World History Lesson Plan: Uncovering Essential Questions

Submitted by: Angela Watson

Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 5-12, students select a world history topic and study it through the lens of an essential question.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Analyze a world history topic through the lens of an essential question.
  2. Conduct collaborative research and share findings both verbally and in writing.

Materials:

  • Computers with internet access for BrainPOP

Preparation:

This activity can be used at the end of a unit of study or at the end of a semester/school year to help students make connections between different aspects of history. Preview the World History unit of BrainPOP and select the topics that are relevant for your students and compile them in a list. You may want to only include topics students have previously studied, or use loosely related topics to extend their learning. Develop the project guidelines you'd like students to follow and make them available for the class.

Then, select an essential question you'd like students to explore (or choose several and give students choices). Some ideas include:

Grades 3-5:
What can we learn from the past?
How do we know what really happened in the past? How can we know if we weren't there?
What methods do people/historians use to interpret and communicate current and historical events?


Grades 6-8:
What cycles and patterns seem to recur throughout history?
How do beliefs and practices of various cultures evolve over time?
Is history told by the "winners"? Is history inevitably biased?
How do different cultures express their own values and traditions?
How are the beliefs and practices of various cultures related to time, location, and events?
How does knowledge of the past influence us and help us understand the present and the future?
How do economic, historic, environmental, social, and technological forces cause change?
How has the world changed in 100 years: socially, technologically, economically and politically?


Grades 9-12:
Why are conflicting values inherent in diverse groups, and how do societies deal with resulting challenges?
What do citizenship and living in a civil society mean and where do you fit in?
What are contemporary social, judicial, economic and political factors that influence how we live?
How do you define justice and, given this definition, is ours a just society?
What, if anything, justifies armed conflict?
How do different political, cultural, or economic perspectives affect the view, interpretation, and communication of current and historical events?

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Display a selected essential question for the class and allow students to write about it or discuss it in pairs or small groups to build background knowledge.
  2. Facilitate a whole-class discussion around the essential question, writing down the major points that students identified. You may find that they raise additional essential questions, and you can assist students in developing appropriate wording for them.
  3. Challenge students to explore a BrainPOP topic through the lens of the essential question you provided (or one they generated during the class discussion). Show students the list of World History topics you generated prior to the start of the lesson and allow them to work individually or in pairs/groups to select one that interests them. Ensure that the essential question and the topic that students select are a good fit.
  4. Provide time for students to watch their selected BrainPOP movie and explore the related FYI resources. Some students may want to also check out other movie topics that are similar to the one they selected. They may also use other websites, textbooks, etc. to further their understanding.
  5. Ask students to form a short answer or essay response to the essential question based on the movie topic(s) they explored. They should include their own personal opinion as well as evidence for their answer based on the BrainPOP resources and other information they've learned in class. Students may work individually or collaboratively on their responses.
  6. Give students opportunities to read and talk about one another's responses. You may want to divide students into small groups and provide 10-15 minutes for discussion, then mix up the groups and repeat the activity.
  7. Have students reflect on how their understandings changed after the group discussions. Would they respond to the essential question differently now that they've heard others' reasonings? What new insights have they had?

Extension Activity:

Post the essential question(s) students responded to and revisit them periodically throughout the school year. Provide students with opportunities to re-read and add to their responses as their understanding of world history deepens.