Lesson Plan: Overview

Interpreting History With Artifacts: Mid to Late 1800s

Grade Level: 4th


Academic Standards


Standard 4-6: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the Civil War and its impact on America.

  4-6.1 Compare the industrial North and the agricultural South prior to the Civil War, including the specific nature of the economy of each region, the geographic characteristics and boundaries of each region, and the basic way of life in each region.


  Social Studies Literacy Elements

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

Discuss differences in north and south. Discuss differences in social class within the two regions. During the mid 1800s, the location, culture, economical status, and social class of a person had a direct impact on the types of objects and utensils used by that person. The North was more heavily populated with factories and industries for employment. The North had more than twice as many railroads than the South. The South had fewer cities and less industry. Its population consisted mostly of small farmers. A few of the wealthier were plantation owners. With the rural population, there was a greater use of the natural resources found in the region. The poor whites and slave population found ways to use nature to meet many of their everyday living needs. The wealthier were able to afford the products made in the North and abroad. The South as a whole was dependent upon trade with the North and other countries to buy things like cloth, shoes, and guns. Rapid change occurred in the North; change was coming much slower in the South.


  • Various mid-nineteenth century artifacts c.1850 (See Teacher Reflections for examples).
  • Who Would I Belong To? Comparison Table.
  • Procedures

    Through Interpreting History With Artifacts students observe artifacts to construct sound historical interpretations from evidence. In this lesson, students infer differences in cultural, economic, and social class both within and between regions. Interpreting History With Artifacts takes 2 class periods to complete (55 minutes each).

    1. Sort artifacts into four sets.
    2. Divide students into four groups. Assign groups to initial sets of artifacts.
    3. In small groups, students observe artifacts for 15-minute time intervals, rotating every fifteen minutes until each group visits each set of artifacts. For each set of artifacts, students complete the Who Do I Belong To? Comparison Table according to the following prompts:
      1. Students create or select graphics that represents six important events in the explorer's life.
      2. Students write captions, which explain the time-line graphics. Graphics and text should discuss exploration routes, and explain the significance of exploration voyages and discoveries.
      3. Students complete time-lines for homework.
    4. After groups visit all sets of artifacts, the teacher and students discuss student predictions, using prior learning to support hypotheses.

    Teacher Reflections

    Various artifacts include the following: sweet grass basket, spinning top, photos on tin, cast iron kettle, china"bone plate", bonnet, wooden carved spoon, dipper gourd, iron, hard tack, musket balls, sieve, glass bottle, china platter, pottery, ink well

    This was an exciting lesson as students touched and handled the artifacts. They couldn't wait for this opportunity. As history is so abstract for children, they better grasp the content if they can experience a"piece" of it. Students were transcended into another time when they picked up the iron and visualized how it was used. The weight of the object combined with fire to heat it amazed them. Many commented that their clothes would just have to be wrinkled. The tasting of the hard tack generated comparisons of foods that the students have experienced. The bonnet went on heads. The photos created chuckles but amazement of the production of a picture on tin plates. As Students handled the artifacts, their thoughts were provoked and they started visualizing who could afford the items, where might the item most likely be found, and what purpose did the item serve. They eagerly thought through the different lifestyles and locations. This activity increased questioning and reasoning.

    This lesson can be improved by adding artifacts with well-documented use and time period. I particularly would like to add articles of clothing and shoes from the various lifestyles. Clothing is a topic fond to students approaching the middle school age.

    Student Assessments

    Assessment for Interpreting History With Artifacts is performance-based. Teachers can rate comparison tables and student participation in class discussions according to the following standards-based rubric. Student performance can be rated as Unacceptable, Needs Work, Good, or Excellent. Teacher comments may include rationale for marks and suggestions for improvement.


    Janet Fickling
    Columbia, South Carolina