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History of Early Man: Thawing Out Some Early Man Leftovers

written by: Noreen Gunnell • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 1/17/2012

History is often a subject with which students feel distanced. Early man, prehistory and evolution are topics that can compound this sense of detachment merely because they deal with a time so far removed from our own. This article offers a lesson plan using recent data to help bridge the gap.

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    Early Human Lesson Plan

    Students enjoy learning about topics that are relevant to their own lives. Events and people from the distant past seem irrelevant to many teenagers. This makes history, particularly prehistory, tedious to many middle and high school students. To make matters worse, textbooks can be tiresome and heighten the feeling of being unconnected to the subject matter.

    One way to bring relevancy to a lesson is to show students how things learned in a history class may actually creep into modern life. For example, the vocabulary words learned in an early man lesson plan are, unlike early man, still around and thriving. Further, using recent discoveries and current resource materials can demonstrate how there are entire bodies of research and career paths fueled by delving into history and even prehistory.

    The article "Defrosting The Past" discusses recent finds made regarding early humans due to melting glaciers in North America. Terms taught in almost any unit on early man are used throughout the article and there is a misuse of the word artifact which can be used to test students' reading skills and comprehension. Being able to identify the error and explain it is just one of the tasks in the early man lesson plan presented below. A downloadable vocabulary list and a discussion questions handout are included.

    Lesson Focus:

    Enable students to see vocabulary terms used in a published article and to promote critical thinking and reading comprehension. It is part of a series that emphasizes teaching without textbooks. There is another early man lesson plan in this series that deals with the development of speech in early humans.

    Standards Met by This Lesson:

    NCSS Thematic Standard: VIII Science, Technology, and Society.

    NSS-WH.5-12.1 ERA 1: The Beginnings of Human Society.

    Vocabulary Words and Terms:

    • Artifacts — objects made or used by humans.
    • Archaeologist — someone who researches ancient cultures and people by examining their material remains.
    • Atlatl — a spear thrower. This was an important development for early humans as it enabled them to hunt more efficiently and from a greater distance.
    • Flint — a hard silica stone, usually gray. It was used as a crude tool.
    • Carbon Dating — determining or estimating the date of an object through the measurement of radioactivity in its carbon matter.
    • Migration — to travel and move from one geographical region to another.
    • Emissions — polluting substances released into the environment from industry.
    • Detritus — disintegrating debris or remains.

    Lesson Outline:

    1. Distribute vocabulary list and discussion questions.
    2. Read the article as a class, stopping to discuss new vocabulary words when necessary.
    3. Have students answer the questions individually and in complete sentences.
    4. Review the questions with the class asking for volunteers to share their answers.

    Discussion Questions and Answers:

    1. What is a possible reason for the decades of unusual warmth that led to the melting of many glaciers?
    2. Answer: (Global warming caused by emissions from cars and industry.)
    3. Who was the author of the article "Defrosting The Past"?
    4. Answer: (Alex Markels)
    5. Read the following sentence and circle the misused word. Explain how the word is used incorrectly.
      “As the ice recedes, a treasure trove of human and animal artifacts is emerging, extraordinarily well-preserved after centuries in the deep freeze.”
    6. Answer: (Animals cannot leave behind artifacts. Artifacts are objects that were made or used by humans.)
    7. What was the nickname of the hunter found in British Columbia, Canada by the three men hunting sheep?
    8. Answer: (Long Ago Person Found)
    9. What is an atlatl?
    10. Answer: (It is a spear thrower.)
    11. Where was the atlatl found?
    12. Answer: (The Yukon Region)
    13. According to scientists, what is the theory about what early humans were doing in the region?
    14. Answer: (Hunting. It is believed that in the summer months hunters followed the animals into the mountainous regions.)
    15. How many years ago does it seem the throwing dart stop being used by early humans in North America?
    16. Answer: (It seems as if throwing darts disappeared as a hunting method about 1200 years ago.)
    17. What development in weapon-making brought about the end of the throwing dart?
    18. Answer: (The development of the bow and arrow.)
    19. According to the article, how many years did it take for the bow and arrow to replace the throwing dart?
    20. Answer: (According to Markels, it took 100 years for the bow and arrow to replace the throwing dart. The bow and arrow first appeared 1300 years ago and the throwing dart seemed to no longer be used by 1200 years ago.)

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    One way to wrap up this lesson is to ask students to name any professions mentioned in the article. Other than a professional dung collector, careers identified in the article are museum curator, biologist and archaeologist, particularly a government archaeologist and a high-altitude archaeologist.

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    Extension Activity

    What is an explorer-in-residence?

    Johan Reinhard, an explorer-in-residence with the National Geographic Society is mentioned in the article. Assign students a short essay on what someone in that position actually does and what types of organizations employ explorers.

    I have included two suggested resources which should lead to more!

    - Explorers-in-residence program, National Geographic Society, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/field/grants-programs/explorers-in-residence.html

    - Explorer-in-residence series, Kensington Tours, http://www.kensingtontours.com/explorer-in-residence

References

Tossing the Textbook

This series offers social studies lesson plans using movies, fictional novels, news articles, and internet sources. Some of the lessons can be taught cooperatively with an English, Media, or Science class. Reviews of some of the books and movies suggested are also part of this series.
  1. Tossing the Text Book: Incorporating Modern History Into History Lessons
  2. History of Early Man: Thawing Out Some Early Man Leftovers
  3. Early Man Evolution Lesson Plan: Why We're So Chatty.
  4. Toss the Textbook & Use The Killer Angels to Teach the Civil War
  5. Review of the History in Film Website for Educators

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