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Playing in Chicago

Grades 3 to 5


From bicycles to electric trains to paper dolls, Chicagoland was once home to an enormous toy industry. Chicago companies brought new kinds of toys to the market including transportation toys, like Tootsie Toys, and construction toys, such as Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. This unit will introduce students to the inventors of these toys, explore the purpose and history of toys, and analyze advertising techniques.


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Lesson 1: Play with a Purpose


This lesson deepens students' thinking about toys by raising a series of questions, including: How do toys teach us about history and how to toys illustrate an inventor's creativity? To begin answering these questions, students will read short biographies of the inventors of three famous Chicago toys and examine images of their products. Students will work in small groups to complete toy analysis chart and worksheet. They will then choose their favorite modern toy and write a letter describing it and its purpose. After completing this lesson, students will be able to think beyond toys as mere play items and discuss the nature of invention.


Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson.



Lesson 2: Build it with Lincoln Logs!


In this lesson, students will take a close look at the marketing of Lincoln Logs over time. Students will analyze toy advertisements, comparing and contrasting prices, styles, and images. Students will end the lesson by inventing their own toy and designing a convincing advertisement for it. At the conclusion of this lesson, students will know who the target audience was during the 1950s and describe how toys were advertised during that time period. Students will be able to compare Lincoln Logs to more recent toys and describe changes in advertising techniques.


Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson.



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