Guam, Puerto Rico and Other American Parts Unknown

Citizens of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. citizens — what does this mean for relations and rights? U.S. territories, commonwealths, compacts of free association and possessions provide opportunities to study issues of economic responsibility, national sovereignty, self-determination and human rights.
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When hurricanes hit several U.S. states and Caribbean islands in 2017, questions were raised about federal response to the severe damage. Many Americans were surprised to learn that the residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were U.S. citizens with rights and expectations. Likewise, Americans need to know that when North Korea’s leader aims missiles at Guam, they are pointed at U.S. citizens.


In addition, America has special relations with the people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Territory of American Samoa. There are many more inhabited American possessions with residents having different degrees of U.S. rights and representation. This month’s curriculum guide focuses on the how and why of the acquisition of these islands, changing relations and questions of cultural and economic interactions, sovereignty, self-determination and human rights.


A role play and KidsPost articles address the education of students on Puerto Rico after the hurricanes devastated the U.S. territory. After completing a crossword puzzle, reading Post guest commentaries and articles and researching the 12 island cards, students will have a basic introduction to the U.S.-owned and -protected islands. Teachers are provided a concise reference guide in Teachers Notes. You will get to know these American Parts Unknown.



November 2017

Facts About U.S. Territories and Possessions
Resource Graphic 

Map It
Geography, U.S. Government

Ask students to find Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and the small island of Navassa on the map. Explain to them that these are found in the Caribbean Sea. What might these islands have in common based on their geographic location? Have any students visited one of these islands? What can they share about life there?


In the Pacific Ocean the U.S. has other islands that are designated as territories, commonwealths, compacts of free association and possessions. See which students (in pairs or alone) can find the following first: American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Republic of Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Baker Island, Kingman Reef and Wake Island.


Have any students visited any of these places? Or had family working there? What natural forces might influence the habitat? What function might they serve for travelers? 


Take a Quiz
Geography, U.S. History

Give younger students the KidsPost quiz, “Facts you might not know about Puerto Rico.” This might be used as a pre-test before reading about this U.S. island territory. The photographs and knowledge of the Spanish-American War may aid students.


Island Quiz” is more difficult and may function more as a pre-test before older students complete reading articles, researching the island cards and doing additional reading.


Find Words
English, Geography, U.S. History, World History

The word find, “From Atoll to War,” can be used as a vocabulary builder as well as geography check. After students have completed the word find they may be asked to find the islands on a map. All 21 terms are related to this month’s focus.


Develop Vocabulary
Environmental Science, Geography, U.S. Government, U.S. History, World History

Review the terms in “In the Know” with students. These are presented in alphabetical order, but may be grouped by purpose, function and designation.

What About the Territories?
Resource Graphic 

Meet the Islands
Economics, Environmental Science, Geography, U.S. History, U.S. Government, World History

Twelve island cards, “The Islands: U.S. Territories and Possessions,” are provided. Each card provides a map. The longitude and latitude information can be used for a map exercise to locate each. We suggest you print these on heavy card stock or laminate them.


Source of maps is as follows. Midway: Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument; Wake Island and Palmyra Atoll: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; all other maps: World Factbook.


Teachers may use the 12 island cards that feature U.S. territories, commonwealths, compacts of free association and possessions in a number of ways. These include:

• Form 12 groups, one per island, to find the missing information. Ask each group to find additional information (perhaps three more details) about its assigned island. When sharing with the class be sure to locate it on a map.

• Group the islands by main purpose: guano, military bases, fuel stop. Ask students to read The Post article related to group focus, to find the missing information, compare and contrast current use.

• After finding the mission information (location, population, relation with U.S., and sources of income), discuss how issues of national sovereignty, self-determination and human rights relates to their assigned islands.


Refer to Teachers Notes
Geography, U.S. Government, U.S. History, World History

The Teachers Notes file provides a quick reference for history, current status and political relation to the U.S. The URLs after the name of each country or political entity provides reliable sources for information; most of the information in the summaries came from these sources.

• Teachers may give students who are having trouble completing the Island Quiz, URLs found in the Teachers Notes as a clue.

• These may be used in conjunction with the 12 cards to direct students to sources of information or to help students who have not found the information on their own.

• We hope this gives teachers the foundation for student study of these islands and their relationship to the U.S.


Set Up an e-Replica Topic or News Alert
Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History

For teachers and schools that have access to the e-Replica format through The Post’s NIE program, this e-Replica activity is provided. The hands-on application of the process that is outlined asks students to practice using topic terms, with and without quotation marks. See "Territory, Possession, Sovereignty | Create a Topic and News Alert.


Do a Crossword Puzzle
English, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Commonwealth, Compact and Other Associations” uses many terms related to this month’s focus. After students have completed the crossword puzzle, they may be asked to find the islands on a map, to use five or more of the terms in an informative paragraph, and to discuss what they know about one of the islands.


Answer keys to the word find and crossword puzzle are provided.


Play a Role
Economics, Social Studies, U.S. History, U.S. Government

KidsPost article “Long school break is no vacation for Puerto Rico’s kids

To set up the role play activity, discussion questions are provided in “Hurricanes, Floods, No Electricity — What You’d Do.”


Discuss with students how their school is influenced by the U.S. Dept. of Education, their state department of education and local school board, How does the economy in their state and local area impact the programs, facilities and other aspects of their school experience? Puerto Rico’s public schools are under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Education as well as the Puerto Rico State Department of Education. What challenges have these government agencies faced? Consider the economy; hurricane damage to schools, homes and businesses; departure of teachers and students from the island; and delivery of required items.


After this discussion, brainstorming of stakeholders and time to develop positions, have students hold a symposium or panel in which these different points of view are presented. You may debate solutions and form a plan to educate the children of Puerto Rico.

Read About U.S. Islands

Examine a Colonial Legacy
Political Science, U.S. Government, U.S. History, World History

Read and discuss the guest commentary “Most countries have given up their colonies. Why hasn’t America?” David Vine, associate professor of anthropology, presents perspective on why the U.S. maintains possession or other relationships with Pacific islands. You may discuss ways in which the U.S. govenment influenced the economy, culture and sovereignty of acquired territories and possessions. How have economic and social interacations changed over time?

Three videos are available online to accompany the commentary:
• The U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship: It’s complicated
• Isolated by Hurricane Maria, Utuado’s residents seek help, and a way out
• Why tiny Guam is in North Korea’s crosshairs


Debate What You Would Do
Debate, Economics, Geography, Political Science, Social Studies, U.S. History

Your home has been flooded. You have gone weeks without electricity and clean water. Your children's school is a shelter or community center. What would you do? Read and discuss "The Puerto Ricans are coming." Older students might also read and discuss “Nature caused Puerto Rico’s latest crisis. But politics are making it worse.” Carla Minet, executive director of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico, provides perspective and suggestions in a Post guest commentary. What has been the impact on the island’s people in the 100 years — since March 2, 1917 — it has been a U.S. territory?


Pair that commentary with “Hurricane sets off fierce debate about leaving Puerto Rico.” Which path would students take: Accept the patriotic duty to stay and rebuild as expressed in the slogan: “Yo no me quito” or “I’m not giving up.” Or move to the mainland, putting first personal survival for their family without a home, electricity, safe water and schools.


What About Alaska and Hawaii?
Economics, Geography, Political Science, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Once an acquisition becomes a state, many issues may remain. Alaska and Hawaii provide two case studies.


Teachers could begin a study of Alaska and Hawaii with an introduction to their first peoples. Alaska Natives may be studied in five major groups: Southeast Coastal (Tlingit and Haida), Northern Eskimos (Inupiat), Southern Eskimos (Yuit, speakers of the Yup’ik language), Aleuts, Interior Indians (Athabascans). Alaska comes from the Aleut word “aleyska” that means “great land.”


In 2011, Hawaiian legislators signed a bill to officially recognize Native Hawaiians as the “only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli population of Hawaii.” Hawaii has several possible meanings; these include: 1) named for Hawaiiloa, a hero of the foundation myth, 2) from the native word “Owhyhee” meaning homeland, 3) from “hawaiki” meaning Place of the Gods, 4) from “Havai’i” from the moisture (wai = water) which mercifully (Ha = breath of life) cooled the steaming terrain. King Kamehameha united the islands in 1819 under his rule, declaring them the Kingdom of Hawaii.


Students may be asked to research the acquisition by the U.S. of the land that became our 49th and 50th states. What are current political relations with their indigenous people? Discussion of relations with the indigenous people of Hawaii could begin with reading “Sovereignty campaigners want their Hawaii back,” a November 5, 2017, Post article. Three excerpts from the longer article are provided to focus discussion. What parts of the current issue and background do these excerpts give?

Identify Species From Feces
Biology, Environmental Science, Zoology
Why and how did the U.S. become interested in guano? Read Post blog, "The Guano Islands Act," by Kevin Underhill. The first two Secretaries of the Smithsonian Institute were involved in analyzing and considering use of seabird guano. Today, scientists have developed means to identify species (bats, penguins and seabirds, for starters) using guano deposits. Read more about it: Unique guano innovation yields information on bat populations.


Peter Fretwell from British Antarctic Survey says, "Although penguin and seabird poo may look rather nondescript to the human eye, in the infra-red it has a totally unique colour. This has helped us to locate and map all colonies around the Antarctic Peninsula. What's exciting is that this method could be transferable to other parts of the world where remoteness and access restrict our knowledge of the distribution and abundance of bird colonies." Read “Using unique spectral signature of guano to identify unknown seabird colonies.”


Teachers might discuss benefits of this use of technology to identify colonies, especially in remote areas. What downside may exist? Also speculate on other applications of this technology.


Follow a Bill
Business, Economics, U.S. Government

Use your investigative skills to learn more about legislation affecting U.S. territories and possessions. Follow the progress of “U.S. Territories Investor Protection Act of 2017” (S.484) It was introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on March 1, 2017. The amendment of the Investment Company Act of 1940 proposes “to terminate an exemption for companies located in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and any other possession of the United States.”

• Who benefits from this proposed Act?

• What will it mean for businesses in U.S. territories?



Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
Staff Sgt. Aaron Richardson/U.S. Air Force
In The Know 

Archipelago Large group or chain of islands; scattered islands considered part of a larger land mass
Atoll Coral reef or string of coral islands that surrounds a lagoon
Citizen Member of a country, state or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member

Self-governing territory affiliated with the United States, such as Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands

Compact of Free Associaiton International agreement establishing and governing the relationships of free association between the U.S. and three Pacific Island nations: Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau
Coral Tiny ocean animal, some of which secrete calcium carbonate to form reefs
Delegate  A representative who bases his or her votes on the majority opinions of the people he or she represents
Federated State Territorial and constitutional community forming part of a federation; states transfer a portion of their sovereign powers to a federal government; the federated state holds administrative jurisdiction over a defined geographic territory and is a form of regional government    
Guano A natural manure composed chiefly of the dried excrement of fish-eating sea birds: contains urates, oxalates and phosphates of ammonium and calcium; any similar substance, from bats or an artificial fertilizer made from fish (from Spanish: huano, meaning dung) 
Incorporated Territory  

Incorporated territories were considered integral parts of the United States to which all relevant provisions of the U.S. Constitution applied. They were understood to be bound for eventual statehood. 


National Person owing permanent allegiance to a state
Reef Ridge of rocks, coral or sand rising from the ocean floor all the to or near the ocean’s surface
Refuge  Public land set aside to protect native wildlife
Republic Form of government in which decisions are made by representatives who are chosen by the people
Resident Someone who lives somewhere permanently or on a long-term basis
Territory Region governed by the United States, but not a recognized part of a state 
Unincorporated Territory Applied first to territories acquired during the Spanish-American War; they were considered unincorporated, not destined for statehood, and as such, only the “fundamental” parts of the Constitution applied of their own force. The political status of unincorporated territories, the Court said, was a matter for Congress to determine by legislation. 
U.S. Possession Entity owned or under the control of the United States
Voting Rights  Enfranchisement; full voting rights are denied U.S. citizens residing in U.S. territories.



  SOURCES: British Dictionary, National Geographic Glossary


ANSWERS. Facts You Might Not Know About Puerto Rico (KidsPost Quiz)

1. c. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 after the end of the Spanish-American War.

2. a. El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest System. El Yunque is more than 44 square miles, and until April 2007, was known as Caribbean National Forest. While the United States has other rain forests, in Alaska, Washington and Oregon, Puerto Rico has the only tropical forest. Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula is designated a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

3. b. Puerto Rico does have one of the world’s largest telescopes, but it is a radio telescope that is found in Arecibo Observatory.

4. d. While both Puerto Rico and D.C. want the full voting rights of a state, each sends a delegate to the House of Representatives.

5. b. The name was given to the island by early explorers because of its location, which allowed it to become an important trade hub. The island is well known for its natural water features — especially its many beaches.


ANSWERSIsland Quiz

1. Samoa is one of two (uninhabited Jarvis Island is the other) U.S. territories south of the Equator.



2. a. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens

3. b. By nationality Puerto Ricans are Americans.

4. d. Guamians are U.S. citizens;

5. c.

6. Answers will vary. As American citizens, the residents of the Virgin Islands have a right to expect equal treatment.

7. a.  Guam is home to two strategic military bases (and a R&R destination). Many Chamorros serve proudly in the U.S. Armed Forces. No military bases in Puerto Rico, but a significant number of Puerto Ricans are members and work for the U.S. Armed Services. The Virgin Islands National Guard was established in 1973; []  VI has active veterans programs.

8. d.

9. b.

10. c.

11. d. In the 114th Congress, the U.S. insular areas of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, and the federal municipality of the District of Columbia are each represented in Congress by a delegate to the House of Representatives. In addition, Puerto Rico is represented by a resident commissioner, who position is treated the same as a delegate.

12. c.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

Social Studies, Industrial America (1870-1940). Students describe the nation’s growing role in world affairs.

1. Analyze the Open Door Policy and U.S. expansion into Asia. (P)

2. Examine Japan and describe the significance of the Gentleman’s Agreement. (P)

3. Explain the Cuban-Spanish-American War and interventions in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. (P, M) Grade 5, 5.8


Social Studies, The Rise of Industrial America (1877-1914). Students analyze the transformation of the American economy and the changing social and political condition in the United States in response to the Industrial Revolution.

4. Explain the connection between the ideology of Manifest Destiny and accelerated growth of the United States in the late 19th century (e.g., connection between U.S. business interests and military intervention in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean). (P, E) Grade 8, 8.13


Social Studies, Economic Growth and Reform in Contemporary America (1945-Present).

Use geographic tools to locate and analyze information about people, places and environments in the United States.

4. Locate and identify the U.S. territorial possessions and their capitals (e.g., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Grade 5, 5.12


The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Political Science. Students will understand the historical development and current status of the fundamental concepts and processes of authority, power, and influence, with particular emphasis on the democratic skills and attitudes necessary to become responsible citizens. Standard 1

Indicator 3. The student will evaluate roles and policies the government has assumed regarding public issues (1.1.3)

e. Evaluate the effect that international, national, and regional interests have on shaping environmental policy, such as logging forested areas, oil drilling, pollution, nuclear power, or alternative energy sources

i. Describe how the United States provides national and international service programs to meet the critical needs of society, such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps (Unit 6)


Political Science. Students will understand the diversity and commonality, human interdependence, and global cooperation of the people of Maryland, the United States and the World through both a multicultural and historic perspective. Standard 2 Peoples of the Nation and World

The student will evaluate the effectiveness of international alliances and organizations from the perspective of the United States (2.1.2)

• Issues of national sovereignty, self-determination, and human rights on U.S. interdependent relationships


Economics. Students will develop economic reasoning to understand the historical development and current status of economic principles, institutions, and processes needed to be effective citizens, consumers, and workers participating in local communities, the nation, and the world. Standard 4

a. Describe the opportunity cost of economic decisions by individuals, businesses, and governments in the U.S. through 1877, such as the decision about territorial acquisition

c. Examine ways in which the government influenced the economy such as spending, taxing and acquisition of territories

The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

United States History.  The student will demonstrate knowledge of the changing role of the United States from the late nineteenth century through World War I by

a)  explaining the reasons for and results of the Spanish American War;

b)  describing Theodore Roosevelt’s impact on the foreign policy of the United States; USII.5. Turmoil and Change: 1890s to 1945


World Geography. The student will use maps, globes, satellite images, photographs, or diagrams to

a)  obtain geographical information about the world’s countries, cities, and environments; b)  apply the concepts of location, scale, map projection, or orientation;

c)  develop and refine mental maps of world regions;

d)  create and compare political, physical, and thematic maps;

e)  analyze and explain how different cultures use maps and other visual images to reflect their own interests and ambitions. WG.1


World Geography. The student will analyze the global patterns and networks of economic interdependence by

a)  identifying factors, including comparative advantage, that influence economic activities and trade;

b)  describing ways that economic and social interactions have changed over time;

c)  mapping, describing, and evaluating the formation of economic unions. WG.9


World Geography. The student will analyze how the forces of conflict and cooperation affect the division and control of the Earth’s surface by

a)  explaining and analyzing reasons for the creation of different political divisions;

b)  analyzing ways cooperation among political jurisdictions is used to solve problems and settle disputes. WG.10


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts >> Science & Technical Subjects. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms. Key Ideas and Details. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.2


English Language Arts >> Social Studies >> Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Grade 11-12. Evaluate an author's premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8


English Language Arts >> Social Studies >> Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7



Common Core standards may be found at