EDSITEment's Back-to-School Lesson Plans

U.S. History and Government: From Magna Carta to the First Great Awakening

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. For teachers of U.S. history and American government and civics—especially  those wishing to integrate primary sources  into their curriculum—EDSITEment has collected its most frequently accessed content in this subject area for August and September. These online lessons include:

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.

What Was Columbus Thinking? 
Students read excerpts from Columbus's letters and journals, as well as recent considerations of his achievements in order to reflect on the motivations behind Columbus's explorations.

Native American Cultures Across the U.S. 
This lesson discusses the differences between common representations of Native Americans within the U.S. and a more differentiated view of historical and contemporary cultures of five American Indian tribes living in different geographical areas. Students will learn about customs and traditions such as housing, agriculture, and ceremonial dress for the Tlingit, Dinè, Lakota, Muscogee, and Iroquois peoples.

Images of the New World
How did the English picture the native peoples of America during the early phases of colonization of North America? This lesson plan enables students to interact with written and visual accounts of this critical formative period at the end of the 16th century, when the English view of the New World was being formulated, with consequences that we are still seeing today.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and the Spanish Mission in the New World
In this Picturing America lesson, students explore the historical origins and organization of Spanish missions in the New World and discover the varied purposes these communities of faith served. Focusing on the daily life of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, the lesson asks students to relate the people of this community and their daily activities to the art and architecture of the mission.

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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.

Mapping Colonial New England: Looking at the Landscape of New England
The lesson focuses on two 17th-century maps of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to trace how the Puritans took possession of the region, built towns, and established families on the land. Students learn how these New England settlers interacted with the Native Americans, and how to gain information about those relationships

American Colonial Life in the Late 1700s: Distant Cousins 
This lesson introduces students to American colonial life and has them compare the daily life and culture of two different colonies in the late 1700s. Students study artifacts of the thirteen original British colonies and write letters between fictitious cousins in Massachusetts and Delaware.

Understanding the Salem Witch Trials
In 1691, a group of girls from Salem, Massachusetts accused an Indian slave named Tituba of witchcraft, igniting a hunt for witches that left 19 men and women hanged, one man pressed to death, and over 150 more people in prison awaiting a trial. In this lesson, students explore the characteristics of the Puritan community in Salem, learn about the Salem Witchcraft Trials, and try to understand how and why this event occurred.

Dramatizing History in Arthur Miller's The Crucible 
By closely reading historical documents and attempting to interpret them, students consider how Arthur Miller interpreted the facts of the Salem witch trials and how he successfully dramatized them in his play, The Crucible. As they explore historical materials, such as the biographies of key players (the accused and the accusers) and transcripts of the Salem Witch trials themselves, students will be guided by aesthetic and dramatic concerns: In what ways do historical events lend themselves (or not) to dramatization? What makes a particular dramatization of history effective and memorable?

William Penn’s Peaceable Kingdom
By juxtaposing the different promotional tracts of William Penn and David Pastorius, students understand the ethnic diversity of Pennsylvania along with the “pull” factors of migration in the 17th-century English colonies.

Religion in 18th-Century America
This curriculum unit, through the use of primary documents, introduces students to the First Great Awakening, as well as to the ways in which religious-based arguments were used both in support of and against the American Revolution.

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Literature and Language: From Beowulf to Things Fall Apart


The Beauty of Anglo-Saxon Poetry: A Prelude to Beowulf
Sometimes thought of as barbaric and violent, the “Dark Ages” was a time when beauty was prized in visual ornamentation and literary elaboration. 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.

Chaucer's Wife of Bath
This lesson helps students understand the complexities of the Wife of Bath's character and the rhetoric of her argument by exploring the various ways in which Chaucer crafts a persona for her. Students familiarize themselves with the framing narrative and language in which the Tales were written: Middle English. Students examine several primary source documents written about women and marriage in order to understand the context in which the Wife presents her argument.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Tale of the Headless Horseman has become a Halloween classic, although few Americans celebrated that holiday when the story was new. In this unit, students explore the artistry that helped make Washington Irving our nation's first literary master and discover how "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" still captures the imagination of 21st-century readers.

Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man is Hard to Find”: Who's the Real Misfit?
"A Good Man is Hard to Find" raises fundamental questions about good and evil, morality and immorality, faith and doubt, and the particularly Southern "binaries" of black and white and Southern history and progress. In this lesson, students will explore these dichotomies—and challenge them—while closely reading and analyzing "A Good Man is Hard to Find." In the course of studying this particular O'Connor short story, students will learn as well about the 1950s South.

A Raisin in the Sun: The Quest for the American Dream
The play A Raisin in the Sun enhances the discussion of "The American Dream" even while students explore how the social, educational, economic, and political climate of the 1950’s affected African Americans' quest for "The American Dream." In this lesson, the critical reading and analysis of the play is complemented with a close examination of biographical and historical documents that students use as the basis for creating speeches, essays and scripts.

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Literary Forms and Strategies

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.

Introducing Metaphors through Poetry
Metaphors are used often in literature, appearing in every genre, from poetry to prose. Utilized by poets and novelists to bring their literary imagery to life, metaphors are an important component of reading closely and appreciating literature. In this lesson, students will read excerpts from the work of Langston Hughes, Margaret Atwood, and Naomi Shihab Nye in order to gain a deeper understanding of metaphors.

Can You Haiku?
Haiku show us the world in a water drop, providing a tiny lens through which to glimpse the miracle and mystery of life. Combining close observation with a moment of reflection, this simple yet highly sophisticated form of poetry can help sharpen students' response to language and enhance their powers of self-expression. In this lesson, students learn the rules and conventions of haiku, study examples by Japanese masters, and create haiku of their own.

Poems that Tell a Story: Narrative and Persona in the Poetry of Robert Frost
Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" tells an invitingly simple story. In this lesson students explore such questions and mysteries building upon narrative hints in poems chosen from an online selection of Frost's most frequently anthologized and taught works. Analyzing the speaker, students make inferences about that speaker's motivations and character, find evidence for those inferences in the words of the poem, and apply their inferences about the speaker in a dramatic reading performed for other class members.

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: Teaching Through the Novel
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 this lesson, students are introduced to Achebe's first novel and to his views on the role of the writer in his or her society.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: Oral and Literary Strategies
Things Fall Apart interposes Western linguistic forms and literary traditions with Igbo words and phrases, proverbs, fables, tales, and other elements of African oral and communal storytelling traditions. After situating the novel in its historical and literary context, students will identify the text’s linguistic and literary techniques.

Dramatizing History in Arthur Miller's The Crucible
This lesson plan's goal is to examine the ways in which Miller interpreted the facts of the Salem witch trials and successfully dramatized them. Guided by aesthetic and dramatic concerns students will interpret history and examine the playwright’s own interpretations of it. In this lesson, students examine some of primary sources and 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.

Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”: Mixing Words and Pictures
British author Rudyard Kipling’s "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," a short story from The Jungle Book (1894), is an engaging example of Kipling's ability to mix scientific and historical fact with imaginative characterizations to create a believable and entertaining tale. In this lesson, students will read an illustrated version and examine how Kipling and visual artists mix observation with imagination to create remarkable works.

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World History and Culture: Cave Art to Marco Polo

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.

The Cuneiform Writing System in Ancient Mesopotamia: Emergence and Evolution
The writing system invented by the Sumerians around 3500 BCE was at first representational but became increasingly abstract as it evolved to encompass more abstract concepts. This lesson plan, intended for use in the teaching of world history in the middle grades, is designed to help students appreciate the parallel development and increasing complexity of writing and civilization in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys of ancient Mesopotamia.

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.

It Came From Greek Mythology
The lessons in this unit use online resources to enliven your students' encounter with Greek mythology, to deepen their understanding of what myths meant to the ancient Greeks, and to help them appreciate the modern meanings of Greek myths. Students learn about Greek conceptions of the hero, the function of myths as explanatory accounts, the presence of mythological terms in contemporary culture, and the ways mythology has inspired later artists and poets.

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.

The Aztecs — Mighty Warriors of Mexico
When the Spanish conquistador Hernan de Cortes and his army arrived in Tenochtitlan, capital of the mighty Aztec empire, they were amazed by an island city built in the middle of Lake Texcoco and connected to the surrounding land by three great causeways. Tenochtitlan was the hub of a rich civilization that dominated the region of modern-day Mexico at the time the Spanish forces arrived. In this lesson, students will learn about the history and culture of the Aztecs and discover why their civilization came to an abrupt end.

On the Road with Marco Polo
In the 13th century, the young Venetian Marco Polo traveled with his father and uncle across the vast continent of Asia to become the first Europeans to visit the Chinese capital (modern Beijing). In this curriculum unit, students will become Marco Polo adventurers, learning about the geography, local products, culture, and fascinating sites along his route to China. They will record journal entries and create postcards, posters, and maps related to the sites they explore.

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Folktales, Fairytales, and Mythology: From Aesop to Cinderella

Cinderella Folk Tales: Variations in Plot and Setting
Five hundred versions of the Cinderella tale have been found in Europe alone and related stories are told in cultures all over the globe.  In this lesson, students consider how the plot and setting of Cinderella change as it is translated into different cultural versions, then uncover the universal literary elements of the story.

Fairy Tales Around the World
Fairy tales are stories either created or strongly influenced by oral traditions. Because of the worldwide ubiquity of fairy tales, they have had a vast impact on many different forms of literature and drama for all ages.  In this lesson, students uncover the characteristics of fairy tales to better comprehend the structures of literature as well as for the sake of the wonder, pleasure, and human understanding these stories provide in their own right.

Aesop and Ananse: Animal Fables and Trickster Tales
In this unit, students will become familiar with fables and trickster tales such as Aesop’s fables and Ananse spider stories that appear in different cultural traditions. They will compare and contrast the elements of these tales across cultures to learn how the tales use various animals in different ways to portray human strengths and weaknesses and to pass down wisdom from one generation to the next.

Animals of the Chinese Zodiac
In this lesson plan, students will learn about the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. They will be introduced to the significance and symbolism of the animals as well as the traits associated with the year affiliated with each animal.

Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales
This lesson focuses on the works of Hans Christian Andersen and helps students understand the fairy tale genre through exploration and analysis of themes, plots, and characterizations in The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and other tales.

Art History: From Caves to Pompeii

Cave Art: Discovering Prehistoric Humans through Pictures
Students study paintings from the caves in France, discover that pictures are a way of communicating beliefs and ideas, and learn how this gives us clues about what happened when there are no written records left behind.

Lascaux: La Vie en Caverne!
Students learn how to explain the purpose of cave paintings and rock art, identify some of the animals that roamed France in prehistoric times, and learn to appreciate the methods used by ancient civilization to create cave and rock art.

Hammurabi’s Code: What Does It Tell Us about Old Babylonia?
Students will hypothesize about Hammurabi's (ruled 1792-1750 BCE) purpose in creating and distributing his "Code," analyze how the Code reflects Babylonian society at the time, and describe life in Old Babylonia. Activities include:  Hammurabi's Stele, online quiz.

Egypt’s Pyramids: Monuments with a Message
Students learn to explain the meaning of the word artifact, discuss the size and scale of one of the pyramids, and discuss the purpose of the pyramids.

Egyptian Symbols and Figures: Hieroglyphs /  Egyptian Symbols and Figures: Scroll Paintings 
This two-lesson unit introduces students to the writing, art, and religious beliefs of ancient Egypt through hieroglyphs, one of the oldest writing systems in the world, and through tomb paintings.

It Came From Greek Mythology
In this four-part lesson unit, students will learn about Greek conceptions of the hero, the function of myths as explanatory accounts, the presence of mythological terms in contemporary culture, and the ways in which mythology has inspired later artists and poets.

Live from Ancient Olympia!
Students will have an opportunity to develop "live interviews" with ancient athletes; working in small groups, they will produce a script based on the results of their research and they will perform the interview for other students in the class.

In Old Pompeii
A virtual field trip to the ruins of Pompeii. In this lesson, students learn about everyday life, art and culture in ancient Roman times, then display their knowledge by creating a travelogue to attract visitors to the site.

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Formal Values

Composition and Content in the Visual Arts
This lesson will help students analyze ways in which the composition of a painting contributes to telling the story or conveying the message through the placement of objects and images within the painting.

Composition in Painting: Everything in Its Right Place
In this four-lesson curriculum unit, students will be introduced to composition in the visual arts, including design principals, such as balance, symmetry, and repetition, as well as one of the formal elements: line.

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.

Symmetry and Balance
In this lesson, students will investigate the use of symmetry and balance in painting, and how it is used by artists to convey information about the contents of the painting.

Repetition in the Visual Arts
In this lesson, students will learn about one of the techniques artists often use to highlight important elements within a painting's composition.

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.

Genre in the Visual Arts: Portraits, Pears, and Perfect Landscapes
This lesson helps students understand and differentiate the various genres in the visual arts, particularly in Western painting.

Portraits: I've Just Seen a Face
Choose ideas from this six-lesson unit to help students examine the compulsion to capture the human in image and words.

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 unit 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.

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