Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. In 2017, the people of Puerto Rico voted on whether to become the 51st state in the Union, and the vast majority of voters said yes. In November, 2020, a majority of voters said yes to statehood.
Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. News coverage made many Americans aware for the first time that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
It’s a great time to study Puerto Rico! We offer three lesson plans below.
- Explore Puerto Rico with Google Earth. The link takes you to a site where you can fly around without using Google Earth directly. If you have Google Earth on your classroom computer, use it so you can take advantage of all the features.
- A Google Earth Road Trip
- Boriqua Kids has printable worksheets and quizzes on Puerto Rico’s geography, as well as a Fact Sheet that taught us some things.
- Statehood for Puerto Rico: You Decide is a research-based lesson plan from the First Ladies Library.
- Print out the results of the 2020 plebescite.
- In all, there were 1,248,176 votes cast in the plebiscite.
- 655,505 votes, or 52.52%, were pro-statehood “Yes” votes.
- 592,671, or 47.48%, were “No” votes, which represented any political status except for statehood.
- The US Mint has a very nice unit on the Puerto Rican quarter that includes reproducibles. (This is Puerto Rico’s special quarter, part of the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program which we often speak of as “state quarters.” Read “A Quarter for Your Thoughts” from 2005 to get an idea of why Puerto Rico has its own quarter even though it is not a state.)
- Scholastic’s Carnival in Puerto Rico uses graphic organizers to explore Carnival in Puerto Rico and compare it with other countries’ celebrations. Check out our Mardi Gras lesson plans for more information.
Books and such:
- Puerto Rico (Hello U.S.A.)
- Puerto Rico in Pictures
- Shake It, Morena!: And Other Folklore from Puerto Rico
- Juan Bobo Goes to Work: A Puerto Rican Folk Tale is a Foolish Jack story.
- The Golden Flower: A Taino Myth from Puerto Rico
- The Legend of the Hummingbird: A Tale from Puerto Rico
- Puerto Rico isn’t a book, but a clever economics-themed game set in Puerto Rico.
- Putamayo Presents Puerto Rico is a wonderful collection of Puerto Rican music.
Getting to know Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a beautiful island and a popular tourist destination. Have students “visit” Puerto Rico with Google Earth, using a travel guide like Lonely Planet Puerto Rico to learn more about the places they see. This can be pair work, group work, or individual work, depending on the number of computers available. If students are divided into groups, consider giving them specific topics assignments: outdoor fun, food, music, etc. Have each student or group of students create an itinerary for a visit to Puerto Rico.
Before Puerto Rico belonged to the United States, it belonged to Spain. Brooke Radding created the animation shown below from data in the ships’ logs of Spain’s expedition to Puerto Rico. Spain held the colony of Puerto Rico for about 400 years. Even after 100 years as a U.S. territory, the language and culture of Spain are still influential in Puerto Rico. As you research the territory, keep track of Spanish and U.S. influences.
Get the class together to share what you’ve learned, creating a complete list of interesting information on the board or on Post-It notes. Sort all the points listed into a few categories. Use the categories to organize a brochure describing your class’s Puerto Rico tours. If students have been working individually, have them create their own individual brochures and make a bulletin board with them. Groups can create brochures too, or the entire class can make one bulletin-board sized brochure describing the perfect trip to the island.
Take a vote
Puerto Rico is a territory, not a state. This means that they cannot vote in presidential elections and they do not have senators or congresspeople to represent them. They have a Resident Commissioner, a member of Congress who cannot vote on laws. Congress doesn’t have to treat Puerto Rico equally with states.
Puerto Rico is sometimes called a commonwealth, just as Massachusetts and Kentucky are. They took on the name of “The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” in 1952, when Congress allowed Puerto Rico to adopt a constitution. “Commonwealth” has no legal meaning in the United States. Puerto Rico is a territory.
In 2012, the people of Puerto Rico held a plebiscite, a vote on the government of Puerto Rico. Voters chose statehood. In 2017, they held another plebiscite. 97% of voters chose statehood. In November, 2020, they had another plebiscite, and statehood won again.
The voters of Puerto Rico chose to become a state three times. However, Congress has the power to make new states. Congress could admit Puerto Rico or they could ignore the vote as they have in the past. If Congress does not vote to admit Puerto Rico as a state, it will continue to be a territory belonging to the United States.
Puerto Rico could also choose independence, but voters have never made that choice. 5% is the largest number voting for independence in any of the plebiscites so far.
Have students research and determine the best decision for Puerto Rico and the United States.
The Puerto Rico Report has extensive coverage and documentation on the issue, from simple statements for upper elementary students to government documents for high school students. Start on the home page or the page for Educators and travel in as far as your class’s reading levels will allow.
Hold a class vote on whether or not Puerto Rico should become a state. Take on the role of Congress and decide whether or not to accept the Statehood Act on behalf of the American people.
If your class passes the bill, plan a 51-star flag for the United States. The current 50-star flag was designed by a high school student. He also designed a 51-star flag with alternating rows of 8 and 9 stars.
Here’s a design by Daniel Rubino.
If your class decides that Puerto Rico should continue to be a territory, discuss whether residents should be able to vote in presidential elections, or to have representatives in the U.S. Congress.
Folklore of Puerto Rico
Use books from the list above or online sources to find one or more Puerto Rican folktales to study. Have students use the folktale to create a play or readers theater script and present it to a neighboring class or create a video for the class to enjoy.