What Is History? - Lesson Plan

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Set the stage for understanding basic historical concepts with this lesson plan geared towards covering the basics. Includes real examples for student understanding and an engaging activity to solidify concepts.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • define key terms associated with basic historical concepts
  • categorize concepts of history
  • give examples of historical vocabulary


  • 45 minutes to 1 hour


  • Copies of our lesson, one for each student
  • History text, including text and trade books, magazines, internet, etc.
  • Chart paper
  • Markers, crayons, pencils, etc.

Key Vocabulary

  • conflict
  • continuity
  • change
  • nation-state
  • independence
  • racism
  • culture

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.3

Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.10

By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.


  • Ask students to create a page in their social studies notebooks titled, 'What Is History?'
  • Give students 4-6 minutes to respond to the question in writing. Share answers and discuss.
  • Tell students they will be learning to speak the language of history. Pass out copies of the lesson Understanding Basic Historical Terms & Concepts, or read together on white board.
  • Ask students to divide the next page in their notebooks into three sections: Conflict, Continuity, and Change; Nation-State and Interdependence; and Racism and Culture.
  • Read the first section of the text lesson, 'Speaking the Language of History.' Discuss other types of languages, such as teacher language and pop-culture language.
  • Read the second section, 'Conflict, Continuity and Change.' Have students take notes and define terms. Ask:
    • How is conflict a powerful theme in history? Why?
    • Why pay attention to the theme of conflict?
    • What's another way to explain continuity?
    • Compare and contrast continuity and change.
  • Read the next section, 'Nation-state and Interdependence.' Have students take notes and define terms. Ask:
    • Explain some differing ways of describing 'nation-state.'
    • Provide examples of other interdependent relationships.
  • Finally, read the section 'Racism and Culture.' Have students take notes and define terms. Ask:
    • Why are racism and culture aspects of history?
    • How can analyzing culture help understand history?
  • Allow students to read the Lesson Summary and check their definitions.


  • Divide students into partner pairs. Assign each group a section from above - Conflict/Continuity/Change; Nation-State/Independence; and Racism/Culture.
  • Tell students they will be creating a tri-fold poster explaining their section using the following criteria:
    • Name of term/concept
    • Definition of term/concept
    • Examples of term/concept
    • Explanation of its importance
  • Direct students to use the resource materials to find examples. Encourage students to decorate and illustrate creatively.
  • Share work as a class. Discuss and evaluate. Display in classroom.
  • As an exit slip, have students write a new response to the question 'What is history?'


  • As you study these themes throughout the year, refer back to posters. Add new examples and expand the section on importance.
  • Have students choose a section to conduct further research. Write an explanatory essay.
  • Expand themes by asking students to investigate one example of each. Create a three-dimensional display; label.

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