The Ultimate 10-Day Plan for Teaching the French Revolution: Causes, Stages, and Impact

Storming the Bastille with words Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite

Hello, fellow social studies teachers! I’m excited to share with you my 10-day plan for teaching the French Revolution. There are a few units in world history that are really hard to teach in a short period of time. The French Revolution is definitely one of those units. As you know, it can easily be a full semester course (maybe you took it in college). 

In New York, this unit is taught in the fall semester of 10th grade. In a perfect world 9th grade teachers would get to it as the last unit but that almost never happens. My pacing guide for sophomore year starts with a review of the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment Era and that leads us into the French Revolution. 

Grab a copy of my global history pacing guide. It’s free!

In this plan, I’ll cover all the essential topics and include a review and assessment in two weeks’ time. This is meant to be a guide that – of course – you can change to fit your teaching style and students’ needs. 

Most teachers have a framework for their lessons. Here’s mine:

Do Now: 5-minute activity that reviews old content or introduces the new. (I like to offer 2 questions and student choose which to answer)

Mini-Lecture: This is when I get to talk. I use a few slides, and sometimes a short video, to explain the historical background of the day’s content

Activity: This is independent, pair/share or group work where students engage with the content and work on their skills (reading, writing, document analysis, maps, etc)

Conclusion: This is the culminating question or class discussion that sums up the lesson and checks for understanding.

Let’s get started!

Day 1: Causes of the Revolution (Scaffolded Group Work)

On the first day, I  use scaffolded group work to help students understand the various factors that led to the French Revolution. Students will work in groups of 4, each analyzing a different document about a cause of the revolution. 

The students take turns sharing their documents and discuss how the event or topic could lead to a revolution. They use the discussion to fill out their graphic organizer. 

The lesson concludes with students using what they learned to write a paragraph describing the historical background of the revolution.

Day 2: Stages of the Revolution (Timeline) 

On the second day, we will create a timeline of the key events of the French Revolution. This will help students understand the chronology of the revolution. 

This lesson is more teacher-driven than most. Slides and a lecture describe the various stages of the revolution. Many students really need the teacher to explain events concisely and simply (even though some admin I’ve worked with does not agree).

I can still remember learning about the French Revolution and being confused:

“The French had a revolution to end absolute rule. But then Napoleon comes along and crowns himself king. Does that mean the revolution failed? When exactly did it start? And when did it end?”

 Sometimes a teacher’s gotta teach.

After students fill in their timeline the questions check for understanding.

Day 3: Revolution Begins (Political Cartoon Analysis) 

On the third day, we will analyze political cartoons to understand the mood of the people and their grievances. We begin by discussing the first couple of cartoons together. This is the age-old paradigm: I do, we do, you do.

After I model the document analysis students work in pairs to complete 2 on their own.

This is the only day I assign homework most of the time. I give them a reading about the Tennis COurt Oath and Storming the Bastille with questions as a reinforcement of the content.

Day 4: Declaration of the Rights of Man & Reign of Terror (Comparison) 

By now kids have an understanding of the background – what caused the revolution – an overview of the stages and the actual start of the revolution. 

On the fourth day, we will compare and contrast the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Reign of Terror. This will help students understand the significance of these two important events in the revolution. 

Students will work in pairs to assess which liberties delineated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man are violated during the Reign of Terror.

Day 5: Napoleon (Map Work, Primary Source) 

On the fifth day, we focus on Napoleon. After my introduction, students read a passage about his exploits and label a map to reflect Napoleon’s allies and conquests. 

Most students struggle with any kind of map work, so I try to incorporate maps whenever possible.

After that, my kiddos use a chart of laws before and after the Napoleonic code to assess various groups that were affected and how.

This lesson is a quick overview of Napoleon. You could easily break it into several days. But, if I’ve learned one thing in over 20 years of teaching history it’s that you have to ruthlessly cut lots of content. Napoleon is one area I do that; sorry Bonaparte!

Day 6: Congress of Vienna (Group Work) 

The Do Now for Day 6 is a short letter from Napoleon to Josephine, his wife. I think this makes him more real, showing his softer side. He was quite the romantic!

Today we will focus on the Congress of Vienna. Students use group work to understand the goals and outcomes of the Congress. 

Each student reads a passage about the goals of one of the big players: Great Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria. After sharing with the group they discuss and record who achieved their goals and who didn’t.

Day 7: Long-term Impact on the Church and Secularism in France (Group Work Debate) 

On the seventh day, we bring history into the present day. Students will watch a short video and read about the various bans on religious symbols and clothing in 21st-century France. 

Groups will discuss and debate the pros and cons of such a secular society. They are asked to create their own policy that ensures both freedom and societal cohesiveness.

Day 8: Review (Close Read) 

We did it: covered the key points of the French Revolution, woohoo! Now it’s time for a review.

I really like to gamify reviews most of the time. You can check out a whole list of them here

For the French Revolution, however, I think it’s important to revisit the key concepts and events that were covered in the first seven days. l use close-reading activities to help students understand the text and the events of the revolution. 

If you’re not familiar with the term “close read” it simply refers to assigning activities that encourage students to read carefully (rather than skimming) and to reread a passage.

Page 1 of French Revolution reading passage

You can download the reading passage here.

Students will work in pairs to read the overview and complete the activities on their handouts.

Day 9 and 10: Exam (DBQ documents and essay) 

On the last two days of the 10-day plan, we will have an exam that includes a Document-Based questions (DBQ) and an essay. 

The DBQ includes six primary and secondary sources related to the French Revolution. Each document has one short response question which scaffolds for them the causes of the revolution.

Students use the documents to write a 5-paragraph essay. I allow 2 days for this assessment.

I’ve tried giving students 1 day in class and asking them to finish as homework. You may be able to save a day by doing this. For my student population, it just doesn’t work. The kids who most need essay-writing practice are the ones who don’t do it. And it kills their grade point average.

So I take up 2 class days for this exam. It also allows me to walk around and guide and encourage struggling students (and wake up any nappers!).

It’s a Wrap for the French Revolution; onto Latin American Revolutions!

This 10-day plan for teaching the French Revolution covers all the essential topics and uses a variety of teaching modalities to help students understand the context and significance of the revolution. 

By the end of the 10 days, students should have a solid understanding of the causes, stages, and impact of the French Revolution.

But we’re not finished with revolutions, we’ve got to cover political (Latin American) and nonpolitical (industrial) revolutions next! 

“Vive la Révolution!”

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.