Lesson Plan

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Interstate Highways From the Ground Up

This lesson gives students a first-hand opportunity to hear about the planning and effort it takes to build a highway through an oral history of a North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) resident engineer. Through his oral history, students will learn about "the largest single construction project in the history of the NCDOT." That project is also known as the I-26 corridor in Madison County, North Carolina. This lesson encourages students to think about the enormous impact of highways in our personal lives, and on North Carolina's economy, while recognizing how we take highways for granted.

Grades 11 & 12 - Social Studies

Classroom Time Needed: 1 class period

Learning Outcomes
Curriculum Alignment
Materials and Resources
Additional Web Sites

Learning Outcomes

Students will learn about the historic origins of the interstate highway system.

Students will consider the impact of highways in their lives and the lives of all Americans.

Through the use of oral histories, students will evaluate the pros and cons of an interstate highway system.

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Curriculum Alignment

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grades 11 &12 Social Studies

Goal 7: The learner will research the current transportation systems in North Carolina and outline possible proposals for the future.

  • Objective 7.01 - Research the different transportation systems in North Carolina.
  • Objective 7.02 - Identify problems associated with each transportation system.
  • Objective 7.03 - Explore proposals for resolving transportation problems in the state.

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Materials and Resources


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

Student worksheet (PDF) - One copy for each student

4 oral history excerpts (mp3 files)

If students will be doing one or both of the warm-up activities mentioned below, teachers should gather at least five road maps of the same or different states. On an index card, write the name of two cities that appear on the map and that are connected by at least one highway. Do this for each map.

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 discussion questions.

Teachers should familiarize themselves with the I-26 construction project. The Unofficial Pages offer a good overview.

Teachers should familiarize themselves with the geography of the I-26 corridor. It is located in Madison County, North Carolina, and connects NC-213 near Mars Hill to US-23 in Tennessee. Find the area on a wall map or online by searching for Mars Hill, NC, in Google Maps.

Warm-up Activity: Considering Highways

Divide students into groups that they can remain in for the rest of the period. Explain that today's lesson is on the federal Interstate highway system, and that you will be discussing the benefits and drawbacks of this relatively recent technological development.

Share the following information with students:

  • All highways have numbers, and two numbering systems for highways exist, the Federal Highway System adopted in 1924 (highways starting with US) and the Interstate Highway System, adopted in 1956 (highways starting with I).
  • Generally, in both systems, odd numbered highways run North-South while even numbered highways run East-West.
  • Major cross-country routes tend to end in 0 or 5.
  • Three-digit road numbers beginning with an even number are either beltways that go around a city or freeways that go through a city.

Provide a state highway map to each group of students, along with the index card with two locations from the map. Give students in the group enough time to plot the fastest route between the two locations. (This may vary depending on your grade level. An example of an easier option in North Carolina is to plot Raleigh to Greensboro, a greater challenge would be Laurinburg to New Bern.) It may be interesting to give each group of students a different map from different states. United States road maps are available at any AAA office.

As students are plotting their routes, ask them to notice:

  • Are they using an interstate, United States or state highways?
  • What number does the highway have? Is it odd or even? Does it end in a 5 or 0?
  • How many lanes is each highway? (They might use the legend to answer this question.)

Discuss these answers and the routes students chose.

Lesson Part One: Divided Highways

Pass out a copy of the Excerpts Handout to each student.

Read aloud the excerpt from the Tom Lewis's Divided Highways (New York: Penguin Group, 1997; Introduction, p. ix-xi). Ask students to consider how the author's description matches some of their viewpoints.

Discuss the answers to the questions:

  • What did you learn in that excerpt that you did not know, or think about, before?
  • What is the general point the author is making? Do you agree with his point?
  • The Republican president mentioned is Dwight D. Eisenhower. After what major historical event was Eisenhower elected?

Lesson Part Two: Eisenhower and the Highway

Next on the Excerpts Handout, read aloud the introduction to Stan Hyatt's oral history.

Play the Eisenhower and the Highway oral history excerpt and discuss:

  • When and where did Eisenhower get the idea for an interstate highway system?
  • Why would good highways be helpful for defense?
  • For what reasons do most people use highways? What would be different in your life if there were no highways?

Lesson Part Three: History and Safety

Next on the Excerpts Handout, read aloud the background information of I-26.

Play the History and Safety oral history excerpt and discuss:

  • Stan Hyatt mentions that 100 years ago, the road was a drover's route, which was a path used by people who were moving their livestock from their farms to a city center to be sold or butchered. Why would humans continue to use the same general route?
  • How much did the traffic count increase since the 1930s?
  • What vehicles exist now that did not exist in 1930?
  • What was unsafe about the old road?
  • What were some reasons Stan Hyatt mentions why the old road could not be improved?

Lesson Part Four: Impact on People and Places

Play the Impact on People and Places oral history excerpt and discuss:

  • What surprised you in listening to this oral history excerpt?
  • What considerations would need to go into moving a cemetery?
  • What were some of the environmental considerations?
  • What were the three major issues in building the highway?

Lesson Part Five: Personal Impact

Play the Personal Impact oral history excerpt and discuss:

  • What is the best reason you have heard so far for why they built this part of the corridor?
  • What is the biggest negative impact that was mentioned?

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Students will complete the worksheet in class and answer oral history discussion questions. At the end of class, ask each student to write down a "muddy issue" question: one question about a topic that they did not fully understand in class. Collect and read through these. Discuss answers in the following class period.

Alternative Assessment

In his oral history excerpt, Stan Hyatt mentions that "life is full of choices." Ask students write an argumentative essay, choosing a stance on whether or not the interstate highway system has had an overall positive or negative impact on their life. They should offer supporting reasons and argue against any opposing reasons.

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Supplemental Information

Further Information about the Interstate-26 corridor

The Unofficial Pages: I-26 Construction, Madison County, North Carolina - Created by John Lansford, Project Design Engineer for sections A-10C and A-10D, this site includes a 1999 introduction, a 2003 project update, and many images including maps and photos of the construction project.

I-26, Corridor of Change - This story includes an interactive map and both written and photo essays by Rob Amberg, Madison County resident, oral historian, and photographer. Amberg conducted many of the interviews included in this online learning module.

Complete Oral Histories

Stan Hyatt 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 learning module are listed here as are others relating to the Interstate 26 corridor.

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