Social Darwinism Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While the term 'Social Darwinism' gets thrown around a great deal, it is important for your students to know exactly what it means. This lesson shows how Social Darwinism got its start not with Darwin, but with Herbert Spencer, and how it led to some of the worst actions in history.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, your students will be able to do the following:

  • analyze the impact that social Darwinism had on early 20th century political and intellectual life
  • compare and contrast social Darwinism with Darwin's Theory of Evolution


  • 40 - 60 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.


Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.


Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Key Vocabulary

  • Herbert Spencer
  • Survival of the fittest
  • Social Darwinism
  • Structural-functional perspective

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