Need some help with your American History lessons? Take a peek at my lesson plans and ideas.

My first year teaching I was dying to see other teachers' plan books, but most of them were either blank or didn't seem suitable for our students ("high-risk" with poor reading skills). After teaching American history to 8th graders for a few years, I've developed this webpage in the hopes that it can help first year teachers get an idea of what to do, or help out some experienced teachers freshen up some lessons. Just to let you know, my "at-risk" students have the same passing rate on the history portion of the state standardized exam as the "advanced" students.

***New News: In October Yahoo will begin charging for their web hosting services, so I will be removing my webpage. Please save anything that you would like to keep before October.***



Here's the procedure for every day starting week 2:
  1. Students come in, grab their notebook from the notebook box, and answer the Warm-up question on the top left side of the back of the next page. As soon as the bell rings, I start my kitchen timer. They have 5 minutes to finish the Warm-up. If they finish before the timer goes off, they raise their hands, and I stamp the page. I don't read their answers. I just glance at the page to see that an attempt was made. (When I grade their notebooks, 3 stamps amount to 1 point of extra credit.)
  2. Students write in the objective and homework in their agenda notebook. These notebooks are signed every weekend by a parent/guardian.
  3. We have 3 minutes of "Celebrations" wherein anyone can share good news that's occurred recently. Students raise their hands, and I toss them the class stuffed animal. You can't talk if you don't have the animal. For the first few weeks of class I don't time them.
  4. Go over the Warm-up. People who share their answers (I limit the number if necessary), get ¼ point extra credit every time they share. I just tell them they get extra credit.
  5. Class activities (always done on the right hand side of the page across from the warm-up. If the class activities take up more than one page, the students will always do the next day's warm-up on the back of the last page of the class assignments so that the warm-up and wrap-up will always be across from their corresponding activities.)
  6. Wrap-up (always done on the bottom left-hand side of the page under the warm-up.)
  7. As students leave, they put their notebooks in their class box, which is on a table right next to the door. As soon as they leave I put the box of notebooks away and put the next period's notebooks on the table for the next class to retrieve as they walk in the door. I store the notebooks in my room so that they're never forgotten. The notebooks never leave my classroom.


Here's what my board looks like every single day: My board is set up with the date at the top left corner in green. Below it is the objective and homework (I'll write "none" if there isn't any) in blue, and below that is the History Question of the Week in black along with the correct answer and winner from the previous week. To the right of that is a brief schedule of events for the class written in blue. To the right of that is the warm-up written in red. The directions are always written at the top ("As soon as you come in, answer the following question (s) on your next top right page:") The middle of my board is empty. The far left side of the board has the directions to the wrap-up written in blue. On my other board I keep a running "Table of Contents" for what should be in their folders for the current unit.


You have the textbook your school gives you. I'm not especially fond of the ones we have, especially since they actually expect my students to read on grade level. (Most of my 8th graders read on a 5th grade level.) I use our textbook as one of many resources. When I think my students can benefit from the information in the textbook, we read from it as a class. For each class, I have a bag containing their names on individual cards. I pull out the name, and that student reads one paragraph. Then I pull out the next name. Sometimes I put the names back in the bag so that a student who has read cannot simply stop paying attention once s/he has finished reading. I also have the rule that if I call on a student to read, and s/he does not know where we are, the entire class will have a quick pop quiz (that does count as a grade) over what we just read. Peer pressure works wonders at this age! We read as a class rather than individually so that we have the opportunity to discuss confusing items together, allowing students with more difficulty reading to still understand the material.

Occasionally I do have the students answer questions using their textbooks. This works as a great preview and as a decent punishment for classes that act too unruly during the planned class activities.

My first year my students kept forgetting their textbooks. What was I supposed to do? I devised the shoe method. At the beginning of the year, I order a few extra textbooks. I keep them in the bookshelf behind my desk. If a student leaves his/her textbook in my class, I add his/her book to the collection until s/he requests that I return it. I lend these books out to students who forget their textbooks. In order to get one, though, they have to leave a shoe at my desk. This guarantees that they will not walk out of my class with the borrowed textbook.


I frequently use activities from TCI's History Alive! United States History to 1900 binders. Unfortunately, I think the big blue binders are no longer produced and I am uncertain as to what they have changed with their new material. I am still using the old binders. If you don't have access to them, you can always create your own worksheets and create PowerPoint presenatations in place of the slide shows. Even though I frequently use activities from TCI, I do NOT recommend using their textbooks.

I do recommend you buy the book, Adventure Tales of America: An Illustrated History of the United States, 1492-1877 (Signal Media Corporation). You can make excellent overheads and information packets from the book. It's American History written in cartoon form. It's great for any level of student and especially appeals to my visual students who do not like to read. Another great one to add to your library is Reader's Digest's American Folklore and Legend. It provides great stories that you can add to all your lectures to make them more interesting. I also LOVE The Childhood of Famous Americans series. The books provide really interesting information about the childhood of a whole bunch of Americans. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was horrible at math, almost got kidnapped by pirates when he was about 10, and came close to starving himself when he was a young teenager because he traded his dinners for money to buy books? Find out more when you read Benjamin Franklin: Young Printer by Augusta Stevenson. George Washington got in trouble once for hiding his teacher's powdered wig. Later he almost got killed when he came across one of his family's slaves in the process of running away to freedom. At gunpoint George Washington managed to stay calm and actually rowed the raft for the man to escape to freedom. Pocahontas was a young teenager when she jumped in front of her dad who was about to bash in the head of John Smith. She saved John Smith's life by adopting him as her son! It's stories like these that make those "unreal" people in textbooks come alive...and become memorable. There are probably over a hundred books in this series covering Pocahontas (by Flora Warren Seymour) to Woodrow Wilson (by Helen Albee Monsell). They are worth getting! Use them to read to the class or at least read them to yourself to get some fascinating tidbits to add to your lectures! Buy a box of them from e-bay. Oh yes, over the years I have also been increasing my selection of great history stories by purchasing used books at great prices from

I do use videos a lot. This is a group of children who have been and are being raised by the TV, so I cater to their developed learning style. Whenever students watch a video, they have to take a specified number of notes (depending upon the length of the film). They can always take more than the requested number of notes and receive an extra point of extra credit for every additional note. This encourages and rewards hard workers, and it's easy enough for even the lowest-achieving student. No, I'm not picky about what constitutes an actual note. Sometimes I do have students answer specific questions from a video. I'll always print the questions on a worksheet so that they do not have to look back and forth between the board and the TV. I don't do this as frequently because then students frequently zone out what is not related to the questions. I rarely show an entire video. Usually I'll show a 10-minute clip.


I don't like our textbook's exams. Instead, I went to the TEA web site and printed off all the previous TAAS and TAKS standardized exams. I divided the questions into my units, and that's what my students take as their exams. Occasionally I add in a few questions if we spent a lot of time on something. I always make 3 versions of my exams: A, B, and C. A and B have the same questions, but they are in a different order. C is the same as either A or B, but with one of the four multiple choice answers blacked out. Sometimes it has less questions as well. C exams are for students requiring modifications. I always have students write if they have exam A, B, or C on their scantron. That way they know there are more than one type of exam out there. This helps prevent cheating to some degree.

I do grade on a curve. The student with the most questions correct gets 110%, 2nd most gets 105%, 3rd most gets 100% and sets the curve for the rest of the class. I do this for each class. In order to review exams, I have first period highlight the correct answers in the class set of exams. They all get an automatic 5 points added to their exams for doing this. The rest of the classes get 15 minutes to write down as many questions and answers (the full answer, not just the letter) of the questions they got wrong on the exam. For every 3 questions/answers they write out, they get an additional point added to their exam.

My exams last the entire class period. I know that's a long time, but I see it as a way to prepare them for the 3-hour standardized exams they'll have to take later. Whenever students finish, they put the exam and scantron in the correct pile (A, B, or C) and then begin work on a worksheet that introduces them to the next unit. This keeps the students who have finished their exams quiet as other students continue with their exam. Unfinished worksheets are completed for homework.

We always play a review game the class before the unit exam. Frequently I'll use actual exam questions, and I always project the questions on the overhead so that the entire class can participate in the review. The favorite game is probably Baseball. I divide the class into two teams. I place three chairs in the front of the class. Team One sends up the first person. If s/he gets the answer correct, s/he gets to sit in the first seat. Person two comes up. If s/he answers the question correctly, person one moves to "second base" (the second chair) and person two moves to "first base" (the first chair). If someone gets an answer wrong, the team gets an out. If the bases are loaded (there are three people in the chairs), and the next person gets the answer correct, the person on "third base" sits back in her/his chair, and the team gets a point. When the team gets three outs, it's the other team's turn. We also play Football. I have a football field drawn on the board. We flip a coin to see which team starts. Team one starts at the 50-yard line (in the middle). Each student on team one comes up individually to answer a question. For every correct answer, they move toward the goal line. If they reach it, they get a point. Team two gets to play then. If, however, a student answers incorrectly, it's a fumble, and the opposing team has a chance to answer the question correctly and "steal the ball." We also play Jeopardy. I'm not going to explain that one. When we don't have much time or have time left over, we've played Win, Lose, or Draw or Hangman using concepts from that unit.


What works best for you depends on your personality. The most important thing is routine. While the teaching activities vary, my students know what is basically going to happen as soon as they enter my classroom (look at Class Procedure). I only raise my voice about once a year. It's quite effective when you reserve it for that "special" occasion.

Here's what written on my "consequences" chart: 1) Warning 2) Meeting 3) Call Home 4) Essay 5) Referral. When a student misbehaves, s/he gets a warning (usually me simply walking by his/her desk), next comes a verbal warning ("If you continue, we'll call home."). Next comes a talk. If the student is very disruptive, I'll have him/her stand outside or in the back of the room until we can talk. For some students I ask what's going on. For others, I simply and sternly tell them that's not acceptable behavior in my class. I don't care why they're doing it, but it's to stop now. We call home if needed. Next comes an essay. I usually have the student write a 500 word essay on a topic related to what we're learning about like "how George Washington helped America win it's independence from England." The essay is due the next day morning before the first class starts. If I don't have it then, the student receives a referral. I don't do detentions. I tried that my first year. Most kids didn't show up, and it didn't seem to affect the behavior of the kids that did show up.

When I have a student who is constantly disruptive, I try a few other things. I'll have him/her sit next to a student who behaves well, or sit alone either in the back of the class (where s/he doesn't have an audience or in the front right next to me.) Frequently, I'll also arrange a time when I can talk with this student alone (usually during a quite class activity or during homeroom). We'll discuss what s/he thinks the problem might be, I'll say what I see the problem to be and why it's disruptive in my class, and we'll try to plan what can be done to prevent the impermissible behaviors. If this does not help, I arrange a meeting with the guidance counselor and parent/guardian. A quick note on parent meetings: try to involve all of her/his teachers in the meeting. If a teacher can't make it, have him/her e-mail information to be given to the parent.

When the entire class is noisy, I use peer pressure. My students quickly pick up that when I've asked them to get quite, and they don't do it immediately, if I look at my watch, they're in trouble. For every 30 seconds they take to get quite, it's 30 seconds off when they can leave my class up to 3 minutes after the bell rings. I verbally tell them as the time passes, "That's 30 seconds, 1 minute…" After the bell rings, I stand in front of the door and after a little while, I'll dismiss students individually.

I keep a paper trail going of what I've done. The first day of class I have students fill out a sheet with their schedule and parent contact information. I keep all those papers in a notebook. Whenever I call home, I write down the date, time, and what was said (or left on an answering machine) on the back of that paper. I also put referrals, discipline essays, and failure intervention papers behind that person's sheet as well. That way when we have a parent conference, I can pull out the book and show all the things I've tried.


My class percentages are divided as such: 10% Homework (consisting mainly of them having their parents/guardians sign their agendas every weekend. I rarely give out homework because after a couple years of trying, I determined that my students don't do homework. I stopped fighting and only assign it rarely), 45% Classwork, and 45% Major Grades (exams, pop quizzes (only counting as 1/10 of the other major grades), major projects, and notebooks - graded at the end of each unit).

My first year teaching I thought I had to grade everything. Oh, that took me so much time! I quickly learned a few secrets:

  • The beauty of a check mark: Many times it's not that important if the students get every single thing correct as long as they get the general idea and make a decent effort. Frequently I'll put a check mark (=100%) on papers that look correct and complete, a check plus (=105%) if I notice extra effort, a check minus (= 85%) if it looks somewhat incomplete, and a minus (= 50%) if the student simply turned something in with his/her name.
  • Grading as a group: When students work on a written assignment in a group, sometimes I'll grade each group the same by simply RANDOMLY pulling out one of the papers from each group and grading that paper. The rest of the group gets that grade, whether they did more or less. I warn them ahead of time, and tell them to make sure they have the exact information on all the sheets.
  • Grade immediately: If you don't return something within two class days of collecting it, the students will forget about it; thus, trying to figure out what they did wrong will be lost.
  • Give a second chance: I always tell my students that if they get a grade below an 85% that they are not satisfied with, they can re-do the assignment and turn it back in to me. I will grade it normally, but the maximum grade s/he can get is an 85%.
  • Always offer plenty of extra credit. It rewards the over-achievers and gives a "second chance" to the under-achievers. I give a lot of extra credit, but then I also have a bunch of assignments that weigh out the extra credit. One additional piece of extra credit I offer every unit is a worksheet that contains 2 primary documents from that time period and questions regarding what is in the primary documents. I usually pass them out about a week before the exam. Students have until the day of the exam to return them. Students can earn up to 100 points of extra credit in classwork for answering the questions correctly. I get the worksheets from my teacher's manual workbook. You can make up your own if you don't have anything like that. Keep in mind, though, that most of the questions should be challenging.

I grade students' notebooks whenever they have an exam (usually at the end of a unit). In Excel, I create a chart with 4 columns. The first column has the names of the items that should be in the notebook for that unit. I always include if it was a right- or left-sided assignment so that students can more easily identify the item. I always start the list with "Table of Contents (Extra Credit)" and "Pages numbered and dated" followed by the individual items. The following three columns are labeled in this order: "Exists, Complete, Complete/Creative/Well-Done." As I go through each student's notebook, I check off the status of each item. For an assignment to simply "exist," that means that it's incomplete. I give them credit even if barely anything at all is on there. I check an assignment as "Complete/Creative/Well-Done" whenever a student did more than I asked, even if it's a little bit. I also check this if I can tell a student put in extra thought to their answers. It's usually the "left-sided" (warm-up and wrap-up) items that get these marks. If a student got a stamp (completing his/her warm-up within the first five minutes of class), I'll write an "S" next to that assignment. I then count up the checks (no matter which column the check was in). If I had 50 required assignments and Eeba had 46, she'll start with a 92%. For every check mark that was in the "exists" column, I'll deduct one point. 3 of Eeba's checks were in the "exists" column, so she now has an 89%. For every check that was in the "Complete/Creative/Well-Done" column, I add one point. Eeba had 5 in that column. She now has a 94%. I now count up the assignments that had stamps. For every three stamps, she'll get an additional point. Eeba had 9 stamps, so she'll get three points aded to her grade, leaving her with a final grade of a 97%.

At our school, students receive progress reports every 3 weeks, so they know if they're failing. By the end of the nine weeks, if a student is still failing, we fill out an Academic Recovery Plan sheet. It includes the students name, class, current grade, and goal grade. Then we write down the three reasons s/he thinks her/his grades are not good, the three things s/he will do to improve her/his grade, the three things I, the teacher, can do to help her/him, the three things her/his guardian/parent can do to help her/him, and a general goal for this class. The student signs it, I sign it, and a parent signs it. (The student receives 10 extra credit points in classwork for returning it to me signed, so that usually assures that the paper will be returned.) I keep the paper in my class notebook (see Discipline). This could be done earlier in the quarter if desired


Every week I write a new American history trivia question on the board. Students have all week to answer that question. In order to answer the question, they write their name, class period, and the answer on a sheet of paper and put that paper in a box on my desk. At the end of the week, after all my classes are gone, I shake up the box and pull out an answer. I keep pulling them out until I get one that has the correct answer. That student has the option of either selecting a full-size candy bar (usually Skittles packs work best) or 20 points extra credit, applied to a classwork grade. The following week, under the current History Question of the Week, I write the prior week's correct answer and the person (plus their class period) who won. Our school also has a channel on the school TV with continuously running power point announcements. I submit the History Question of the Week, the answer, and a picture of the winner to be shown on the announcements. Most of my questions come from Mrs. Newmark's Question of the Week


  1. Get a kitchen timer or one of the timers that projects from your overhead. As soon as the bell rings, I turn on the timer for five minutes for the warm-up. After the timer goes off, no one else can have her/his warm-up stamped. I also use the timer whenever I have the students working on assignments. I tell them they have 10 minutes to do an assignment. When they hear the beep of the timer start, most of them know they need to start immediately. If I see most of the class has been working hard and needs extra time, I will add an appropriate amount of time.
  2. I have a 3-inch binder where I keep a copy of all my class papers, worksheets, transparencies, and notes. That way I have almost everything I need each year in the same place in the order that I use them.
  3. Developing a sense of community is vital to my students being successful. My first year my students had such a difficult time with group/partner projects. I had not set the correct tone for my class early on. I develop the sense of community in a few ways:
    • Celebrations every day (look at "Class Procedure")
    • The second week of school I pass around a calendar and have everyone write in their birthday. I then transfer the information to the class calendar, and post it on the class bulletin board. We always sing, "Happy Birthday" to students celebrating a birthday. On that same note, our team of teachers (who teach the different subjects to the same students) have pre-printed birthday cards with our signatures. In homeroom, a student celebrating his/her birthday receives the card and a tootsie-roll pop. (Some teachers also add a "Homework Pass" coupon for their class.)
    • Play games. I have a mental list of various "get-to-know-you"/silly games that we play whenever we have a spare 5-10 minutes at the end of class or whenever I start losing interest during note-taking activities. Click here to get a list of a few of my more frequent games: Game Ideas.
  4. Some classes love having me play music when they brainstorm or do bookwork. Enya's Greatest Hits is definitely the favorite. I also have a few CD's from Gary Lamb (which are very calming) and some classical CD's. Occasionally I'll have a class that finds the music distracting. If that is the case, I won't play music in that class.
  5. When a student is absent, s/he is responsible for going to the "Class Notebook." I keep a notebook going of the warm-up, notes (always photocopied rather than handwritten so that I can tell they're mine), and wrap-up. If I passed out any worksheets, extras will be in there for the students to take. I will write the name of each student at the top of the worksheet placed in there for him/her so that I know who got their worksheet and who needs to be reminded to make up the work. The student must answer the warm-up, copy the notes, complete the worksheet (if there is one) and respond to the warm-up. I recommend that students come to my class during their homeroom or come before or after school to complete the items, but they can try to complete them if they finish with other items in class. I do check my notebook often to replace stolen items. I never add lessons ahead of time.
  6. Going to the bathroom is a favorite activity of these guys. At the beginning of each quarter, I pass out a sheet of 4 "bathroom passes." Students write their names on the back so they won't get stolen. During the quarter, each student can go to the bathroom four times. If s/he doesn't use the bathroom all quarter long, s/he can turn in her/his four bathroom passes for 20 points of extra credit toward the classwork grade.
  7. Color is so important! Almost everything my students do is in color. Colored pencils are used daily. I also always use colored paper when photocopying worksheets. I don't know what it is, but it makes a big difference!

Please also visit Sites for Teachers to find free printables and other helpful information!

If you have feedback or questions, you can e-mail me.

© 2003 Mrs. G