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Lesson Plan Ideas on Imperialism

written by: Kellie Hayden • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/11/2012

To engage students on a seemingly bland topic of American Imperialism, set up a debate between the Imperialists and the Anti-imperialists. Students will need to complete research and work in teams to prepare for the debate.

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    Imperialists vs. Anti-imperialists in the United States

    Most countries have a time in history when imperialism was at its peak. For example, the novel Things Fall Apart shows colonialism in Africa. However, the United State's Age of Imperialism was during the 19th and 20th century. The U.S. extended its influences around the world with its policy of expansionism.

    Teacher Preparation for a Debate or Argumentative Paper

    Students can learn a great deal about a historical event when they are asked to write a debate paper or prepare for a debate. A spirited debate takes some preparation on both the students' and teacher's part. The teacher needs to decide how to organize the debate in advance. Does the teacher want to follow the Moderated debate style, Town Hall style, or Lincoln-Douglas style?

    For students to prepare an actual debate, they will also need to complete research. The teacher will need to review how to write an argumentative paper and how to cite sources correctly in a reference page, bibliography or works cited page.

    Student PreparPreparing for a Debate ation for a Debate

    Students will need to pick a side of the debate over Imperialism or Anti-imperialism. Does America need to use all of its resources to fix internal problems or fix problems in foreign countries across the globe? This question can help set up the debate between the Imperialists and the Anti-imperialists.

    The Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny and extra goods helped fuel Imperialism in America. However, the American Anti-imperialists League formed in 1899 and fought against the imperialism when the U.S. occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands. Students will need to take this basic information and choose a side. They will then need to further their understanding of their position through additional research.

    Organizing the Debate

    The teacher will need to organize debate and students. If not, it will become a screaming match.

    Step 1: The teacher will need to split students into small groups of four to six students that hold the same beliefs.

    Step 2: The teacher needs to review the rules of the style of debate that he or she has chosen: Moderated, Town Hall or Lincoln-Douglas. In addition, the teacher may need to review how to cite a list of sources after choosing a format: APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.

    Step 3: Each group should select a leader. The leader should be a student who is organized and a good leader. Also, this person can keep the group's materials.

    Group Work

    Step 4: The leader should then work with the group to split up the research so that the students do not duplicate each other's efforts.

    Step 5: Allow the groups to complete research in the school library and/or computer lab.

    Step 6: Each group should review the information that each member in the group found in the independent research time. The group needs to prepare for the debate by making a list of as many facts as possible that supports its views. This list should be organized by subheadings. When the list is complete, each member should have the list. Students should also have a list of references prepared for the teacher.

    Debate in Class

    Step 6: Complete the debate in class. Again, the teacher will decide the format in advance and tell the students which groups will be debating by making a calendar of events. Teachers need to make sure to let the groups know who won the debates for bragging rights.

    The Imperialist versus Anti-imperialist debate should be fun and educational for the students and the teacher. In addition, students now have another format to argue without screaming when they believe strongly about a subject.


  • Hallsal, P. (1997, August). Modern history sourcebook: american anti-imperialist league, 1899. Retrieved from
  • An online history of the united states: the age of imperialism. (2000). Retrieved from
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