Lesson Plan: Overview

History, Artifacts, and Museums

Grade Level: 11th

Students working with artifacts from the South Carolina State Museum

Academic Standards


Depending on the artifacts used to teach this lesson the content standards will vary, but it can be applied to any time period.  Coordinate with the South Carolina State Museum or a local cultural institution to design an artifact-based lesson that fits the historical period you are teaching.

  Social Studies Literacy Elements

A. Distinguish between past, present, and future Time.

  E. Explain change and continuity over time.
  L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts.

Historical Background Notes

When one begins an investigation to increase knowledge and understanding, it is necessary to understand what the nature of the investigation is.  This statement is particularly true of the study of history.  Because the study of history includes so many concepts and so much information, students of history often become lost and confused in the study (Clough 1964, 1).

There are many ways to define history.  “History is the total recorded past of humankind on this earth  -- the totality of human experience” (Clough 1964, 1).  It is the memory of mankind’s past experiences as they have been preserved, mostly in written records (Daniels 1987, 226).  It is simply the study of people and events over time (Nash 1993, 13).

Historians begin with primary sources  -- documents in archives, eyewitness reports and memories, letters and diaries, and contemporary publications such as newspapers.  Then historians develop frameworks of questions, sift through materials, and formulate in their minds the pattern of significant events.  Their task is to compose a narrative that makes sense.  This direct historical research results in secondary sources.  Historians must guard against allowing personal perspective and bias to distort their interpretations (Daniels 1987, 227).  These secondary sources become mankind’s chief means of studying and learning about history.

Before the 18th century, the writing of history (historiography) was not at the center of any civilization.  It was rarely an important part of regular education and never addressed the interpretation of life as whole (McHenry 1993, 559).  However, history is essential for an individual’s educational experience (Daniels 1987, 227).  Today, educators realize the importance of studying history.  They strive to help students understand the nature of history and its impact on mankind’s past, present, and future.      


  Primary Sources
  Artifacts provided by Linda McWhorter. The South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, South Carolina. (Linda McWhorter has since left the State Museum but the museum staff will be happy to field requests for similar programs - click here for contact information))
  Artifacts provided by students
  Secondary Sources
  Clough, Shepard B.  ed.  A History of the Western World.  Boston:  D. C. Heath and Company, 1964.
  Daniels, Robert V.  “History.”  The Encyclopedia Americana:  International Edition.  1987 ed.
  McHenry, Peter B.  ed.  “The Study of History.”  The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 1993 ed.
  McWhorter, Linda.  “History, Artifacts, and Museums.”  Swansea High School, Swansea, South Carolina, 14 January 2004. (Linda McWhorter has since left the State Museum but the museum staff will be happy to field requests for similar programs - click here for contact information)
  Nash, Gary B.  American Odyssey:  The United States in the Twentieth Century. New York, Glencoe/McGraw Hill, 1999.
  Nelson, Larry E.  “Notes on the Nature of History.”  Teaching American History Institute, Columbia, SC, July 2003.
  What Is History?  Video produced by South Carolina Educational Television, 1990.  (30 minutes in length).
  Smith, Gloria.  “Student handout / Notes on the Nature of History.”  Swansea High School, Swansea, SC, 13 January 2004.
  McWhorter, Linda. "Reading an Object" - worksheet. Swansea HIgh School, Swansea, South Carolina, 14 January 2004.
  U. S. National Archives & Records Administration.  “Artifact Analysis Worksheet.”  28 May 2003. Available online at: National Archives
  Digital camera
  Planned itinerary and visit to the South Carolina State Museum.

Lesson Plans

These lessons are designed for 11th grade history, the goals of this lesson are:

1. Students will gain an understanding of what history is.

2. Students will understand why studying history is important and relevant to their lives.

3. Students will learn the purposes of museums.

4. Students will obtain information about possible career opportunities involving history and museums.

5. The lessons require two 90 minute class sessions to complete.

Lesson One
Lesson Two
Semester Extensions

Teacher Reflections

I am always concerned when students tell me that they hate history, that actions of dead people don’t matter to them, that studying about old stuff is just a waste of time.  Each year, I attempt to change such attitudes.  When students enter my classes at the beginning of the course, we routinely discuss the importance of studying history; however, after hearing Professor Larry Nelson and Linda McWhorter, I decided to develop a unit of study that engages students on a deeper level to discover for themselves that studying history can be fun and that it is relevant to their lives today.

Overall, the lessons that I taught and completed in this unit went very well.  Most students seemed to be genuinely interested in the material.  Students really enjoyed Mrs. McWhorter’s visit as evidenced in comments in some of the follow-up compositions [see student work].  Also, we discovered that the many of my students have never been to the State Museum [see student work].   Those who have visited there did so when they said they were too young to appreciate what they saw.  The planned field trip to the museum will definitely enhance their appreciation for museums, historians, artifacts, and the history of South Carolina.

… This topic should be taught at the beginning of each course.  I was able to accomplish this for this semester’s students.  My goal is to do the same for my fall classes next school year.  Also, this semester we were lacking textbooks for all students, so this unit was a prime example and reminder that teaching history is not dependent upon textbooks.  It was perfectly timed to offset the lack of textbooks.   

Students enjoyed Day 2’s lesson more than the discussions, video, and notes.  Students appreciated Linda McWhorter’s expertise and the information she shared [see student work].  What did not work [was that because of the] lengthy introduction and lecture, time was limited for student activity and follow-up.   I consider that part of the lesson the most important.  We need to improve that part of the visit to balance both parts of the presentation.  

Student Assessment

1. Students are assigned a composition expressing their ideas and opinions about what history is.  These are collected and credit is given.

2. Students participate in an activity conducted by Mrs. Linda McWhorter.  They complete an activity sheet that is collected and credited for class participation, effort, and completion.

3. A reflective composition where students critique Day 2’s lesson and Mrs. McWhorter’s visit is collected, and credit is given.

4. Students take a regularly assigned test that includes a major question based on the topic of what history is as presented in previous lessons.

In the culminating cooperative learning assignments, rubrics will be developed to assess student performance in written and oral presentations.

Examples of Students Work

  Response Paper
  Reading an Object Worksheet
  Discussion Questions
  Written Assignment - What is History?
  Students at work


Gloria Smith
Swansea High School, South Carolina