Imperialism 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.

The empires of Europe and the United States reached new heights and new lows during the 19th century. This lesson plan lets you convey the common themes of imperialism to your students.

Learning Objectives

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

  • Understand the idea of imperialism as applied to the late 19th century.
  • Compare and contrast the American and European approaches to Imperialism during this time.


45 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.


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.


Begin by watching the videos European Imperialism: Characteristics, Motives, & Effects and American Imperialism Around the Globe then discuss the following points:

  • How did national pride play into these narratives? Do you think the United States had something to prove?
  • What about religion? Was there some element of racism at play here?
  • What were the economics of these new empires? Who gained? Who lost?
  • Discuss the following statement: Western states without empires were viewed as second-rate.


During the late 19th century, political cartoons were often critical of the endeavors of major powers. Explain that these cartoons appeared in newspapers around the country and were used to educate and sway public opinion. Divide the class into 4-5 groups and have them spend a few minutes analyzing these cartoons. Have them pay attention to the following themes:

  • Racism
  • Perceived cultural superiority of the West
  • Lack of regard for other countries
  • What message is each cartoon conveying to Americans

Next, ask each group to present their analysis of each cartoon to the class.

The United States on the Dominican Republic
Roosevelt and the Monroe Doctrine political cartoons

Europe and Japan on China
Europe and Japan on China

For the second cartoon, it may be beneficial to identify each character around the table (from left to right) as personifications of the UK, Germany, Russia, France, and Japan, with China standing.


  • Ask students to compare the colonization of the 13 colonies to the later waves of colonies under Imperialism. What is similar? What is different?
  • How does the Monroe Doctrine fit into all of this?
  • Encourage students to find ways that natives of colonized areas tried to become equal with the colonizing powers. Of note is Gandhi, for example.

Related Lessons

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.