How Can Fire Change a City?


How Can Fire Change a City?


Fires -- Washington (State) -- Ellensburg.
Washington (State) -- Ellensburg.
Real estate development.
City planning.
Land use, Urban -- Washington (State) -- Ellensburg.


Callie Birklid


Washington State Library, Office of the Secretary of State




[Grades 6-8]

In this focused inquiry, students investigate the question How can a fire change a city?

Students engage in a discovery inquiry where they will look at advertisements from before the fire, an article right after the fire, and an article from a month after the fire. Students will develop questions using a questioning strategy after each of the articles. After this, students will write an argument with a clear claim, clear evidence, and sound reasoning. At the end of the lesson, students will do independent research using the questions that they wrote to go deeper into the content.

Lesson Objectives

Students will...
  • Deep read primary sources.
  • Develop questions about the sources.
  • Write an argument using evidence from the reading.
  • Engage in independent research using their questions.



Washington State Social Studies Standards:
  • SSS2.6-8.1.  Create and use research questions to guide inquiry on an issue or event.
  • SSS3.6-8.1.  Engage in discussion, analyzing multiple viewpoints on public issues.
  • H1.6-8.5.  Explain how themes and developments have defined eras in Washington state history from 1854 to the present:
    • Territory and treaty-making (1854-1889)
    • Railroads, reform, immigration, and labor (1889-1930)
    • Turmoil and triumph (1930-1974)
    • New technologies and industries in contemporary Washington (1975-present)


Focused Inquiry

Staging the Question

Compelling Question: How can a fire change a city?
Note for teachers: For this inquiry you may not want to share the compelling question or the supporting question until students have read all the sources. Part of the purpose of this lesson is to have students discover the impact of the fire on the city of Ellensburg. Keeping the questions for this lesson ambiguous, at first, could create a deeper curiosity in students.

Formative Performance Task

Supporting Question: Did the fire on July 4, 1889 hurt Ellensburg’s chances of becoming the state capital?

In pairs or small groups, have students look over the newspaper advertisement from May 16, 1889. After they have read it, have students come up with as many questions about the advertisement as they can. Teachers may want to use a strategy such as the Question Formulation Technique from the Right Question Institute or others strategies that help students develop their own questions about a topic. Have students prioritize their questions and share with the class. As a class, you may choose to narrow the number of questions to what makes the most sense for your students. Have the students look at a map of Washington.

Have students come up with a list of positives and negatives for having the state capital in Ellensburg. Have them think about the impact on both the city of Ellensburg and the state as a whole.

Once the students have shared their ideas, introduce the “Burned Out” excerpt from July 8, 1889. Have students read and annotate the document. When they are done, place students in pairs or small groups and have them see if any of their questions have been answered. Then have students use the same question developing strategy/ies to write as many questions as they can. Have students share with the whole class what questions of theirs were answered and any new questions they may have.

After that is done, have students read and annotate the “Ellensburgh” from the Portland Oregonian excerpt. In pairs or small groups, have students see if any of their questions have been answered and, using the same question development strategy, come up with more questions.

As a class, have a discussion around some or all other questions that students have come up with. Not all questions may be answered.

Taking Informed Action

Argument: After students have finished their discussions, have them individually answer the compelling question, how can a fire change a city, using evidence from their readings and discussion. Student responses should include a clear claim, specific evidence, and a well-thought-out reason.

Have students do some research on one of more of the unanswered questions and report out to their class what they have learned.

How Can Fire Change a City Lesson Plan with Activity Sheet (form fillable pdf)
How Can Fire Change a City Text Set (pdf)
The Washington State Capitol Park Addition (pdf)
Burned out (pdf)
Ellensburgh from the Portland Oregonian (pdf)
How Can Fire Change a City Activity Sheet (form fillable pdf)