5th Grade Turn of the Century Lesson: What Life was Like for Children in the Early 20th Century

How Life has Changed

Students are often interested in learning about the life of children in other eras, while teachers feel the pressure to “teach to the test” and skip anything that will not be assessed on high-stakes exams. However, it is possible to teach important social studies, writing and thinking skills, while using content that isn’t always tested. With these fifth grade turn of the century unit plans, students learn about child labor, schooling, recreation, and fashions,.


  • Students will understand the culture at the turn of the 20th century.
  • Students will identify the contributions of new technology to the industrialization at the turn of the 20th century.
  • Students will recognize similarities and differences between children of the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Direct Instruction and Guided Practice

  • Begin by asking small groups of students to brainstorm lists of anything they know or think they know about the early 1900s. If necessary, provide them some broad topics as prompts to jump-start their thinking, such as “education,” “child labor,” or “health and medicine.”
  • As the groups share their lists, ask them to classify the information as “very different from today,” “just the same as today,” or “a little similar, but still a little different.” Discuss the ways in which they believe the times are the same and the ways in which they differ.
  • Assign each group a reading passage, either from the textbook or from a handout, dealing with a different topic from the turn of the century. Topics should include education, work, recreation/toys and games, health and medicine, and fashion and clothing styles.

Groups read the articles together, marking important points as they progress through the material. Students create a poster with the most important points about the topic. As an extension, the groups could also create a practice activity for their topic, and/or two or three possible quiz questions. Groups share their information with the rest of the class. As students listen to the presentations from the other groups, they should take simple notes. To facilitate this, provide blank Venn diagrams. Ask students to record things in the appropriate areas of the diagram.

Independent Practice

Students choose and complete three activities from the Tic-Tac-Toe grid, either in line vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.

Download the Turn of the Century Tic-Tac-Toe Grid.

Provide opportunities for students to share their products, either with the whole class or with smaller groups. Another way to share would be to set up tables with the projects and invite other classes, staff members, and parents to visit the Turn of the Century Information Fair. Student creators stand beside their work and explain it to the visitors.

This activity will let your students explore the previous century and give them a chance to show off what they’ve learned at the info fair. These ideas are just the beginning so have fun when you let your creativity flow.

Using Fifth Grade Turn of the Century Unit Plans will make learning relevant and memorable!