Unit Plans

Unit Plans

Need new ideas on how to teach American history? Search our database of plans to discover plans aligned to  Common Core Standards and the Pennsylvania State Standards (SAS).    Big Ideas, Essential Question, Concepts and Competencies are outlined for you. 

Unit plans link to lesson plans that fit class periods.  Each lesson includes learning objectives, vocabulary, and background material for students and teachers as well as primary sources from our collection.



The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. It proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten Confederate states still in rebellion. It also decreed that freed slaves could be enlisted in the Union Army, thereby increasing the Union's available manpower. It was an important step towards abolishing slavery and conferring American citizenship upon ex-slaves, although the Proclamation did not actually outlaw slavery or free the slaves in the Union states that still permitted it.

High School
8.3.9.A-B, D

William Penn was the founder of the Pennsylvania colony. This unit will teach students about William Penn’s life and what Pennsylvania was like as a colony in the 1600s. This unit will discuss the founding of Pennsylvania, the relationship of the settlers with the Native Americans, the Charter of Privileges written by William Penn to govern the colony, and it will compare the 17th century colony to Philadelphia today.

Grade School
8.1.3-5.B, 8.2.3-5.D, 1.4.5.C, 1.5.3-5, M3-5.B.2.1.1, M3-5.A.1.2.2

In times of civil war, it is not just a country that becomes divided against itself, but individual families as well. The Brother versus Brother unit teaches students about the personal impact of the Civil War by focusing on the microcosm of one Pennsylvania family, the Draytons.

Middle School

We live in a society that is the direct result of the work and sacrifices of previous generations. It is often difficult for 21st-century students to understand that there was a time in the not too distant past when workers had little legal recourse against abusive employers. In fact, the law was on the side of the often unscrupulous industrialist. Few realize that minimum wage laws, the 8-hour workday (or 40-hour week), safe work environments, and the prohibition of child labor are benefits we enjoy because of the efforts of the American labor movement.

High School
8.1.U A & C, 8.3.U B-D, 5.3.C B

Sketches and political cartoons were powerful sources of information during the Civil War. With the ability to give magazine readers a visual of the War waged both on and off the battle field, images were a popular way to disseminate information. When combined with an increased use of photography, the Civil War was recorded like no other war before.  These images, however, were not unbiased. Instead, they illustrated their creator’s view on subjects ranging from President Lincoln to enslaved persons.

Middle School
8.1.8.A, 8.1.8.B

Among the many challenges faced by this nation in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, foremost is reaching the appropriate balance between enforcing legitimate security measures and protecting the essential civil liberties of a free society. Although some of the specific challenges of the post 9/11 world are unprecedented in history, many of the larger questions about the balance between freedom and security strongly connect to past periods in American history, including the Civil War.

High School
8..1.12 A+B+C, 8.2.12 B +C+D, 1.2.10 B+C+D

This WebQuest provides structure to a historical investigation of the Women’s Suffrage Movement by using the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s primary sources. HSP’s online resources allows students and teachers to examine and analyze a variety of different historical documents including historical newspapers, books, pamphlets, manuscripts, photographs, maps, artwork, archived videos and audio records.

High School, College
8.1.12C, 8.3.12D, 1.4.12 B + C, 1.5.12 A + B, 5.2.12E, 1.8.12B, 1.9.12 A + B

This unit plan teaches students how women’s roles during the American Civil War and World War I have both changed and remained the same. Students will analyze primary visual sources, such as paintings and photographs, to develop conclusions. Through various activities and worksheets, students will discover what a primary source is, how to analyze visual materials, and about women's roles during the Civil War and World War I.

High School
8.1.9.A, 8.1.12 A, 8,1,12 C, 8.1.U.A, 8.1.U.C, 8.3.U.B

The Battle of Gettysburg proved one of the largest and bloodiest battles in American military history. In just three days, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia sustained roughly a combined 50,000 casualties (killed, missing and wounded) in armies that exceeded 130,000 soldiers. Though the war would continue for two more years, the Army of the Potomac's victory provided renewed hope to the Northern war effort, in the shadow of seemingly incessant Confederate victories. The maps used in conjunction with this lesson plan serve to explain the geography and topography of Gettysburg during the battle and how the Army of the Potomac's utilization of it served to facilitate it's victory.

High School
8.1.U.C, 7.1.U.A

Native American-European Contact is a cross-curricular lesson plan that explores the nature of the first encounters between Native Americans and Europeans in colonial Pennsylvania. Drawing on the concept of worldview, students learn to think critically about the cultural differences between Europeans and Native Americans, and how those differences shaped interaction and potential misunderstandings between the groups as they negotiated trade and diplomatic relationships.

High School
8.1.12.B, 8.1.12.C, 8.2.12.B, 8.2.12.D, 9.2.12.D, 9.3.12.A