Walt Disney Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students will learn about the life of Walt Disney. Students will contextualize Disney's life within the 20th century and debate how his life and these other events interacted.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, your students will be able to do the following:

  • Describe the life and relevancy of Walt Disney
  • Contextualize the life and career of Walt Disney within other events of the 20th century
  • Critically analyze cartoons as primary sources


45-60 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.


Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.



  • Play the roughly 8-minute cartoon 'Steamboat Willie'. Once you're done, ask students the following:
    • Who is the main character in this cartoon?
    • Who created this character?
    • As historians, why do we care about cartoons? Was Walt Disney really that significant of a historical figure? Why or why not?
    • What can the cartoon of Steamboat Willie tell us about the world in which it was created? How can historians use primary sources like this?
  • Hand out printed copies of the lesson Walt Disney: Quotes & Biography.
  • Read the lesson aloud as a class. You may do this using a popcorn method, where a student reads aloud until you shout out another student's name and they take over. Start with the first two sections, 'Walt Disney' and 'Early Life'. When you have finished those sections, discuss the following as a class.
    • What was the Columbian Exposition? What do we imagine happened there?
    • From what we already know about Walt Disney and his movies or parks, can we see any influences from his early years?
    • What was the world like when Walt Disney was growing up? What were some major events, themes, and changes in the world between 1901 and 1920?
  • Continue reading the lesson aloud as a class. Read sections 'Entering the Cartoon Business' and 'Steamboat Willie and Beyond'. Discuss these sections as a class.
    • Who was Walt Disney's first character? What happened to him?
    • How did the Walt Disney Company interact with the major events of the 20th century? How do we think they helped shaped people's opinions or memories of these events?
  • Ask students to read the lesson summary on their own. You may test student understanding with the lesson quiz.

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