interstate would offer only low paying service jobs
  • these new businesses would eventually push out local businesses
  • the community's uniqueness would be erased as large numbers of new people passed through or moved to the area
  • community closeness would be lessened

Distribute editorial assignment (included in Assessment) and allow students time to begin brainstorming ideas for their arguments.

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Editorial Assignment:

Write an editorial explaining your position on the community debate over interstate construction. First, review what you've learned, reflect on personal experiences, and recall the oral histories to decide which argument you will make. Next, research the I-26 corridor project in Madison County. Examine reasons given by community members, local officials, and Department of Transportation documentation for moving forward with the project, and compare them to the complaints of concerned community members. Your teacher and library media specialist can help you find this information. Begin drafting your argument, making sure to include personal reactions, data from your research, and quotations from the oral histories you heard. How did you feel when you first started thinking about this issue? Has your opinion changed?

You should make clear the side for which you are arguing, and should support this argument with logical points. Your arguments should include at least one point drawn from your personal experiences, one point drawn from the oral histories, and one point drawn from your research. Revise your draft, making sure your arguments are logical and are supported with information from your research and the oral histories. Review your draft for grammar, spelling and organization, include a References/Works Cited page, and turn in your final editorial.

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Supplemental Information

Information about the history of western North Carolina

North Carolina's Final Frontier: Settlement of the Mountain Regions, 1775 to 1838 - By Ron Holland from the North Carolina Museum of History, Office of Archives and History (2005).

Change in the Mountains (colonial era to the beginning of the 21st century) - The lesson plan is part of this broader educational website from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (2007).

Further Information about the Interstate-26 corridor

I-26 Connector, Asheville, NC - A public information website, by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, that describes the I-26 corridor project (date?).

The Political History of I-26: Dancing to the Tennessee Waltz - An opinion piece about how state-run highway construction and politics influence transportation planning (1992).

Morning Edition - An eight minute NPR story describing the community debate over Interstate 26 in Madison County, NC (1998).

The Unofficial Pages: I-26 Construction, Madison County, North Carolina - A website documenting the construction of two sections of I-26. The site was created by John Lansford, Project Design Engineer for these sections (1999-2003).

Context Sensitive Solution Case Study I-26 TIP Project A-10C and A-10D: Madison County North Carolina - A case study of the I-26 corridor project by North Carolina State University's Center of Transportation and Environment (2004).

I-26, Corridor of Change - Electronic journal story by Rob Amberg, Madison County resident, photographer, and the oral historian who conducted each of the four oral histories included in this lesson plan (2007).

Complete Oral Histories

Jerry Plemmons oral history

Richard Lee Hoffman Jr. oral history

Taylor Barnhill oral history

Mayor Raymond Rapp oral history

Environmental Transformations in North Carolina - These twenty-three oral histories, from UNC-Chapel Hill's Oral Histories of the American South Collection, record stories of environmental change in North Carolina. Many of the interviews included in this online learning module are listed here as are others relating to the Interstate 26 corridor.

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