History of the Encyclopedia Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

When was the encyclopedia created and how did it change history? This lesson plan uses a video lesson to summarize the history of the encyclopedia for students. A small group activity gives students a chance to compare and contrast different types of encyclopedias.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • define encyclopedia
  • list key events and people in the evolution of the encyclopedia
  • describe the purpose of the encyclopedia


1.5 to 2 hours

Curriculum Standards


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.


  • A worksheet created using the quiz from the associated video lesson, one for each student
  • Several examples of hard-bound encyclopedias
  • Access to an online encyclopedia


  • Begin by asking the class to list several tools that are useful in conducting research.
  • Have the students take turns sharing their ideas with the class as you list the tools they discuss on the board.
  • Play the video lesson Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedia for the class, pausing it at 0:36.
    • Is the encyclopedia on our list?
    • Can we really learn everything from encyclopedias?
  • Play the video lesson again. Pause it this time at 2:13.
    • How did Denis Diderot's belief in the Enlightenment contribute to his work with encyclopedias?
  • Play the remainder of the video lesson.
    • Documenting all human knowledge is a lofty goal. Why do you think Denis Diderot was compelled to take on this task?
    • Why did Denis Diderot's work with the encyclopedia conflict with the ideals of church and state at that point in history?
    • What were Denis Diderot's goals in creating the encyclopedia?
    • How did the encyclopedia change the way people gathered information?
    • How has the encyclopedia changed and evolved from its origins?
  • Review key points from the video lesson with the class before continuing.
  • Pass out the worksheet and instruct the students to work independently to complete.
  • When all students have finished the worksheet, review each question and answer with the class as students follow along, checking their answers.

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