A Guide for Developing TwHP Lesson Plans

The Teaching with Historic Places program uses places as resources for studying local, state, and national history--events, the impact of people on events, technological change, and political and social trends. Historic places can also be used to study geography--how locale, terrain, and climate affect events and lives, and how people shape the environment for their purposes. All kinds of places can provide the focus for a lesson in history, geography, and many other subjects in the school curriculum. Courthouses, jails, train stations, bridges, lighthouses, plantation mansions, crude log cabins, battlefields, or the ruins of a 1,000 year-old Indian village are only a few of the possibilities from which to choose.

The format used for Teaching with Historic Places lesson plans contains elements required by school districts across the nation and is designed for easy use by teacher and students. It organizes interesting and illuminative material that complements and enriches the study of American history.

Each lesson plan begins with an Introduction written to interest educators in the place and to entice them into reading further. Lessons then progress through a sequence that shows teachers where the lesson fits into the curriculum, defines learning objectives, lists the contextual materials that will be used by the students, and offers information on visiting the site. Lessons go on to provide historical background information for students, introduce a variety of written and visual materials from which students can gather evidence and formulate conclusions, and suggest activities to guide students' learning. At least one of these activities lead students back to their own community where they can explore places related to the lesson topic. The last section of the lesson consists of a page of supplementary resources, allowing students and teachers to further explore themes presented in the lesson plan.


Constructing the lesson

Throughout the guide, each section title is linked to a corresponding example in one of our online lesson plans. Please use these links to explore how other authors created each section of their TwHP lesson.


I. Introduction to the lesson (2 - 3 paragraphs)

The Introduction: (1) presents a dramatic and engaging description of the place; (2) hints at the story the place has to tell; and (3) includes a visual image of the site(s) to be studied.

The Introduction should focus like a camera on the site. It should use sensory language that evokes the feeling that one can almost see the people involved, hear what they hear, and view the place as they saw it. This opening must "grab" the teacher so they will want to go on reading the story and become excited about using the lesson in their classrooms.


II. About This Lesson

A. General Citation

This subsection should begin by establishing that the lesson is based on a real historic place that still exists. A general reference to the materials used to create the lesson should be noted, including the National Register of Historic Places registration file name. It should also include references to the author, or authors of the lesson plan.

B. Where it fits into the curriculum

This subsection briefly explains how the lesson can add to established history or geography curricula by categorizing the subject according to Topic, Time Period, and relevant United States History Standards for Grades 5-12.

C. Objectives for students

The objectives should be measurable, indicating the skills students will practice as a result of their study and the knowledge they will gain. For example, an objective might read: "To analyze [skill] the impact the building of the canal had on the growth of communities along its route [knowledge]." An objective also might indicate a generalization that students could draw from the lesson; an example of a generalization would be: "To explain the role irrigation systems played in the development of Texas farmland and other arid lands."

The objectives should relate directly to the materials and activities presented in the lesson. The basic information students will need to master the objectives should be contained within the readings and visual materials. Putting It All Together activities sometimes ask students to supplement the data in the lesson by comparing and contrasting it with information from textbooks, additional archival research, or investigation of community history and historic places. Students will demonstrate their mastery of the objectives by completing the questions in Determining the Facts and Visual Evidence, and the activities in Putting It All Together (see sections III C and III D below).

*Each lesson should have four to five measurable objectives.*At least one of the listed objectives should reference the local activity in Putting It All Together.

D. Materials for students

Essentially this entry should list the materials to be used by the students in accordance with the lesson plan, including all maps, readings, and visual images.

E. Visiting the site

This subsection offers information on visiting the site for those who can do so. This section is very brief. It reinforces students' awareness that the lesson is based on a real place. It also lets the students and teacher know if the site is open for visitation, how to contact the site, and if the site has a Web page.


A. Getting Started

Rather than serving merely as illustrations for the text, images are documents that play an integral role in helping students achieve the lesson's objectives. The purpose of the Getting Started section is to immediately engage students' interest by raising questions that can be answered only as they complete the lesson.

First select an intriguing image that can also be used in the Visual Evidence section.* Ask an inquiry question to get students thinking about what they are going to learn. The inquiry question should be thought-provoking and serve as a prelude to what is in store in the lesson plan. Keep in mind that students study the Getting Started image even before they know the topic of the lesson. To facilitate a class discussion, teachers may print this page and use it to make an overhead transparency.

*As no information is provided about the image in the Getting Started section, using the same image in Visual Evidence allows students to eventually learn more about it in greater depth.


B. Setting the Stage (2 - 4 paragraphs)

This section provides both teachers and students with a short overview of the material essential to the students' understanding of the lesson. The section might also explain unusual or unique characteristics of the site and provide contextual definitions for specialized vocabulary. Define specialized vocabulary within the text, either in this section or in the readings, instead of creating a Glossary or Vocabulary List.

The teacher will decide how to introduce this information to the students. The teacher may read it aloud, make copies for the students to read, or use it as the basis of an informal lecture. Deciding what belongs in Setting the Stage and what should be left for Determining the Facts can be difficult. Keep in mind that Setting the Stage provides historical background and Determining the Facts includes the essential information related to the focus of the lesson. Keep Setting the Stage short, but be sure to provide enough information for students to answer the related questions in the Locating the Site section.


D. Determining the Facts (2-3 readings)

This section contains the readings and visual materials students will need to gather information about the place. For each reading and visual presentation, the lesson includes a series of questions to assist students in gathering the appropriate facts.

Each reading will provide data on one aspect of the place used in the lesson--its reason for being and the people associated with it. Together with the visual evidence, the readings should provide sufficient information for students to understand why the place is important and why it has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The first reading usually focuses on the "general story" that the place has to tell. This reading often is adapted from National Register documentation, but it may also include material from other sources, usually secondary. Primary source documents such as letters, speeches, or newspaper articles can be compiled as a reading with short narrative links. Other written materials may include charts, graphs, census data, inventories, quotations from one or more people, etc. Number each reading and give it a title.

Three to five questions for each reading are designed to determine whether students have gathered the appropriate facts. These questions may be specific to each reading, or ask students to combine information from readings. Each set of questions should progress from recall ("When did settlers first enter the area?") to critical analysis ("Why would being the center of trade lead to a high degree of cultural sophistication and affluence?"). Teachers may use some or all of these questions. They may write them on the chalk board, make copies for all students or for small groups of students working together. The main purpose of the questions is to make sure that students can make sense of the material.


E. Visual Evidence (3-6 visuals)

This section provides students with visual materials such as photos, paintings, drawings, sketches, and sometimes additional maps. Questions for each visual are designed to help students interpret the materials. Visuals selected for this section are not mere "illustrations," but should be treated as additional documents. Questions should expand students' skills in "reading" this kind of evidence.

Extended captions may be included to provide students with important information. Remember to include the Getting Started image allowing students the opportunity to learn more after having had some context in the readings and maps.

NOTE: When students have completed the exercises in Locating the Site, Determining the Facts, and Visual Evidence, they should have a good understanding of the issues, events, people, features, and vocabulary relevant to the place and the specific focus of the lesson. It is in preparing these sections that authors will discover whether they have a clear, reasonable focus for their lesson. At this point authors may realize they need to provide teachers and students with additional background information in the Setting the Stage section.

F. Putting It All Together (3 - 4 activities)

It is in this section, after gathering evidence from the data provided, that students are asked to arrive at some conclusions. The activities should engage students in lively manipulation of the data in a variety of ways. (Please refer to the following section on Student Exercises and Activities, under "Notes to Authors").

One or more of the activities should focus the students' attention on their own community. They should look for places in their own community that relate to the topic of the lesson. For example, "Have students research the economic base that allowed their community to grow and prosper, and then find historic places that represent that economic base." Conversely, students might begin by looking for historic places that represent certain themes and then research their importance to the community; for example, "Find examples of folk housing in your community, and then research the culture of the group who introduced the style or construction technique."

Activities should encourage and guide teachers and students in using the community's resources, such as preservation groups, historical societies, libraries, archives, city planners, senior citizens, faculty from nearby colleges and universities, and--of course--the places themselves. Activities can encourage and guide students to play an active role in taking care of places in their community that document its history and culture. As a community service project, students might conduct research, develop interpretive materials, make presentations to community leaders, or help rehabilitate deteriorating structures and sites.

Students' ability to successfully complete the activities in this section should demonstrate their mastery of the learning objectives. It is at this point you should review the student objectives to make sure they correspond to the activities.

G. Supplementary Resources (6-10 references)

This final section supplements the lesson plan with online resources where students and teachers may find additional information about the place(s) studied in the lesson as well as the different topics and themes addressed. The author should provide a list of Internet sites that compliment the lesson. A short description is needed for each site to demonstrate how it relates to the lesson plan. Keep in mind that the source should be reputable and should not be a commercial site. Some strong examples of sources include educational institutions, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Smithsonian, historical societies, museums, and library collections.

Notes to Authors

Selecting a Focus

Most historic places have many stories to tell. One of the most challenging tasks in writing a lesson plan is selecting one of those stories on which to concentrate. You cannot include everything about a building or site that is interesting and still keep the story manageable. Use only the information that will yield a better understanding of the important concept or theme you have chosen. Even lessons that use more than one historic place need to focus on a single theme. It may be helpful to write out a statement of focus before beginning, and refer to it periodically as you develop the lesson plan.

Writing Style

The Introduction, About This Lesson, and Putting It All Together are written for the teacher. Writing style should be appropriate for adult professionals. Portions intended for students include Getting Started, Setting the Stage, Locating the Site, Determining the Facts, Visual Evidence, and Supplementary Resources. These should be written in clear, relatively short sentences. It is important, however, not to talk down to the students as they are surprisingly sophisticated. When using primary sources in the readings, some of the language may be arcane, or ungrammatical, or use unfamiliar colloquialisms. If the language is particularly difficult in a reading, this issue might be addressed in the questions on the reading, or it may be necessary to provide an explanation within the reading. Lessons generally target middle school grades, but should be adaptable for use from upper elementary through high school grades; some have been used in college classes.


Generally, each lesson runs 12-16 published pages, including text and visuals, which is 3,000-5,000 words. This length provides maximum flexibility for teachers, who can use a lesson plan as is, or adapt it to their own needs. For example, a teacher might pick out portions to insert into prepared units, or expand a lesson by creating additional activities.

Selecting materials for the lessonSelect materials that focus on specific points you want to make, and do not include irrelevant written or visual information. It is important that both written and graphic materials be of publishable quality and also easily duplicated for students' use. For photographs and maps, check to make sure that there is as much contrast as possible between light and dark tones, that the image is not too cluttered, that any details stand out clearly, and that printed words are sharp and clearly legible. Keep in mind that many images will need to be reduced in size for publication. Also remember that most materials lose resolution and clarity when they are photocopied, so choose the clearest and most vivid visual materials available.

If your lesson is to be posted on the Internet or published in print, you will need to obtain written permission from the author, artist, or publisher for any materials that are not in the public domain. Contact Teaching with Historic Places for sample permission forms.


A reading might be constructed from one or more sources. These can be primary or secondary sources. To the greatest extent possible, use the exact language and style from primary sources, editing for clarity only when absolutely necessary. Use ellipses to shorten and brackets to indicate your editorial clarifications. Whether you are using primary or secondary sources, be mindful of copyright laws, using footnotes or endnotes, or obtaining permissions to use materials, when required. At the end of the reading, indicate if it is "excerpted from..." or quoted directly from its source, "adapted from..." the source or "compiled from..." several sources. You must provide a complete citation for all materials used, and must provide such a citation for anything that will be published: (1) for written materials you need to cite the author and/or editor, title of publication, place of publication, publisher and year of publication (for books), volume number and date (for articles), and pages cited or used as background; (2) for graphic materials you need to cite the location of the original, (State Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC), the date the photograph was taken (approximate, if that is all that is available), and the photographer if known.

Student Exercises and Activities

Make sure the lesson does not depend on students having to visit the site that is the subject of the lesson plan. The materials used in Determining the Facts and Visual Evidence must be sufficient for students to gather the evidence they will need. The activities in Putting It All Together, on the other hand, will lead students to go beyond the information provided in the lesson plan and look at the larger picture. The activities in this section might ask students to compare and contrast the information and the place(s) in the lesson plan to other information they have or will research. Activities also should lead students to discover and understand the historic places in their own communities and how they fit into the broad themes and events in American history. Students can conduct interviews with family members, community elders or business leaders. They can do research at a library, newspaper or government offices. They can locate maps, journals, diaries or other kinds of documents. They can work with local preservation groups, museums or historical societies. For many schools, structured field trips are few and far between. It is better, therefore, to design activities that individual students or groups can do on their own--to and from school, overnight, and weekends.

Exercises for students should provide opportunities for practicing both basic (reading and writing) and critical thinking (analyzing and interpreting) skills. Both exercises and activities should guide students through challenging questions to examine and explore evidence and form conclusions. Activities should appeal to different learning styles and teaching techniques: independent study, cooperative learning, imaginative presentation. Activities also should suggest ways to get students to explore their own communities and ways to involve preservationists, interpreters, and local historians in the classroom. The goal should be to help students recognize that preservation and stewardship of our natural and built environments are important components of good citizenship.

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