Closer Readings Commentary

EDSITEment's Back-to-School Lesson Plans



EDSITEment, from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a partnership with the National Trust for the Humanities and the Verizon Foundation, and brings online humanities resources directly to the classroom through exemplary lesson plans and student activities.

New! EDSITEment’s back to school offerings have been updated with our most sought-after lesson plans. Plus, many of these lessons are now further enriched with relevant articles from NEH’s award-winning Humanities magazine.

U.S. History and Government

  • What is History? Timelines and Oral Histories
    Students gain a frame of reference for understanding history and for recognizing that the past is different depending on who is remembering and retelling it. They construct a timeline based on events from their own lives and family histories. This will give them a visual representation of the continuity of time. They will also be able to see that their own personal past is different in scope from their family's past, or their country's past.
  • Magna Carta: Cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution
    Magna Carta served to lay the foundation for the evolution of parliamentary government and subsequent declarations of rights in Great Britain and the United States. In attempting to establish checks on the king's powers, this document asserted the right of "due process" of law.
  • Colonizing the Bay
    This lesson focuses on John Winthrop’s historic "Model of Christian Charity" sermon which is often referred to by its “City on a Hill “ metaphor. Through a close reading of this admittedly difficult text, students will learn how it illuminates the beliefs, goals, and programs of the Puritans. The sermon sought to inspire and to motivate the Puritans by pointing out the distance they had to travel between an ideal community and their real-world situation.
  • Declare the Causes: The Declaration of Independence
    Help your students see the development of the Declaration as both an historical process and a writing process through the use of role play and creative writing.
  • The Declaration of Independence: "An Expression of the American Mind"
    This lesson plan looks at the major ideas in the Declaration of Independence, their origins, the Americans’ key grievances against the King and Parliament, their assertion of sovereignty, and the Declaration’s process of revision. Upon completion of the lesson, students will be familiar with the document’s origins, and the influences that produced Jefferson’s “expression of the American mind.”
  • The Preamble to the Constitution: How Do You Make a More Perfect Union?
    Archival materials and other resources can help your students begin to understand why the Founders felt a need to establish a more perfect Union and how they proposed to accomplish such a weighty task.
  • Native Americans Role in American Revolution

    Native American groups had to choose the loyalist or patriot cause—or somehow maintain a neutral stance during the Revolutionary War. Students will analyze maps, treaties, congressional records, first-hand accounts, and correspondence to determine the different roles assumed by Native Americans in the American Revolution and understand why the various groups formed the alliances they did.

  • Industrial Age in America: Robber Barons and Captains of Industry

    Were the great industrialists and financiers of the 19th century, captains of industry--without whom this country could not have taken its place as a great industrial power--or were they robber barons, limiting healthy competition and robbing from the poor to benefit the rich? This lesson introduces students to the continuing debate and prepares them to make an evidence based argument for or against particular individuals.

  • The Statue of Liberty: The Meaning and Use of a National Symbol

    How was the Statue of Liberty designed to be a symbol? How have circumstances enhanced its meaning? Help clarify the nature of symbols for your students as they study the Statue of Liberty, complete research on a national symbol, and use their research to communicate a message of their own.                              

  • John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and Judicial Review—How the Court Became Supreme

    This lesson is designed to help students understand Chief Justice John Marshall's strategy in issuing his decision in Marbury v Madison in which he advanced the argument that the Supreme Court had the power of judicial review of legislative actions, the significance of the concept of judicial review, and the reasoning in  this watershed case.     

  • Mission US I “For Crown or Colonies”

    For Crown or Colony?” is an interactive adventure game that explores the reasons for Revolution through the eyes of both Loyalists and Patriots in 1770 Boston.

  • Mission US II “Flight to Freedom”

    In Mission 2: “Flight to Freedom,” players take on the role of Lucy, a 14-year-old slave in Kentucky. As they navigate her escape and journey to Ohio, they discover that life in the “free” North is dangerous and difficult. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act brings disaster. Will Lucy ever truly be free?

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Literature and Language

  • A Story of Epic Proportions: What makes a Poem an Epic?
    Epic Poems are heroic adventure tales with surprising durability over time, such as Homer's story of love and heroism, The Iliad.  This lesson introduces students to the epic poem format and to its roots in oral tradition. Students learn about the epic hero cycle and how to recognize this epic pattern of events and elements, even in surprisingly contemporary places.
  • The Beauty of Anglo-Saxon Poetry: A Prelude to Beowulf
    In this introduction to Anglo-Saxon literature, students will study the literature and literary techniques of the early Middle Ages in order to read Beowulf with an appreciation for its artistry and beauty. Students will learn the conventions of Anglo-Saxon poetry, solve online riddles, write riddles, and reflect on what they have learned.
  • Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: Teaching Through the Novel and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: Oral and Literary Strategies
    Chinua Achebe first novel, Things Fall Apart, is an early narrative about the European colonization of Africa told from the point of view of the colonized people. Through his writing, Achebe counters images of African societies and peoples as they are represented within the Western literary tradition and reclaims his own and his people's history.  In these lessons, students are introduced to this novel and to Achebe’s views on the role of the writer in his or her society.  After situating Things Fall Apart in its historical and literary context, students will identify the text’s linguistic and literary techniques.
  • Dramatizing History in Arthur Miller's The Crucible
    Arthur Miller interpreted the facts of the Salem witch trials that took place in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693 and successfully dramatized them in his 1952 play, The Crucible.  In this lesson, students will examine some of the primary sources behind the historical events, and then read The Crucible itself.
  • “Shooting an Elephant”: George Orwell's Essay on his Life in Burma
    This lesson plan is designed to help students read Orwell's 1931 autobiographical essay "Shooting an Elephant” both as a work of literature and as a window into the historical context about which it was written.  Among his most powerful essays, this is based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Profiles in Courage

    To Kill A Mockingbird reveals the heroic nature of acting with moral courage when adhering to social mores would be far less dangerous. This lesson looks at how Harper Lee’s novel, set in the American South of the 1930’s, focuses on a variety of instances and manifestations of courage, but particularly those of moral courage.

  • To Kill A Mockingbird and the Scottsboro Boys Trial: Profiles in Courage  

    Primary source material from the second Scottsboro Boys Trial of 1933, in which two young white women wrongfully accused nine African-American youths of rape, provides a touchstone to the 1960 novel which was inspired by the trial.  This lesson considers how awareness of an actual historical event such as the Scottsboro Boys Trial vivifys the fictional trial experience of the character Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird.
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper"—The "New Woman"

    The “rest cure” treatment detailed in Gilman’s 1862 short story, “The Yellow Wall-paper,” provides  an incentive for students to explore the historical, social, cultural, and economic context of the time in which it was written.  This lesson examines advertisements, images, and magazine articles to gain an understanding of the roles of American middle-class women in the mid- to late-1800s.

  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper"—Writing Women

    This lesson requires a close reading of "The Yellow Wall-paper" itself within the context of students' research and analysis. Students strengthen their understanding of literary devices and analyze the rapidly changing roles of American women in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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World History and Culture

  • Cave Art: Discovering Prehistoric Humans through Pictures
    In this lesson, students discover that pictures are more than pretty colors and representations of things we recognize: they are also a way of communicating beliefs and ideas. In many cases, this is what gives us clues today when there are no written records left behind.
  • Hammurabi’s Code: What Does It Tell Us about Old Babylonia?
    In this lesson, students learn about life in Babylonia through the lens of Hammurabi's Code. Designed to extend World History curricula on Mesopotamia, it gives students a more in-depth view of life in Babylonia during the time of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE).
  • Egyptian Symbols and Figures: Hieroglyphs
    This lesson introduces students to the writing, art, and religious beliefs of ancient Egypt through hieroglyphs, a pictorial script used in ancient Egypt from about 3100 BCE to 400 CE (and one of the oldest writing systems in the world). In particular, students will study Egyptian tomb paintings, one medium where hieroglyphics are found.
  • 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae: Herodotus’ Real History
    In this lesson, students learn about the historical background to the battle and are asked to ponder some of its legacy, including how history is reported and interpreted from different perspectives. They will read from Herodotus' account of the battle at Thermopylae. Although the Spartans were defeated and annihilated at Thermopylae, the battle played an important part in the Greek resistance to this second and final Persian invasion.
  • EDSITEment’s Persian Wars Resource Page
    This popular EDSITEment resource page links students to lesson plans on Greek history and mythology as well as to related student interactives on the war between the Greeks and Persians

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Folktales, Fairytales, and Mythology

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Art History

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Formal Values

  • Composition Basics
    In this first lesson of the curriculum unit, students will begin by learning the definition of composition in the visual arts and some of its most basic components.
  • Line in the Visual Arts
    In this lesson, students learn how line is defined in the visual arts, and how to recognize this element in painting..

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World Languages

  • La Familia
    This lesson plan on Spanish culture is designed as an exciting but comfortable experience for your K through 2nd grade class. Students will learn about families in various Spanish cultures and gain a preliminary knowledge of the Spanish language by learning the Spanish names for various family members.
  • Sor Juana, la poetisa: Los sonetos
    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a major literary figure and the first great Latin American poet, is a product of el Siglo de Oro Español (Spanish Golden Age). In this lesson, students will analyze two of Sor Juana’s sonnets: “A su retrato” and “En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas?” in their original language of publication.
  • Sor Juana, la monja y la escritora: Las Redondillas y La Respuesta
    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the first great Latin American poet, is still considered one of the most important literary figures of the American Hemisphere, and one of the first feminist writers. In the 1600s.
  • French and Family
    This lesson plan on French language and culture focuses on the family and keeps the lessons simple and age-appropriate. Students will learn about French families and gain a preliminary knowledge of the French language, learning the French names for various family members.
  • De Colores
    This lesson plan is designed for young learners at the beginner or beginner-intermediate level of proficiency in Spanish. It is important for students to develop simple vocabulary and pronunciation in the Spanish language, and this lesson plan can be an excellent tool for this.

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