Lesson Plans: Grades K-2

Then and Now: Life in Early America, 1740–1840

Created September 29, 2010

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Then and Now: Boys Frock

Boy's frock or gown (c. 1740-1750)

Have you ever heard the expression, "The more things change, the more they stay the same?" Do you agree? Do your students? Does that old adage correctly characterize changes in America since the time of the Revolution?

Using archival materials, re-creations, and classroom activities, help your students think about which aspects of everyday life — and the people who've lived it — have changed and which have stayed the same in the last 200 years.

Guiding Questions

In what ways is everyday life today significantly different from everyday life 200 years ago?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to

  • List similarities and differences between the lives of people 200 years ago and people today (e.g., ways of obtaining food, drink, and clothing; having fun; forming organizations; living by rules and laws)
  • Cite reasons for differences in the way people lived in earlier times and the way they live now
  • Describe how changes in household tools, communication, transportation, recreation, and technology have changed the way people live and work

Preparation Instructions

  • Review each lesson in this unit and select archival materials you'd like to use in class. Bookmark these materials, along with other useful websites, if possible; download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. URLs are provided for direct access to the images used in the lesson; simply click on the link to access any image. Home page URLs also are provided to credit sources and to allow for further exploration as desired.
  • This unit consists of a series of brief lessons. Lessons could be conducted as whole-class activities, or students could work independently at stations. Where sufficient technology is available, computers can serve as learning centers. The five images in Activity 2 can be displayed in five windows on one computer screen or separately on five or even ten computers (for five or ten groups). In a computer lab, a few of the activities can be conducted simultaneously. If desired, adult aides or older students could be assigned to stations to assist students.
  • The activities are organized chronologically and would be most effective presented that way. The first seven activities represent aspects of everyday life from about 1740 to the early 1800s. The last five activities represent aspects of everyday life from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s. These two sets of activities could be used at different times during the year, depending on your curriculum. If desired, pick and choose from among the activities, using any particular lesson when it is appropriate for your class.
  • Activity 11 requires the following supplies:
    • Dried corn husks (the inner husks are better than the outer ones)
    • Cotton string
    • Water and container for it
    • Small piece of corncob, horse chestnut, large wooden bead, ping pong ball or styrofoam ball (optional)
  • A read-aloud activity is often a great way to establish an anticipatory set. One book particularly pertinent to this unit is Turn of the Century, written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis (Charlesbridge Publishing, 1998; ISBN: 088106369X; Reading level: Ages 9-12, younger for reading aloud).
  • Refer to the complementary EDSITEment lesson Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmetic in the One-Room Schoolhouse, which encourages students to compare and contrast school life in the one-room schoolhouse of the 19th century with the modern schools of today.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. What Would Change in This Picture? (mid-1700s)

Share with your students an artist's rendering of Life in London Town from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Learning from London Town.

If someone were to photograph the exact same street today, what would be different? Depending on the class, students can brainstorm the differences in a whole-group setting, work in small groups to create a list of changes, or create a contemporary update of the picture through drawing or cutting and pasting directly on the picture (enlarged, if possible). Create a class list of the items that would change in the picture and how they would be updated.

Activity 2. The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same (1750–1800)

Have students list the differences, if any, between the following common objects from 1750–1800, all featured on the EDSITEment resource At Home in the Heartland Online, and similar objects we use today:

Activity 3. Getting Dressed in the 18th Century

Note: The interactive activity featured in this lesson focuses on 18th-century girls' clothing. For more information, including facts about boys' clothing, consult Children's Clothing and A Colonial Child's Clothing: A Glossary of Terms, both available on the website of Colonial Williamsburg, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library. The activity can be completed online and/or offline using the doll and its accessories, which can be downloaded and printed out. When using the game online, the correct images must be chosen in order. If the images in the game dissolve when dragged, open a second window. Each time you toggle back to the window with the game, the images should be in place.

If using the game offline, print out copies of the doll and clothing for each student, have each student dress the paper doll and then compare the order of clothing items each student chose. The teacher can then demonstrate the correct order, and the class can discuss the purpose of each item of clothing.

In this interactive activity — Eighteenth-Century Paper Doll Game — students will see all the steps it took for an 18th-century girl to get dressed. What steps in the process are the same today? What is completely different about getting dressed in the 18th century? What kind of outfit is this girl wearing? Do you think all children during this time period dressed in such fancy clothes?

Activity 4. You Gotta Make a Living (1750–1800)

Have students view the following images from the website of Colonial Williamsburg, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library, of 18th-century people at work:

As a class or working in small groups, brainstorm what each picture reveals. What does the person do for a living? What is the person doing in the picture? Which of these jobs no longer exist? Which jobs exist in another form? Which jobs are very much the same?

An alternative activity would be to have students match the early American job with a picture of a similar modern job. How was the 18th-century job different?

Activity 5. Let's Go Shopping (1750–1800)

Ask your students to write about or illustrate how they shop for medicine, shoes and/or clothing. After scrutinizing the images listed below, from the website of Colonial Williamsburg, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library, have students brainstorm and create a list of the differences in the process.

Activity 6. Bet You Can't Guess! (late 1700s to early 1800s)

Have students carefully observe the following images of items from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, all available on The Five Points Site, a link from the EDSITEment resource ArchNet, and form a hypothesis about the purpose of each object. A "hint" question is provided with each image link to help students guess the purpose of each of the items.

Now reveal the true function of each object. How close were the students' guesses?

Note: For learning stations, the answer, something akin to the riddle-like questions above, or a picture of the modern equivalent of each object, could be attached to the back of the downloaded images.

Activity 7. Bet You Can't Guess! -- Part 2 (c. 1800–1840)

Have students carefully observe the following images of items from the early 19th century, all available on the EDSITEment resource At Home in the Heartland Online, and form a hypothesis about the purpose of each object.

Now reveal the true function of each object. How close were the students' guesses?

Note: For learning stations, the answer, something akin to the riddle-like questions above, or a picture of the modern equivalent of each object could be attached to the back of the downloaded images.

Activity 8. The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same - Part 2 (c. 1800–1840)

Have students list the differences, if any, between the following objects from 1800–1840, all available on the EDSITEment resource At Home in the Heartland Online, and similar objects we use today.

The teacher can select a few of the objects and explain the context and uses for them. For instance, the milk pan can be used to explain the process of getting milk from cows and making cream, butter, etc., both in the past and with today's dairy farms and supermarkets, refrigerated trucks, pasteurization, etc. The yarn winder can be used to explain how clothes were made, then and now. The teacher can explain the processes of shearing sheep or picking cotton, carding, spinning, etc. The teacher can relate the yarn winder to the spinning wheels depicted in the tales of Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin.

Activity 9. Digging Up the Past

How do we know about everyday life in early America? Students can be "online archaeologists" through the EDSITEment resource Learning from London Town's Virtual Dig. Using the inventory chart, students can determine the functions of the objects they find.

Using the EDSITEment resource, Learning from London Town, the teacher can describe what an archaeologist does: learns about past cultures by studying the remains left behind by people. Teachers can introduce students to the idea of archaeology by having students perform "Digging the Cellar at Rumney's Tavern," an interactive activity in which students become archaeologists and "dig" in the cellar by moving their mouse over the diagram of the drawing of the profile of the cellar dig at Rumney's Tavern. When the mouse arrow turns into a hand, a message appears at the bottom of the computer screen identifying the found object. Students then click on the screen to see a picture of their discovery.

Teachers can then ask: "How do these objects compare to the objects seen in the previous lessons? Where do these objects come from? How do we find objects from the past?" After completing Lessons 7 and 8, "Bet You Can't Guess!" and Lessons 2 and 9, "The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same," teachers can use this complementary lesson to bring up overarching questions such as, "What do objects tell us about how the people who used them lived? How do we go about finding out what life was like at other points in history? Which objects from the past have remained part of our everyday life today?"

This interactive activity reinforces previous lessons about change and continuity from past to present and introduces the concepts of the archaeologist and of learning about earlier ways of life by uncovering objects of the past.

Activity 10. An Early American Game (1800–1840)

Give your students the opportunity to play an early American game. Games for both indoor and outdoor play may be found at Games to Try on Historic Latta Plantation, a link from the EDSITEment resource Women of the West Museum.

Activity 11. An Early American Toy (1800–1840)

Your students can create their own ball from corn husks and string. Instructions and background information may be found at Corn Husk Ball on Historic Latta Plantation, a link from the EDSITEment resource Women of the West Museum.

After the students have had the chance to make and use the ball, encourage discussion. Did students find it challenging or difficult to make the corn husk ball? Do they have to work as hard for their toys today? Is the corn husk ball a fun toy to play with?

Activity 12. The Match Game

Culminate the lesson with a discussion based on the guiding question presented at the beginning of the unit: In what ways is everyday life today significantly different from everyday life 200 years ago? Attempt to arrive at a conclusion. Has everyday life changed radically, or is it basically the same? For example, is play essentially the same because students still throw and catch balls, or has such play radically changed since we use different balls?

Have students represent their findings graphically. Using a bulletin board, computer, or some other type of display, students can post images of early American objects beside contemporary objects. They can even invite other classes to attempt to match the images.

For the Match Game, download the "Then and Now" chart, print it out, and and make copies for your students (Download chart, which is Word format).You can provide magazines for students to cut and paste images, or they can draw their own pictures, in the appropriate spaces on the chart. For each object, students can answer the questions, "What is it?" and "What is it used for?" Their responses can become the basis for a class discussion comparing life in the 18th and 19th centuries with life today.

Extending The Lesson

  • If you plan to invite other classes to your classroom, as suggested in Activity 12, make a celebration of it. Hold an Early American Fair, in which students display and/or demonstrate some of the objects they encountered in this lesson in booths.
  • Students could be challenged to write stories with a time travel theme. What would happen if one of them were whisked back to early America? What would happen if someone from early America were whisked to modern times?
Selected EDSITEment Websites

Other Resources:

Recommended reading from Carol Hurst Children's Literature Page, a link from Internet Public Library

  • Hall, Donald. Ox-Cart Man. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. (Audience: Grade 1)

The Basics

Time Required

5 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
Skills
  • Analysis
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical thinking
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Synthesis
  • Using primary sources

Resources

Activity Worksheets
Student Resources
Media