Bringing the Past to Life – 18 Engaging American History Lessons

history class blackboard

History has never been one of the most popular topics in school for most students. The thought of needing to memorize a page full of facts and dates is enough to give the shudders to even the most stoic of students. How many times did a history teacher hear, “But why can’t history be fun?”

Thankfully, for both teachers and their students, the internet has made it possible to incorporate new techniques and information into their classrooms that actually make history — GASP — fun!

Easy access to research, coupled with the ability for interaction with other teachers to source ideas, now allows teachers to draft lesson plans that kept all the students engaged, interested and awake. There is easy availability to tools such as interactive timelines, and even having history lessons presented by The Simpsons.

There are programs available such as Teen Second Life or grabbing source material from the National Archives, but for any tools to work effectively, the teacher must create and structure their own plans that still fit in with the guidelines.

Some of the best areas in history have a wealth of information online, giving ample opportunity for both the kids and teachers to find fascinating ways of presenting the material they really need to learn. If you have been stuck trying to find topics that will raise you to A+ status as a teacher, the ideas below are a great place to start!

1. What was it like for children to live during World War II?

Learning about the second World War from the perspective of the children allows students the unique opportunity to view WWII through different eyes. Everyone considers how the adults survived, but many do not think about how the kids were affected.

2. Creating the Office of the Presidency

Everyone agreed that some type of executive office was needed in 1787. With delegates divided between fear and excitement, how did the two sides resolve their differences under the American flag and manage to create an Office of the President that led to our present-day government?

3. Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion

Think about a review of the events leading up to the armed confrontation at Pennsylvania’s frontier communities when Washington placed an excise tax on liquor and attempted to collect from the people who were producing grain into alcohol products.

4. 1847 – 1861: Life in the South and the North – Before brothers fought each other

So many Americans perished during the Civil War — far more than in any other conflict in our history. What made some families fracture to the point that brothers fought each other and how did the U.S. get to where the South seceded? Were families able to heal after the war was won?

stack aged history books

5. Uncovering a world at war: Chronicling America

Using source articles from newspapers, students get the chance to analyze and understand multiple perspectives on public opinion of the U.S. going into the Great War. Were the majority in favor of the war, or did they prefer to stay out of it completely?

6. Constitution controversy: “I smell a rat.”

This is a look at men such as George Mason and Patrick Henry who were not in favor of signing the Declaration of Independence. How did they defend their refusal to sign?

7. After WWI for African-American soldiers: Had race relations changed?

With the use of archived newspaper articles and photographs, students can work together to search for an answer to the riots in Chicago after the war.

8. The interwar years’ quest for social justice: The anti-lynching campaigns of the NAACP

An interesting look at how Americans viewed the campaigns by the NAACP, interpreted the Constitution and answered to cries for social justice. Did attitudes sway in favor of the NAACP?

9. Colonizing the Bay

Take a look at the historic sermon, “Model of Christian Charity,” by John Winthrop and how it motivated and inspired the Puritans.

10. The Salem Witch Trials

By examining the records, students learn how the hunt for witches was ignited in 1691 by a group of young girls. How many people died both as a direct result of hanging or pressing, and how many innocents died in jail?

11. The Dust Bowl

By using interviews with people who lived it, songs and photos, students learn about this dramatic area in American history during the 1930s that greatly damaged the agriculture and ecology of both the Canadian and American prairies. How did things return to normal?

12. Why was Washington such a great leader of the military?

By analyzing some of the mission correspondence, dispatches and wartime orders, students can discover the mix of personal traits, strategy and skill leading to his success. Why was he so influential in the eyes of the soldiers who followed him?

13. The dropping of the atomic bomb

When the U.S. became the first country, and the only country, to use atomic bombs in war during 1945, was it a justified pre-emptive strike, or was it really needed?

desert bomb testing

14. Hurricane Katrina

Understand at why the government stopped development in marshlands and flood plains before one of deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history struck in 2005. Evidence from hurricanes in previous years gave them plenty of reasons to protect the citizens better, so why did they turn away from prevention?

15. America at war: September 11, 2001

Although difficult to speak of even 16 years later, 9/11 had a profound impact all throughout the world and devastated the United States. For seniors in school who were thinking of enlisting in the U.S military, what impact did the terrorist attacks have? Were they more determined to enlist and do their part?

16. Prohibition

Every student finds this an interesting topic to discover and discuss. What made the plan behind Prohibition fail?

17. Should a President be impeached for moral issues?

No President has even been perfect at any time during history. Is morality a reason to unseat a President? What exactly should the definition of morality include as related to a sitting President?

18. A timeline of our flag

Over the course of history, how did the American flag evolve and develop? Where did Betsy Ross get her ideas for the flag and why?

A final word

As you can see from the extensive list above, there are some amazing history topics for you to share with the next generation. From the birth of a nation to who we are today, history shaped it all.

Sharing these unique stories in an engaging way just became easier. Whichever lesson you choose from the list, you can guarantee your students will want more!

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