Enlightenment Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

There are a number of lofty ideas associated with the Enlightenment, but this lesson plan, as well as materials from, can help put it all within reach of your students.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Explain what the Enlightenment was and its impact on Western thought
  • Analyze the contributions of Enlightenment thinkers
  • Identify some of the major ideas of the Enlightenment


40 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Evaluate an author's premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.


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

Key Words

  • Enlightenment
  • Deist
  • Skepticism
  • Individuality
  • Social Contract


  • Start by reviewing what the Scientific Revolution was. Ask students to discuss Galileo and Copernicus in light of their discoveries and how the authorities, especially the Church, saw those new realizations. You may also want to bring in the work of William Harvey, who discovered that blood circulates through the body. Consider watching this video - The Scientific Revolution: Timeline, Breakthrough, & Effects


  • First explain to students that the Enlightenment was a time for ideas to conquer, not armies. Explain that the greatest thinkers started to have great amounts of power, and how that affected Europe and America.
  • Watch the video Major Themes of the Enlightenment: Reason, Individualism, & Skepticism, pausing to discuss at the following points:
    • 1:59 - Discuss the following statement: The Enlightenment could not have happened without the Scientific Revolution.
    • 5:25 - Make sure that students understand the three central themes of deism, skepticism, and individuality. Review the definitions in the video lesson if necessary. How did these grow out of an environment of distrust of authority? How are all of these interlinked?
    • 7:20 - Ask students to discuss the idea of a social contract. Review the definition if necessary. Examine how this is directly related to democracy?


Break the class up into a number of groups. Give each group a theme that was directly influenced by the Enlightenment, and ask them to imagine the world where the Enlightenment never affected this ideal. Then have them explain their findings to the class.

Possible themes include:

  • Individuality
  • Religious Freedom
  • Property laws (people owning vs. the state or king owning)
  • The Social Contract
  • Scientific Advancement


  • Enlightenment thinking was crucial to the development of the United States. Ask students to think about how the Enlightenment directly impacted the ideas of this country. Start by showing them John Locke's 'Life, Liberty, and Property,' quote, and ask if there are instances of other ideas being used.
  • Depending on the level of your class, a number of Enlightenment thinkers have relatively accessible writing. Offer students pieces written by Locke and Rousseau, for example, and ask them to compare and contrast the two thinkers. Make it clear that these men directly influenced the Founding Fathers.

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