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Untold History: Hidden Figures - Lesser-Known Heroes


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Tech Product/Equipment:
Computer and projector, Mobile devices for students, Speakers

Activity Description

Untold History
Source: Untold History (License: Protected by Copyright (c) [i.e. screenshot])
In this lesson, students discuss heroes and their traits, learn about a hidden figure in U.S. history and athletics by watching a video and answering questions, and then make a presentation about an unknown or less known or everyday hero.


  1. Check the website to ensure it is not blocked at your site.
  2. Read through the lesson plan.
  3. Print and make copies of any handouts.
  4. Decide which brainstorming tool to use ( or Jamboard) and practice with it.


Preview the lesson and decide which parts to use or not, depending on your course student learning outcomes. Choose a different video from the Untold History Hidden Figures category at, as desired and depending on your students and their interests. In that case, you will need to prepare your own pre-, while-viewing, and post-viewing questions.

Teacher Tips

Models can be useful for students to understand assignment expectations. Create your own sample presentation about a hidden figure, less known, or everyday hero to show students.

More Ways

The Untold History website has educational videos on a wide range of topics in categories that include U.S. History, America Explained, American Artifacts, Women and the American Story, Slavery, the Wild West, Democracy, Art that Change America, Famous Speeches, Girlhood, and more.

You may choose to use a different video, other than the Jim Thorpe video. View other Hidden Figures videos on the site at

Program Areas

  • ABE: Adult Basic Education
  • ESL: English as a Second Language


  • Intermediate
  • High
  • Intermediate Low
  • Intermediate High
  • Advanced

Lesson Plan


Write the word "hero." Ask students to define hero.

Ask students to name heroes in various areas: cartoon, comic book, and movie superheroes, political/government, historical/national, civil rights, religious, athletic, etc. List students' contributions.

Ask volunteers to talk about one of the heroes on the list. What is that person known for? Ask students if heroes need to be famous or well-known.

Tell students that some heroes are personal heroes. Ask if anyone knows of a personal hero. As desired, talk about your own personal hero.

Other heroes can be "hidden figures," or lesser-known. You may choose to name a few.

As students if they can think of one word or phrase to say to what all heroes have in common.



Ask students to name famous athletes and to say whether or not they can be considered heroes. If so, ask students to explain why.

Tell students that they are going to learn about a lesser-known hero, an American athlete who competed and won in the Olympics. Ask if they know any Olympians. Tell students that this athlete was voted in a poll of sports fans as the Greatest Athlete. Who could it be? Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, Wayne Gretzky, Jack Nicklaus, and Michael Jordan were among the vote-getters.

Tell students that the winner was a native American. Can they name any well-known native American athletes? If not, this is why this athlete is known as a "lesser-known hero."

Show the following photo of Jim Thorpe from the 1912 Olympics. Ask students what they notice. What sport did he compete in? As needed, zoom in on his shoes. Explain that just before competing, Thorpe's shoes were stolen, but he found a mismatched pair of replacements, including one from a trash can, and won the gold medal wearing them. Overall, Thorpe won eight of the 15 individual events including the pentathlon and decathlon.
Jim Thorpe, 1912 Summer Olympics
Source: Wikimedia Commons (License: CC0/Public Domain)


Engagement Enhancement

1. Listen: video.

Distribute the video questions about Jim Thorpe. You may also choose students to watch individually on their own for homework or create a listening exercise using a tool such as EdPuzzle.

The video is captioned and is available on the Untold History website at and on YouTube at Have students watch the video, answer the questions, and compare with classmates before checking as a whole group. 

These are the questions and the answers?

1. When did sports writers vote for the greatest American athlete of the century?

a) 1950

b) 1912

c) 1953

d) 1919


2. What was Jim Thorpe's native name?

a) Bright Path

b) Jim Thorpe

c) Watho Huck

d) Fork


3. Where was Jim Thorpe born?

a) Oklahoma

b) New York

c) California

d) Florida


4. What was Jim Thorpe's achievement in the Stockholm Olympics?

a) He won gold in pentathlon only

b) He won gold in decathlon only

c) He won gold in both pentathlon and decathlon

d) He didn't win any medal


5. What was the toughest individual sport that Jim Thorpe competed in?

a) Football

b) Basketball

c) Pentathlon

d) Baseball


6. What was Jim Thorpe's achievement in pro football?

a) He won the championship with a stunning 95-yard punt

b) He played for the New York Giants

c) He played for the World Famous Indians

d) He didn't play pro football


7. Why was Jim Thorpe stripped of his medals after the Olympics?

a) He broke the competition's strict amateur rules

b) He used performance-enhancing drugs

c) He didn't show up for the medal ceremony

d) He was caught cheating during the competition


8. Why did it take almost a century for Jim Thorpe to feature on a Wheaties box?

a) He was not a popular athlete

b) He didn't want to be featured on a Wheaties box

c) He was stripped of his medals

d) America wasn't ready to accept a Native American as an all-time great


9. What was the reason for Hollywood casting a white actor in the lead role in the movie about Jim Thorpe's life?

a) There were no Native American actors available

b) It was a deliberate decision to exclude Native Americans

c) The white actor was more talented than any Native American actor

d) The movie was not about Jim Thorpe's life


10. When did Jim Thorpe die?

a) 1953

b) 1912

c) 1950

d) 1919


Correct answers:

1. a

2. c

3. a

4. c

5. c

6. a

7. a

8. d

9. b

10. a

After checking the answers, ask students to say or write a sentence in their own words why Jim Thorpe was a hero, and in particular, a hidden figure or lesser-known hero.

2. Conversation.

Tell students that they are going to discuss in small group their thoughts about heros. Distribute the hero conversation questions for students to ask and answer in pairs or small groups. Debrief after the conversation.

3. Brainstorm.

Have student do an associative brainstorm of words and phrases related to heroes.

Option 1: Use Jamboard. Make a copy of this Hero Mind Map Jamboard. Demonstrate how to post with a sticky note or a text box. If your class is small, students can post on the first first. If you have a larger class, assign groups to post to different frames. You can move to new frames at the top with the right arrow. There are a total of 10 frames. Select the three dots to delete or duplicate the frame.

Option 2: Have students individually, in pairs or small groups create a single account at After registering and logging in, select create and choose the "Circle Layout" mindmap. Demonstrate how to type "Hero" in the middle and enter words in each of the outside circles. Students can share their mindmaps with you with the share icon in the top right. 

Have students present their mindmaps, as time permits, or print or post them for all to see. Ask students to look for simiilarities and unique ideas.

4. Distribute the hero prompt and explain. Students may choose a famous hero, a lesser-known hero, or a personal hero.

Students may use the Untold Stories Hidden Figures videos, CNN Heroes, or other sources.

Provide a sample presentation to help students understand expectations. If you plan so use a rubric to evaluate the presentation, provide it and explain. Ask students to complete the project in stages. Begin with a due date for their topics. Then ask them to tell what technology tool they will use. You may provide a note-taking form or ask them to submit parts of the assignment in stages, giving feedback on the content.

Enhancement Extension

Students present their hero presentations. Provide summative feedback with a checklist, rubric, self-assessment tool, or peer feedback form.


Students will be able to synthesize information in order to plan and deliver oral presentations on researched topics, integrating graphics or multimedia when useful.



  • Reasoning Through Language Arts
    • Mechanics (Capitalization, Punctuation, Spelling)
  • Writing
    • Basic Sentences
    • Mechanics (Capitalization, Punctuation, Spelling)
    • Report Writing


  • Reading Foundational Skills
    • RF.2 - Demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes). (Phonological Awareness)
  • Writing
    • CCR Anchor 2 - Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
    • CCR Anchor 4 - Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    • CCR Anchor 6 - Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
    • CCR Anchor 7 - Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
    • CCR Anchor 8 - Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
  • Speaking and Listening
    • CCR Anchor 1 - Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    • CCR Anchor 2 - Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
    • CCR Anchor 6 - Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
  • Language
    • CCR Anchor 1 - Demonstrate command of the conventions of English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • CCR Anchor 2 - Demonstrate command of the conventions of English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • CCR Anchor 3 - Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
    • CCR Anchor 4 - Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.


Listening, Speaking, Writing, presentation, speaking, video, writing, Untold History, grammar, heroes, hidden figures, listening, CNN Heroes, brainstorming, mind map


Untold History, video,, Jamboard, PowerPoint, Google Slides

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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN220124 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.