How to Teach the Scientific Revolution & Enlightenment Era in 10 Days (Day-by-Day)

Do Now question day 2 of Scientific revoution main

The Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment Era are two important periods, characterized by groundbreaking discoveries, new ways of thinking, and revolutionary ideas that changed the world forever. However, teaching these topics can be a daunting task, especially when faced with limited time and resources. 

In this post, I’ll share how I teach the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment Era in just 10 days, using a variety of teaching strategies and resources that will engage and inspire your students. Whether you are a seasoned educator or a new teacher, hopefully, you’ll come away with a few ideas to inspire your and your students.

My 10-Day Unit Day-By-Day

Just as an overview, I like to plan my unit with 3 components in mind:

1. Content to be covered

2. Skills to develop

3. Lesson formats

The content – obviously – is the component that changes for every unit. It’s easy enough to take the allotted time for the unit and break it down into topics like causes, important people and events, impact, etc.

For me, the skills and lesson formats are consistent throughout the year. The skill focus changes as I evaluate the students’ strengths and weaknesses, but the fundamentals don’t change.

Here are the main skills that I’m trying to develop (in no particular order):

  • reading comprehension (including close reading and annotating)
  • essay writing
  • document analysis
  • map skills
  • accountable talk
  • making connections
  • test-taking skills
  • pacing
  • questioning
  • comparing 2 or more documents

Lesson formats also remain the same, though sometimes I discover a new one to add to the list:

  • compare/contrast
  • close reading activities
  • student choice activities
  • pair/share
  • group work
  • quote analysis
  • gallery walks/stations
  • map analysis
  • primary and secondary document analysis
  • artsy (eg. create a political cartoon, draw a civilization, design a storyboard)
  • Essay writing components
  • jigsawed content
  • simulations
  • journal entry
  • short response  
  • debate
  • videos
  • students create high-order thinking questions

Not every unit can include all of the skills and lesson styles, but keeping track, even in a very casual way, will help you identify what needs to be included in upcoming lessons.

Let’s Lesson Plan!

Day 1: Intro to the Scientific Revolution

Almost every single day students start by completing a warm-up activity, something that takes 5 minutes or less. 

Day one’s question is: A revolution is a big change in the way people live. What was the big change during the Scientific Revolution? Nothing fancy, just leads into the new unit.

Next, we engage in a whole-class discussion introducing the Scientific Revolution. Students use their handouts as a guide as to notes to take.

For the main activity, students will engage in a close read. They’re provided a summary reading passage (you can grab it here). If you have English language learners or students with special needs you may want to modify the reading. Then there are a series of activities that force them to reengage with the reading. If you want to use any of them check out the picture below.

Day 2: Important Scientists 

For the warm-up students study 2 diagrams, one geocentric modal and the other heliocentric. Their question is: Which one is heliocentric, and which is geocentric? Which one is correct and why?

Today students are introduced to some of the important scientists of the revolution (Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, etc.) One of the easiest ways for students to get basic information about many people is through a gallery walk. You can also set them up as stations. 

Most of my students enjoy gallery walks, but there are always a couple who groan and don’t want to get up and walk around. Oh, well, they’ll get over it.

If your room is crowded try posting the documents in the hallway outside your room. Several of us at my school do this. For some reason (no idea why) students seem to conduct themselves better out in the hall. 

For homework students are instructed as follows: Choose a modern-day inventor to research and answer the following:

1. What is his/her background and motivation?

2. What contributions did they make to the 21st century?

Some ideas are Zuckerberg, Gates, Musk, Nakamoto (who invented Bitcoin)

Day 3: Trial of Galileo 

The last day of the Scientific Revolution students will try their best at a difficult primary source. They work in pairs reading an excerpt of Galileo’s indictment and his abjuration (when he recants). You can modify the reading by putting important ideas in bold and defining difficult terms in parentheses after the word.

Next students pair/share. They take turns explaining their findings. As one shares the other is taking notes of any additions or differences to their answer. You can see how I lay it out below.

Day 4: Day 1 of the Enlightenment Era

Today’s lesson involves spending more time in lecture and class discussion. 

Here’s the warm up:

The Scientific Revolution led people to experiment and use reason, and to question the scientific beliefs of the church.  How might this new idea of questioning affect other areas of life?

This leads directly into the gist of the lesson, which is how the Scientific Revolution led to the Enlightenment Era. There is a video that compares the 2 periods and shows a comparison chart. Students can create their own as they watch (it’s best to stop a few times for them to take their notes.)

After the lecture and notes students give a flushed-out answer to the question: How did the Scientific Revolution lead to the Age of Enlightenment?

Next, each student creates a high-order thinking (HOT) question about the Enlightenment. Students pair/share their questions and hypothesize possible answers.  

Day 5: Enlightenment thinkers 

This lesson, like the scientists of the Scientific Revolution, entails students absorbing information on several people. This time, rather than a gallery walk, we engage in scaffolded group work.

I like this lesson structure. It involves independent work and collaboration. Students have the responsibility to read because they have to teach the others in their group.

In groups of 4 each scholar has a reading about 1 of 4 Enlightenment thinkers: John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire or Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They annotate a minimum of 3 ideas to share with the group. 

As each member explains the philosophies of their thinker the other group members take bullet-point notes. I purposely DON’T have the “teachers” write down their main points because the tendency is to just pass around his handout and the others copy it. By be forced to use annotations kids have to actually talk.

Day 6: Thomas Hobbes 

Now that my kids know about the main Enlightenment thinkers it’s time for them to consider a different point of view. Are all those ideas about free speech and natural rights really the best way to govern? Enter Thomas Hobbes and his book “Leviathan”.

After introducing Hobbes’ ideas students engage in a 4 corner debate. They’re given 3 statements, such as 

It is better to have a strong government and safety than freedom and possible chaos.

Each decides if they agree, strongly agree, disagree or strongly disagree with each statement and provide evidence to support their opinion.

Then the debate begins. Posted around the room (at each corner, hence 4-corner debate) are signs labeled agree, strongly agree, disagree or strongly disagree. Students proceed to the correct corner and collaborate with like-minded others. Each corner chooses a spokesperson to give their best argument.

After the discussion wanes the next statement is displayed and students once again move to the correct corner and the process begins again.

This is an easy-to-implement and at the same time scaffolded method of holding a debate in class. 

Day 7: Adam Smith and Capitalism 

Day 7 of the unit introduces students to the father of capitalism, Adam Smith and his book “the Wealth of Nations”

The warm-up introduces students to a couple of quotes by Adam Smith for them to decipher. One of the quotes is about his famous “silent hand” concept. After a brief lecture students read about capitalism as envisioned by Smith. Then they’re instructed to write a 3-paragraph essay. A handout with sentence starters will help struggling writers.

Day 8: Enlightened Despots 

One of my FAVORITE lessons is simulations. That’s how kids will learn about some Enlightened despots.

After a brief lecture and notetaking students act out a “press conference” attended by the despots. My script includes 14 roles, so most of the class can participate. There are always some who are too self-conscious to take part, but that’s okay. They can read along.

I always conclude with a writing prompt that includes using evidence from the simulation. this is a good way to check for understanding and encourage students to pay close attention.

Day 9: Review 

You did it; covered the main concepts and events of the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment Era. Yay! Now it’s time to review the last 8 lessons.

I almost always gamify unit reviews. It helps to engage students, as well as lessen the stress for students who have test anxiety.  

We begin with a vocabulary review. There are A LOT of terms and definitions in this unit. Students can work together in pairs, using their recall and notes to define the main terms.

The second half of class is spent playing heads-up. Most know some version of this game: someone holds up a card on their forehead for all to see except for them. The others give clues until they identify the word.

This game can be played in groups of 4, 2 partners each. I prefer breaking the whole class into 2 or 3 groups. The first “guesser” comes to the front and holds up their card. Everyone on their team helps him to guess the correct term. They get 2 minutes to identify as many as possible. Then team 2 goes. Then team 3.


Day 10: Exam 

Giving assessments are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s nirvana to not teach and just proctor the test. So nice to take a break from active teaching!

On the other hand, you’re going to have to grade them. Ugh, hours of work.

For this unit I administer a 2 part exam. Part 1 is document-based multiple-choice questions. New York has a state test that uses this model, so it’s important to give them practice. 

The second part consists of short response questions. I offer 6 and students get to choose any 4. Student choice really helps kids. If there is a question that their brain just shuts down for, they can skip it.

Final Thoughts

Teaching the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment Era in just 10 days may seem like a daunting task, but with careful planning, engaging resources, and a variety of teaching strategies, it is possible to provide your students with a good understanding of these pivotal periods in history. 

By encouraging your students to think critically, analyze primary sources, and engage in meaningful discussions, you can help them develop a deeper appreciation for the ideas and discoveries that shaped the world we live in today.

You might even inspire your students to become lifelong learners and critical thinkers who are capable of making a positive impact on the world around them. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!

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.