Unit Plans

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Unit Plans

Need new ideas on how to teach American history? Search our database of plans to discover plans aligned to Pennsylvania 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.



In this unit, students will expand their learning and knowledge of the significance of African and later African American music, as a strategy of survival, work motivation, community building, and an emotive vehicle of both joy and sorrow during the times of the Triangular Slave Trade and legalized slavery in the United States (including Pennsylvania). Students will ultimately gain knowledge and understanding about the impact and evolution of African American music upon the world right up to the present.

Middle School
8.2.8.A., 8.2.7.B.,

How (and why) did images of African Americans and of women in advertising change during the 1900s? The lesson plans in this unit draw on the rich Balch Institute Ethnic Images in Advertising collection to ask students to consider what ads from the past can tell us about the changing roles and perceptions of African Americans and women in American society.

High School, College

What arguments did abolitionists make against slavery? How did abolitionists propose to end slavery? These historical questions are at the center of this two-lesson unit focused on seven primary documents. In engaging with these questions and these documents, your students will consider the impacts and the limits of abolition, a social movement that spanned hundreds of years.


Middle School, High School, College

In the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are the records of a novel effort to rescue Philadelphia’s poor and orphaned children, the Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania (CAS).

Middle School, High School
8.2.9D, 8.2.9A

Camp William Penn is a significant site in the history of the Civil War due to the fact that more African American soldiers trained there than any other training camp. Unfortunately, not much of the site remains. Situated in Cheltenham PA, what was formerly the largest training camp for black troops, is now about half a dozen urban blocks in north Philadelphia. Currently, the Camp William Penn Museum, in conjunction with Historic LaMott, is working to stimulate interest in the former site of the camp.

High School
8.2.9-12 B, 8.2.9-12 D

Emilie Davis was a free black woman living in Philadelphia during the Civil War. Her three diaries, written in 1863, 1864, and 1865, highlight her perspective on many important historical moments, such as, the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s assassination, and the Battle of Gettysburg. Comparing her diaries to other accounts and sources from the same time period will allow students to see the world in which that Emilie lived. As a woman in her early twenties, she was concerned with her personal goals, friends, and daily routines.

High School
8.1.6A, 8.1.7A-B

Political cartoons were a popular source of information during the Civil War and created an excellent way to disperse a political or social opinion to a wide audience. The Lesson in this Unit features almost twenty political cartoons ranging from 1860-1868 that capture the spirit of the Civil War and help students to learn the multiple opinions and perspectives of those living through it.

High School
8.1.5A, 8.1.9A, 8.1.12B & C, 8.3.9C & D

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

The Vigilant Committee of Philadelphia operated between 1837 and 1852; it was the secret auxiliary of the Vigilant Association. The Vigilant Association was a group formed by the ardent abolitionist, Robert Purvis, in August 1837 to publicly promote antislavery ideology and "to create a fund to aid colored persons in distress." The Vigilant Committee's purpose was to appoint offices, raise revenue, and have resources readily available to assist runaway slaves while they stayed in or passed through Philadelphia. The organization dissolved in 1852.

High School
8.2.9.A , 8.2.12.D, 8.3.12.D, 8.3.9.B, 1.4.6-8C

Antebellum Philadelphia was home to the largest free black community in Philadelphia. These lessons explore the ways in which the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS) worked with and for that community, providing education and employment assistance in the years following abolition in Pennsylvania and before the Civil War. The PAS also took an important role in documenting this community through censuses and home visits throughout the antebellum period.

Middle School, High School
8.1.9.A, 8.1.9.B, 8.1.U.B, 8.1.U.C., 8.2.9.B., C.C.8.5.9-10.A