Looking back to 1980

Goal: To provide students with opportunity to speculate, draw inferences, and form conclusions from information they have collected.

Objectives: Students will

  1. Engage in a guided-imagery exercise designed to stimulate motivation for a writing assignment


  2. Use clustering/mindmapping techniques to generate ideas, graphically represent inferences, and organize conclusions for a written report


  3. Write a report that presents conclusions the writer has reached, and facts substantiating those conclusions


Key Concepts: Inferences about life in other cultures, other times, may be drawn from excavated artifacts.

Summary: The teacher uses guided imagery to facilitate students' imagining themselves to be 25th-Century archaeologists, excavating artifacts from the site of a volcano active in the 1980's. Students then write a report detailing the inferences they have drawn and conclusions they have reached about human culture at the time of the eruption, substantiated by their analyses of those artifacts. (Note that this activity may refer to an eruption at any imaginary or actual volcanic site.)

Content Areas: Writing, social studies, archaeology, anthropology, history

Materials Needed:

  1. Paper and pencil

Instructional Strategies:

  1. Clustering/Mindmapping
  2. Peer Editing
  3. The Magic of Metaphor


Evaluation: Establish criteria (depending upon what you have chosen to emphasize) for teacher or self-evaluation. These might include such questions as:

  1. Does each idea-cluster have at least three major sub-topics?
  2. Do the clusters contain descriptive, colorful language?
  3. Are each of the conclusions reached in the report substantiated by two or more 'facts?'
  4. Is creativity and originality exhibited in the final report?
  5. Has care been taken in the final revision/draft to correct mechanical errors?
  6. Has the final report been read by at least two peer-editors?


Instructional Sequence:  

  1. Introduce this activity with your own guided imagery, or read the following:

    You are an archaeologist from the 25th Century. You have just received an exciting new assignment. You are to direct the excavation of an ancient mudflow created by the eruption of (Mount St. Helens more than 400 years ago). Shortly after your arrival at the site, the digging begins. Day after day for two weeks, you and your crew carefully excavate layer upon layer of earth, silt and rocks, frequently coming upon huge boulders which can be moved only with the power and leverage provided by special heavy equipment. As one of these boulders is being moved, you sense that you are on the verge of great discoveries, for at its base you see an unfamiliar, shiny object that glistens and twinkles in the sun's rays. You pick up a small ring of metal unlike anything you have ever seen or read about. You call excitedly to other members of your crew, who, in just a few hours, help you unearth an astonishing collection of artifacts. A few of them are recognizable as items you've learned about in classes in history and anthropology. But others are completely unfamiliar: the object that first caught your eye -- the aluminum pop-top from a soft drink can -- and a pocket calculator, a rubber raft, a steel-belted radial tire, the rusted hulk of a Volkswagen, a digital watch, a leather belt, a plastic 'zip-lock' bag and inside the bag, perfectly preserved, a copy of TV Guide. For the next few minutes, quietly focus your mind's eye on these objects. What do they tell you about human life in (Washington State at the time of the Mount St. Helens eruption)? (Allow 2-3 minutes for silent reflection.)


  2. Conduct a discussion about the guided imagery, and students' individual imaginings about the artifacts unearthed. To encourage imaginative speculation, remind students to think in terms of a 25th-Century perspective: the objects unearthed at the site are not in use in their own day, and are foreign to them.


  3. As students contribute, note on the chalkboard key words, phrases, and images mentioned. (Use the "Clustering" method.) At the end of the discussion, give a brief explanation of the clustering method which you have just modeled on the board, or take time here to explicitly teach it as a study and note-taking skill.


  4. Now direct your students to write their own lists of several of the items excavated in the guided imagery. Tell them to select the items they would find most interesting to study if they were archaeologists of the future. Explain that they will use these lists to generate ideas for a report they will write, on life in (Washington State) at the time of the eruption. 


  5. As a whole class or in small groups, discuss the difference between an inference and a conclusion. What might an archaeologist infer about our culture from these artifacts? What might they conclude?


  6. Referring to the model on the board, ask students to "cluster" their ideas, key words and images around each of the items on their lists. Establish a minimum number of sub-topics per item and encourage the use of colorful descriptive language. (Circulate to assist with this if the technique is new to them.)


  7. In the next one or two class periods, help students to organize their clustered inferences into the final conclusions they will report in writing. They might work individually or in pairs. (Small-group editing, with each student reading aloud a draft of the report and getting feedback from peers, would be useful here. See:  Peer Editing.) 


  8. Have students finalize reports according to the standards for written work established for your class.



  1. Hold an "archaeologists' forum" in which individual students will share their inferences and conclusions about life in (Washington State) in 1980. Encourage students to take issue with their classmates' conclusions, and express opinions of their own, in a courteous and respectful way. This activity could then lead to debates about the various conclusions students have reached regarding one or more of the objects excavated.


  2. Conduct a survey, in which students ask people they know to identify the object(s) in our present environment that would be mostly likely to perplex people living in the 25th Century. Tabulate the results and share findings in further class discussion.