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Outside the Textbook Box: Lesson Ideas for High School History

written by: Wendy Finn • edited by: Ronda Bowen • updated: 3/10/2014

Teaching high school history is never an easy undertaking. "Boring" is a response you'll hear all too often, though it's fair to say there is plenty of scope to make it more interesting. This lesson plans in this collection were chosen with that premise in mind.

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    unionarmy Students often equate history class with dry writing about long-ago events that have little to do with their in-the-moment lives. The lesson ideas included in this collection make sure to include different ideas and types of media, avoiding the use of textbooks wherever possible.

    We'll start with a lesson plan on evolution, journey on to early man and early civilizations, before reaching ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Before we reach modern history we'll also take in medieval history, the American Revolution, the Civil War, Victorian England and World War II -- guaranteed boring-free!

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    Lesson Plan on Evolution Including Worksheet

    caveman Evolution is never an easy subject to teach, as it's often difficult to steer your class around the creation vs. evolution debate, but this lesson offers some great advice. The theory of evolution is provided along with the names of species involved and important definitions of them, as well as dates, people and places that are pertinent. A worksheet is included in the lesson -- one filled out for the teacher and blank ones for you to hand out to your students.

    A Lesson Plan on the History of Early Man

    Teaching the history of early man is never easy, as there's a huge sense of detachment -- it's hard to relate to something that happened so long ago. This comprehensive lesson plan pulls together facts and ideas on how to further your students' understanding of the project. It includes no textbooks (hear your kids cheer!), but uses articles and a vocabulary list that your students can build on with question activities and classroom discussion. Discussion questions are covered along with extension activities.

    Early Civilizations Lesson Plans

    Here we look at the beginning of civilization; how and where it happened -- and why did it happen where it did? Agriculture, cities, economies all began here and each is discussed within the lesson. Map activities are included for the classroom and extension activities are detailed as well. This is a great lesson for throwing in a bit of geography too!

    Introducing Greek Theater History the Fun Way

    Greek history of any sort isn't likely to result in resounding cheers from your class as you announce the subject matter, so by introducing the history of its theater you can introduce some nice interactive activities and role-playing to bring history to life. This lesson plan looks at the floor plan for a historical Greek theater, continuing on to terms to use, and even learning about the orchestra and music of the time.

    Ancient Egypt: Hatshepsut - The First Woman Pharaoh

    This lesson plan puts a different spin on the usual subject of Ancient Egypt by focusing on the first woman Pharaoh. Interestingly it's not Cleopatra, but Hatshepsut who is our subject here. The background of her reign is given, along with activities that your students can partake in that discusses not only what life was like in this era of history, but also women's rights at this time too.

    Alexander the Great Lesson Plan

    Alexander the Great's conquests changed history, and although he was an exceptional leader he was also pretty cruel at the same time. This article includes a timeline with images, and a rundown of his conquests and personal traits. An assignment is given at the end of the lesson asking students to compile a resume as if they were Alexander.

    Assignments and Activities on the Roman Empire

    These assignments and activities for the classroom cover a wide range of different subjects within the Roman Empire theme. We consider Ancient Rome and how it became an empire, take a look at Marc Antony, and famous battles and reigns of the period, architecture, and the eventual demise of the empire. Each area is given several different activities, many of which are website based.coatofarms 

    Medieval Studies: Coat of Arms Lesson Plan

    If you throw something visual into the classroom situation then you have a chance of keeping your students' attention. In this case we take the example of a coat of arms from the medieval period and look at the components of a coat of arms. We also discuss symbolism, hierarchy and allow your students to use their own research skills. Assessment can be either through considering the students design of their own coat of arms and/or through a pop quiz.

    The American Revolution: Lesson on the Sugar Act

    The American Revolution is such a big subject to cover, but this lesson plan on the sugar act really helps to crystallize how the colonists eventually received their freedom from Britain. Information is given on the act and its effects, and afterward there are classroom activities and suggested homework topics. A really interesting activity considers the value of a penny at the time as the Sugar Act had a tax of three pence.

    Learning About Gettysburg: The Killer Angels Review

    This lesson looks at using the text The Killer Angels to bring home to your students just what it must have been like for officers on both sides of the Battle of Gettysburg. Textbooks are great at getting over the dates and pertinent facts, but this book really brings home the realities of life during the Civil War. Additional resources and classroom discussion topics are included.American Civil War Montage 

    Civil War Lesson Plans

    The lesson plans included here are also great at introducing different ways of learning that don't involve a textbook -- it seems history textbooks have become synonymous with the Civil War. There are many great ideas in here from creative writing exercises to making a PowerPoint presentation, but my favorite activity in this lesson is that of setting up a mock trial.

    A Christmas Carol Lesson Plan

    There aren't many lesson plans at high school level that can incorporate a holiday theme as well as teach your students about the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution. The Christmas Carol does all these things, as well as allowing your students to appreciate good literature. As well as the story, that gives a real idea of life at the time for the poor, we also consider industrialization, social reform, child labor and cottage industries.ww2women 

    World War II: Women in the Workforce

    World War II really did transform society at the time, and here our emphasis is on the change it had on women in the workplace. Many images of women doing their duty by working in munitions factories, for example, are included as well as posters of the time clearly detailing the change in women's roles. Fun activities are included at the end of the lesson allowing your students to choose whether to design a poster of the time or to write song lyrics to encourage women to go out to work.

    Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Lesson Plan

    This particular conflict can be very daunting to teach, not least because the situation is almost always changing -- it's a conflict that's been raging for decades and looks set to continue. This lesson plan aims to educate your class on the history of the two regions and the underlying reasons for the conflict. A potted history is given along with relevant vocabulary terms.

    Modern History Teaching Ideas

    Finding suitable textbooks when teaching modern history is usually a big problem, so why not try out these ideas that toss out the textbook. The case study looked at here is Afghanistan, but the methods could easily be adapted to your subject matter. We look at using outside sources, fictional books, and even reputable websites and blogs. Assignment ideas are included as well.


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