Turkey vs. Bald Eagle: Debate Writing (and Note Taking)

Compare the bald eagle vs. the turkey for the US national emblem - a social studies/history note taking and writing activity.

Have you ever wondered why the bald eagle was chosen as the national emblem of the United States of America? What makes the bald eagle so special?

Bald Eagle

Ask your student to quickly list a few reasons why he/she thinks a bald eagle represents America. Discuss that the bald eagle was chosen soon after the Revolutationary War – the American War of Independence (The timing of the end of the war has an impact on why the bald eagle was chosen.  Eagle vs. Turkey: America’s First Bird Controversy article is a great resource to learn more!) Have the student make a list of reasons that support why the bald eagle is the national emblem. Below are some common reasons for you, the teacher. (Do not share these ideas with students, as you want your student to come up with his/her own reasons.)

If time allows, ask your student to research bald eagles to help him/her come up the list of reasons.

Other Options for National Emblem

Do you think the bald eagle was the best choice to represent America?

Benjamin Franklin was against using the bald eagle as the national emblem; he thought the turkey was more appropriate. Ask your student to read and explain what Benjamin Franklin wrote:

“I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country, he is a bird of bad moral character: like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor and very often lousy. The Turkey is a much more respectable bird and withal a true original Native of North America.” Benjamin Franklin

Note: “Sharping” is a 19th century slang word that meant “swindling”.

Write a list of reasons why the turkey would be a good national emblem.

If time allows, have the student research turkey characteristics to help him/her come up with a pro turkey list.

Do you agree with Franklin that the turkey is more appropriate than the bald eagle? Debate the merits of both birds. Would you have chosen a different bird? If so, why?

Choose the best bird for the national emblem. Write a list of reasons why the other bird is not a good a good national emblem.

Write a Debate Paper

Debate papers are unique papers where the student uses points and counterpoints to present an argument and attempts to convince others to think about a topic from a different point of view. A debate paper weighs both sides of an issue, pointing out the pros and cons of each side.

  1. Interest the reader in the situation.
  2. Explain the controversy or problem clearly.
  3. Explain the different sides of the debate.
  4. Tell them your side.
  5. Convince them that your side is the best one to take.
  6. Refute any objections they may be thinking about as they read.

Use the lists (pros and cons of bald eagle vs. turkey for the national emblem) to support your debate paper. Do some research to help expand your reasons!

Note Taking Skills

Use this activity to teach additional skills. Are you working on note taking skills? You can read Benjamin Franklin’s reasons for choosing a turkey over a bald eagle. Your student can listen and “take notes” in a list format about the pros/cons of eagle vs. turkey. Dive a little deeper and read more about bald eagles (and turkeys) from the How Did the Bald Eagle Become America’s National Bird? and the Bald Eagle – America’s National Bird which includes the story of the bald eagle and the first battles of the Revolution. Students can take notes on these historical short stories.

Great Seal: Eagle in the center holding olive branch and arrows, 13 stars above his head,

Meaning of the U.S. Seal

The Olive branch and the arrows held in the eagle’s talons denote the power of peace and war. The eagle always casts its gaze toward the olive branch signifying that our nation desires to pursue peace but stands ready to defend itself. Read more about the Seal, Great Seal of the United States.

What is the Great Seal? Take notes on what the Great Seal looks like and what the different parts symbolize. Who created the seal? Why was it created?

Short Stories Resources


Attached File(s)
By Diane Brauner

Updated October 2022

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