15 Lesson Ideas for History Class (#10 is My Favorite!)


Teacher in classroom with students main

Do you have a few go-to lesson formats that you use over and over? And over? It’s natural. After all, there’s so little time to prep. And if it works why experiment; right?

Maybe your go-to is a reading passage and questions. That’s an effective way to give your students content and check their understanding.  

But it gets boring for the students and for you. 

I’ve brainstormed a list of 15 lesson formats you can use in your history class. They don’t take long to plan for and include the content and rigor you need. These lesson ideas include individual, pair/share and group work.

1. TicTacToe

Virtually everybody has played TicTacToe! For this student choice activity, assign your kiddos a reading passage or chapter in their textbook. Next, create 9 questions and/or activities in 3×3 box format. Students choose any 3 in a row to complete.

This works both digitally and as a printed assignment. Click here for a free, done-for-you lesson.

TicTacToe Board for Lesson Plan Idea Post

Tip: If there is one essential question you want all students to answer place it in 3 spots on the TicTacToe board. This way almost any 3-in-a-row that’s chosen will include the important question.

2. Connect Four

This is the same idea as TicTacToe above but students have to complete any 4 in a row instead of 3. This is helpful if you want your students to answer more questions (4 instead of 3)

You can control the amount of work students need to complete by making the question or activity more or less in-depth.

3. “Expert” Group Work

I use this scaffolded group work activity on a regular basis. Once the kids do it once they understand what to do and it works great.

Start with groups of 4. My classes consist of 30-34 students so I have 8 groups of 3-4 students in each. 

Each group reads a different topic of the content you’re covering. Some examples might be 

=> 8 events leading up to World War 2 

=> 8 Enlightenment thinkers

=> 8 Characteristics of a civilization

=> Overview of 8 belief systems

Or maybe there are only 4 topics for the lesson; then assign each to 2 groups.

  • Each group reads their content and creates a 1-2 sentence summary of the important terms and facts. Everyone in the group writes down exactly the same summary.
  • Next, each group picks an “expert” that will travel to the other groups and share their findings. There’s always 1 who is willing to walk around and talk to the other groups.
  • Assign what direction they’ll be moving around the room. I label each group with a number 1-8. Students go to the next number up and group 8 goes to group 1. 
  • Once everybody knows where they’re going send them on their way. The expert will share his 1-2 sentences and the 3 students will share theirs as well. So the expert dictates to the group he’s visiting and then the group is dictating to the expert.
  • Allow 3 minutes for each “visit”. If you have only 4 topics you can extend it to 5 minutes. 

When each expert has visited all the groups he should have the topic from each group and they have his.

Your exit can be a culminating question that forces the kids to look over everything they’ve taken notes on during the class period. Some examples:

=> Which 2 events leading up to World War 2 were the most impactful and why?

=> Compare 2 belief systems

=> Which 2 Enlightenment thinkers have similar philosophies? Explain your answer.

4. Word Scramble

Whenever you can gamify a lesson students are more apt to be engaged. With word scramble students won’t even realize that they’re engaging in a close read!

This is great when there’snew vocabulary to learn. Simply offer students a small hint, then create the numbers of spaces to signify how many letters are in the word or phrase.

I like to circle random letters in each of the words to create a final phrase they need to decipher.

5. True/False Statements

This is a close-read activity and is an easy replacement for assigning questions about a reading passage.

Students are given a series of statements, some true, some false. They have to identify whether it’s true or false and cite evidence from the reading to justify their answer.

I vary the degree of difficulty in the statements to challenge high-level students and allow points of entry for struggling kids.

FOR LOTS MORE CLOSE-READ ACTIVITIES CHECK OUT THIS ARTICLE!

6. HIPPO

This acronym is a way for students to analyze documents. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Historical context of the document. 

Intended audience

Purpose

Point of view

Outside information. What does the student know about the event or time period that’s not shown in the document?

You can assign one document and have students complete all the letters of HIPPO or give them several and they can choose 1 or 2 of the letters to complete.

7. R.A.C.E.

Here’s another acronym for you. I’m a HUGE proponent of using RACE because it trains students to give an organized, extended answer to a question or justify an argument.

If a student can master RACE they can write a basic body paragraph for an essay. For struggling writers this is huge! 

Restate the question/argument

Answer the question

Cite evidence supporting the answer

Explain the evidence

All of the social studies teachers in my school use this method starting with the freshmen. We’ve had great success on our state exam which requires an essay. In the past, there were always some special ed and ELL students who would leave the essay blank. 

Now, after practicing with RACE over and over again they can write a few paragraphs and achieve enough points to at least pass.

I assign a RACE question several times a week, often as an exit ticket, and for homework.

R.A.C.E.S.

Once the students have mastered RACE we step it up a notch with RACES. The “S” stands for “similar to”. After they answer the question and give and explain evidence to support their answer the next step is to compare it to something else: 

One cause of World War 1 was the formation of alliances. These alliances led to multi-nation conflicts, rather than just between 2. Document 2 shows that Serbia was allied with Russia and Germany was allied with Austria. So when the Archduke of Austria was assassinated the alliances snowballed into World War 1. World War 2 also had alliances that led to a world war. When Germany invaded Poland, its ally, Britain joined the war.

The effect of using the “S” is that the student is giving outside information, which is important in DBQ essays. It helps them to identify something that they know which isn’t in the document.

Give it a try!

8. Gallery Walk

I’m pretty sure everyone has used gallery walks. They’re great, even though at least one student will whine, “I have to get up?!”

Here are a few tips and tweaks on your standard gallery walk:

=> Try placing the documents in the hall outside your class instead of around the classroom. It’s a different experience for students to conduct their work outside the class.

It allows for more room. Students can’t sit down at a desk, they have to get up and leave the room. And, for some reason I have yet to figure out, they’re better behaved!

=> Another variation is the hall run. Students work in groups. There are several copies of 1 long document or several shorter ones posted outside the class.

One member of the group has an allotted time – I usually give 2 or 3 minutes – to go outside WITHOUT paper or pen. They read the document and try to memorize as much as possible of the first couple of paragraphs.

When time’s up they report back to their group and everyone writes down everything the hall runner can recall. This is repeated until all group members have a chance in the hall run. I add 1 more run with a group member of their choice at the end.

The group that has the most accurate information wins. For homework, you can assign a couple of essential questions to encourage revisiting the content.

This works on several skills: memorization, focus, and strategy. And it’s fun!

9. Student Interviews

I like these! There are various ways you can use the idea of students interviewing each other in your class. Here’s a scaffolded lesson format that works really well in my classes.

Step 1: Find a multi-paragraph reading for the content you’re covering (I like at least 6).

Step 2: Create 1 high-level question for each, so if there are 6 paragraphs you’ve created 6 questions.

Step 3: Cut the reading into 6 separate pages, with 1 of the 6 paragraphs at the top of each page. Page 1 will have paragraph 1, page 2 will have only paragraph 2, etc. Then copy all 6 questions underneath.

That’s all the prep you need for this lesson. Now you have 6 different handouts, each with a different reading but the same questions. If you have 24 students you’ll make 4 copies (6×4=24)

On the day of your lesson, distribute 1 handout to each student. Instruct them to read the paragraph, then find the question that they can answer, based upon the reading. 

Next, students will walk around interviewing other students for the answers to the other 5 questions (in the example of 6 paragraphs). 

Because there are multiple kids with the same paragraph, even if someone doesn’t complete their work, or writes a nonsensical answer (I ALWAYS have 1)  students can find someone else who has the answer.

Your exit should be a question that forces them to read over all their answers.

This is a good method for sharing a lot of information in a short time and encouraging student interconnectedness. Oftentimes students can handle 2 paragraphs each rather than 1. 

It’s best though to keep it easy the first time you try a new lesson paradigm like this.

10. Review Board Game

This one is probably my favorite. It’s rigorous and fun AND – drumroll, please – no prep; yay!

You do need a few simple supplies on hand: dice and something to use for game pieces.

Here’s how it works: students create action spots on the game board using their knowledge of the content they’ve learned. They can make positive (D-Day, double your roll) or negative (Attack on Pearl Harbor, lose a turn).

Once they’re finished reviewing the content by creating their action spaces they play the game they’ve created!

This is a perfect review lesson! Click here for a copy of this game board. It contains a done-for-you game boards about African Trading Kingdoms AND a black generic game board as well.

11. Maps

Students are notorious for struggling with maps. The more practice you can give them the better.

A simple introduction to an area of study (river valley civilizations, alliances during 1 of the world wars, etc.) is to simply give them a blank map, display a labeled 1 on a slide (make sure it’s big enough for them to see everything) and let them re-create it on their own. 

To add more rigor, I have them create 3 high-level questions (no yes or no answers allowed) based on their maps. This forces them to study the map they’re created and make sense of it.

You can also ask them to create 3 questions that the map can’t answer.

TRUE OR FALSE

Another map lesson that’s easy to create: Copy a map and create a series of statements. Students must decide whether each statement is true or false and give evidence based on the map.

Create a Graph

If you’re working with demographic maps try having students create a graph based on the map. They will have to analyze the information and re-create it in another format. 

Based on their graph the kids can make conclusions or a summary. Or answer questions you devise.

The map below is perfect for drawing a bar graph or pie chart of the population in the United States. They would make 7 bars and count how many states are included in each segment. You can access the picture here.

12. Create a Storyboard

Storyboards are really fun for creative kids. If you use a digital version everyone becomes an artist!

I use Storyboardthat. They have a free version for 30 days. If you love it there’s a monthly subscription available.

For the best results, give your students simple, detailed instructions. 

Example: Create a storyboard describing the colonies. There should be a minimum of 3 panels for New England colonies, Middle colonies and Southern colonies. Each panel should include a description box.

13. Student-Created Multiple Choice

This activity is deceptively simple, but it’s not. If you’ve ever created your own multiple-choice questions with 4 possible answers you know it can be tough!

It’s most effective to have students working in pairs or groups for this assignment. Struggling students can get some help while still participating.

Ask the kids to create the equivalent of 2-3 each (so a group of 4 would have to come up with 8-12 questions. One caveat, make sure the students who are writing have legible handwriting!

To gamify it, have groups switch their questions. The first group to accurately answer all the questions “wins”.

Students can use a reading passage, their notes or – my favorite – documents as the basis for their questions.

This is a good review assignment.

This site has tons of reading passages for U.S. and World history!

14. Create a Political Cartoon

Having students create their own political cartoons in pairs (works best) is a nice lesson. Creative and artistic students really enjoy it.

In order to support your stick-figure drawers (my hand is raised) you can have some pictures, symbols, etc. on hand.

Each political cartoon should include a title, caption, picture/symbol, and a point of view (it should not be neutral). Have students write a paragraph explaining each part of the political cartoon; it ensures understanding and is a self-check for students that they checked off the boxes in your instructions.

15. Debate

Most teachers would love to hold debates in their classes – and administration loves to see all that “accountable talk”. 

However, it’s soooo easy for a debate to quickly become a hot mess, at least in my experience. It runs the gamut from screaming at each other to (worse) silence.

The key to success is carefully choreographed debates. The more structure, the better the outcome. Unless you’re teaching AP classes; that’s different.

I teach in the Bronx, New York and have a very mixed-ability group of students.

The four-corner debate is my go-to structure. Have you heard of it? 

It’s called four-corner because students choose between “Strongly Agree”, “Agree”, “Disagree” and “Strongly Disagree” for each topic that’s debated. 

You post each of the 4 statements in a different corner of the room. Voila, four-corner debate.

Begin class by having your kiddos analyze each question to be debated, decide their position and justify it in writing. A graphic organizer works best. They will need 10-15 minutes for this part.

Display the first question/statement on your SMARTBoard and have students go to the appropriate corner.

Give them 1-2 minutes to discuss their arguments and choose a spokesperson to share out first.

Starting with Strong Agree or Strong Disagree each corner takes a turn stating their case. Then others can weigh in. When the debate gets repetitive or starts to feel stale go to the next question/statement.

 I have an editable template with instructions for $1.50 on Teachers Pay Teachers if you want to check it out.

four corner debate template TpT

Last Thoughts

There’re a TON of different ways to implement a lesson in your history class. I find some of them are just too time intensive to plan for. I have spent too many hours cutting up hundreds of pieces of paper for some one-off lesson only to have it flop.

I hope a few of the ones I’ve shared today getting your juices flowing!

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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