December 1, 2011
Location: Districts

The learning experiences require the students to:
…theorize, interpret, use, or see in perspective what they are asked to learn…
(or) they will not likely understand it or grasp that their job is more than recall.’
(Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design, p 100)

During the backward design process you were provided with an essential question, you focused on the learning goals for your lessons (the enduring understandings that you want your students to have developed at the completion of the learning sequence), and you decided how your students would demonstrate their understanding (assessments). Now it is time to construct the learning experiences or activities that students will undertake to focus them in understanding what they learn.


What type of student activities might you consider?


First recall what the essential understandings (learning goals) of your lesson. Then consider how you want your students to engage with the essential questions and primary source materials to reach that goal.

One way is to use the Understanding by Design (UbD) approach to create a Performance Task Scenario. Click here to see a list of questions that will help guide your thinking. The goal is to create an authentic task that will create an active role for the learners.

Also, WebQuest Taskonomy: A Taxonomy of Tasks provides ideas on how to engage your students with different types of performance tasks.

Your Director may have a handout with additional examples of performance tasks and roles.


One you have decided on a task and role for the learner, think again about how to incorporate your primary sources into your lesson.

Ideas for incorporating primary sources into four phases of instruction: focus, inquiry, application, and assessment can be found at American Memory’s Learning Page

The Library of Congress also has a web site called DocsTeach that has ready to use tools for teaching with primary source documents in the classroom. Try looking at the documents and activities for their lesson "Immigration Challenges for New Americans."

The National Archives has lessons related to The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900) and The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930) ...be sure to look at the teaching activities.

Using Primary Sources in the Classroom provides some examples of activities. It was compiled from the National Digital Library's Educators' Forum held in July, 1995 and from the Library staff. Educators at the Forum, like many throughout the country, know that history comes alive for students who are plugged into primary sources.

Sample Lessons

Here are some lessons from Becoming America Year 2. Choose one to examine. Focus on the Task and the Process sections. Also, remember your lesson will look as good when it's completed in the spring!

But in America, We Can Go to School! (Grade 3)
Settling In: The Denison House, a Boston Settlement (Grade 5)
"The Man Farthest Down": Comparing Migrants and Immigrants (Grade 5 to 9)
We Want Bread and Roses, Too! (High School)

The Learning Page from the Library of Congress also has a number of history lessons that you may want to examine. Click on the links to see a few.

Writing Your Own Lesson
Now that you’ve examined some lessons you’re ready to get started writing your own!
Use the part of a lesson (below) to structure your lesson. Use the template on your Teacher Page to post your lesson.



Start with an introduction. With the student as the intended audience write a short, overview paragraph of your American history lesson. Also include the pivotal Essential Question around which the entire lesson is focused. If there is a role or scenario involved (e.g., "You are a detective trying to identify the mysterious poet,” etc.) then here is where you'll set the stage. If there's no motivational intro like that, use this section to provide a short advance organizer or overview. Remember, the purpose of the introduction is to both prepare and hook the reader. Throughout the lesson use second person ("You") to address the comments and instructions to the student.


Next, describe clearly and concisely the goal of the task or activity through which students will process and transform the information that they have gathered. The goal of the task could be to:
  • solve a problem or mystery
  • formulate and defend a position;
  • design a product;
  • analyze a complex situation or issue;
  • articulate a personal insight;
  • create a summary;
  • craft a persuasive message or journal account;
  • produce a creative work.
If students are required to use a specific tool(s) (e.g., PowerPoint, the Web, video) to complete a task, mention it here.

Remember, the purpose of the task is to describe the end result of student activities only.


You will then list the steps (the learning experiences/activities) required for learners to complete the task successfully. Describing this section well will help other teachers to see how your lesson flows and how they might adapt it for their own use, so the more detail and care you put into this, the better. Remember that this is addressed to the student, however, so describe the steps using the second person, as follows:
  1. First you'll be assigned to a team of 3 students...
  2. Once you've picked a role to play....
  3. ... and so on

Learners will access the primary and secondary source documents and any on-line resources that you've identified as they work their way through the lesson. Describe the activity or activities you will use for students to analyze the primary and secondary source documents in your lesson. You may have a set of links that everyone investigates as a way of developing background information, or not. If you break learners into groups, embed the links that each group will explore within the description of that stage of the lesson.

You might also provide some guidance on how to organize the information gathered. This advice could include suggestions to use flowcharts, summary tables, concept maps, or other organizing structures. The advice could also take the form of a checklist of questions to assist in analyzing the documents and information, or things to notice or think about. If you have identified or prepared guide documents that cover specific skills needed for this lesson (e.g. how to brainstorm, how to prepare to interview an expert), include them here (they will be converted into PDF documents and linked to this section by your TLCD).


In conclusion write a couple of sentences (addressed to the student) that summarize what students will have accomplished or learned by completing this activity or lesson. You might also include some rhetorical questions or additional links to encourage them to extend their thinking beyond this lesson.


Include a copy of the rubric you will use to assess student work for the lesson.
Lesson Planning 2 Seminar - Assessment


Finally, describe the resources/materials needed to implement this lesson. Some of the possibilities might include:
  • Worksheets/handouts used in the lesson
    (For example, Document Analysis Worksheets on National Archives site: http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/index.html)
  • Class sets of books
  • Specific reference material in the classroom or school library
  • Video or audio materials
  • E-mail accounts for all students
  • Specific software
  • Specific hardware (what kind? how many?)
  • Specific websites

Describe also the human resources needed. For example: How many teachers are needed to implement the lesson. Is one enough? Is there a role for aides or parents in the room? Do you need to coordinate with a teacher at another school? with a university partner or a museum, national historic site, or other entity? Is a field trip designed as part of the lesson?

Keep these component parts in mind as you write your student-side of your lesson.

Examples of Lessons

In addition to the Becoming America Year 2 lesson examples listed above, you may want to look at the student side of the PBUs listed below to see the parts of a lesson. These examples also will give you an idea of how your Teacher Learning Center Director and Lead Teacher will take your lesson and merge it with others to create one PBU designed around the grade level Essential Question.

Living Side By Side (Grade 3) (Voices Rising 2009)
Immigrant Journey Then and Now (Grades 7-9/ESL High School) (Becoming America Year 1)
And that's the cruel reason why I left old Skibberean . . . (High School) (Becoming America Year 1)

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Grade 3)
Saugus Iron Works (Grade 5)
Great Debates in History (High School)

Use the following template to develop your lesson.

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PDF Version:

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