How We Put Together Our History Lesson Plans (Part 3)

Written by Debi Polen

Our History Plan Was Created with Multiple Sources

Piecing Together the WorldWe pieced together our chronological World History lesson plan from multiple sources. Ultimately, the lesson plan spanned Grades 3-9.

In Parts 1 and 2, I said that I wanted to teach my son world history from the beginning (Creation) to modern times in chronological order. I hadn’t experienced that method of learning history when I was in school, but saw the benefits of teaching it that way in my son’s home school.

For studying Creation to the Renaissance, we used Rob and Cyndy Shearer’s Greenleaf Press history curriculum during Grades 3 through 6. In the latter part of the 5th Grade, we began to overlap the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation with Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World (TSOTW). We did this because we needed the physical proof of progress for our portfolio, provided by the new curriculum’s Activity Books. The new curriculum also covered countries outside the West so that we could better understand current events. We then continued to study World History with this series, utilizing Volumes 2-4, which brought us to the fall of the USSR.

Our state required that we teach both American History and Pennsylvania History, so we integrated biographies and stories from other sources to fill up our plan. In this article, I’ll explain in more detail how we made our history plans and the reasons why we did it this way.

Putting Together a History Plan from Multiple Sources

1. Establish a foundation with a central source.

No matter which curriculum you select, or if you don’t select one at all, you’ll need a foundation for your chronological study of world history. Timelines are ideal for this.

Fortunately, Greenleaf Press’s curriculum was already in chronological order, so it was easy to use that as our foundation. The Story of the World was mostly in chronological order, and Bauer provided a timeline in the back of each book in the series that also helped us along.

You could also invest in a timeline book, or nowadays, use the Internet to find timelines. One website with a nice timeline that begins in Ancient times to the present century is The Ohio State University Department of History’s eHistory website, which places major events in such categories as “International Relations & War,” “Politics,” Science, Technology & Discovery,” “Society & Culture,” and “Economics & Daily Life.”

Timetables of History by GrunWe purchased the third edition of The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun at a homeschooling fair. It’s now in its fourth edition (pictured above) and covers mostly Western History. (Available from our affiliate

One of the sources for the OSU timeline is The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun (New York. 1991). We used this in our home school, and it has since been updated into its fourth edition in 2005. You can find this book at our affiliate (we’ll get a small referral commission if you purchase through any of our links). This timetable starts circa 5000 BC and breaks events down by these categories: “History, Politics,” “Literature, Theater,” “Religion, Philosophy, Learning,” “Visual Arts,” “Music,” “Science, Technology, Growth,” and “Daily Life.”

With such a wealth of information as that provided in these timetables, it might be hard to choose which events to cover and which to leave out. That’s why starting out with a smaller foundation from a curriculum such as Greenleaf Press’s Guides and Peace Hill Press’s TSOTW might be the better approach. The Timetables are then used to fill in some gaps.

2. Find other sources that meet your requirements and goals.

If you’re required by law to cover certain aspects of history, like we were required to cover United States History and Pennsylvania History, then you’ll need to work these into your plan.

Studying history chronologically can also mean that you’re studying more than the geo-political aspects of history. I also incorporated Art History and Music History, both based on biography. In the case of Music History, we also used audio recordings.

Since we were doing history as stories and biographies, I wanted to find other sources that were similar. For merging in more American History, we used The Landmark History of the American People: From Plymouth to the Moon from the Sonlight Curriculum, as well as various issues of Kids Discover Magazine and several books in the Cornerstones of Freedom series published by Children’s Press. For Pennsylvania History, we used the biographies of the governors that are available through the Pennsylvania History Portal that’s published by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.

The video library I created had several programs that we scheduled into our history lessons (more on the library is in Part 1). You don’t have to create an Access database like I did, but you should have some kind of electronic representation of the contents of your video library so that you can search for titles quickly. Each title should have some keywords or description that helps further identify the contents of the program. If you are home educating several children, an age or grade identification might also be useful.

Your curriculum books or other sources may have suggested further reading materials. If you don’t have them in your own personal library, make sure to check your local library’s holdings. Most public libraries have inter-library loan if the title is not available at your location.

Most of the items that we had in our personal library we placed here in our catalog. You may enjoy browsing our American History and State History items with this “Topics of Interest” article: United States of America.

3. Put it together and divide it out.

Although it took a major portion of my planning time during the summer break, the resulting history plan spanned several years of my son’s home education. The process of creating my own plan helped me prepare ahead of time, so that the actual execution of the plan worked extraordinarily smoothly. If you’d rather tackle one school year at a time, the methodology I used can still apply, but you’ll still need to have an idea of how you’d like to break up the plan across years.

1. Set up your lesson plan grid.

I used Microsoft Word to build my plan in a table. That way, I could easily insert a row to keep the lessons in chronological order. You could also use any other program that helps you build a grid, such as a spreadsheet program. For the first column, place an auto-incremental number (such as a numbered bullet) that will serve as your “task” or “lesson” number.

The auto-incremental number is important for two reasons: (1) it renumbers automatically whenever you insert or delete a row, and (2) it gives you a final count as to how many lessons you have in the table. You may choose to include these lesson numbers in your daily log that you’re keeping for your portfolio.

Your grid might look something like this one, which is a resource-specific grid since it has the major resources as column headings:

1. Year or Years Here, I’d put, for example: TSOTW 2 I also used Greenleaf These are the other books, videos, music, field trips, etc.

Here’s an example of a resource-specific grid:

1. 1543 37: Copernicus ● KD: Solar System

In the last year of our plan, I labeled the columns differently (this was based on the quantity of events covered for each country in The Story of the World and does not define what is truly “Eastern” and “Western”). This made the grid location-specific with the event stated under the appropriate column heading(s) and the list of resources listed under one heading:

TASK # YEAR(S) Asia, Middle East India, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa Europe, New World RESOURCE(S)
1. 1921 Mahandas Karamchand Gandhi is elected head of the Congress Party ● SW IV: 22 – Indian Nationalism

If you’d rather not store you plan digitally, you could use index cards. You’d place the year at the top, mention the event, and write down all of the sources. If you have something to insert, it’s easy to sort your cards. Retrieving the card for the next lesson may be a task your younger children may enjoy doing. It gives them a sense of control and allows them to continue at their own pace (you might be surprised at how much history you can cover when your child enjoys retrieving the cards). If you’re building a clothesline timeline, you could pin up your index card once you’ve completed the lesson. (For more on the clothesline timeline, see Part 1.)

How you do it is up to you. If you’d prefer to break it up by type of history (World History, Music History, Art History, for example), by resource, or even by grade level (which is great for multi-level home schools), then by all means, do so. The main idea is that it is chronological!

2. Populate the lesson plan grid.

You’ll fill in your grid with the information you gather from your resources. One-by-one, go through each resource and decide what you’d like to cover. Place it in the grid and make sure to note the chapter or page number. I ended up with a lot of “other” resources that I set apart with bullets.

After you’ve reviewed all of your resources and find that there’s a gap or not enough information for a major event you’d like to cover, do some research to determine a good resource and make arrangements so that you’ll have that resource when the time comes. One of the reasons we bought or recorded the majority of our resources was because we knew they would be available when we needed them.

While you’re sitting with your resources, don’t forget to add your local area’s calendar of events for field trip ideas!

3. Divide the completed lesson plan into parts.

Resource Checklist

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Curriculum Books

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Suggested Reading

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Personal Library Items

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Suggested Hands-On Activities

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Assignment and Test Materials

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Audio Recordings

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Community Calendar for Field Trip Ideas

We began using the Greenleaf Press history books in the 3rd Grade and continued their suggested sequence into the 6th Grade. During the 5th Grade, we began supplementing the plan with several other sources. I started designing our multiple-year plan during the summer before the 6th Grade because I found that I needed to have a concrete plan that took advantage of all of our many resources.

Our designed plan started in the 6th Grade and ended in the 9th Grade. These are the years we covered in each grade:

  • 6th Grade: 1167-1542
  • 7th Grade: 1542-1850
  • 8th Grade: 1850-1920
  • 9th Grade: 1920-Present

We had more than 180 tasks or lessons in each year’s plan, even though we were working on a 180-day schedule. This is because we were able to do more than one lesson in a day since some of them were short. Depending on how many tasks or lessons you have in your grid, your plan will probably divide the timeline differently. If you wish to use all of a book during one year, rather than spread its use across years, then that book will dictate the span of years you’ll cover.

In the 10th Grade, we reviewed State History (using Our Pennsylvania Heritage published by Penns Valley Publisher) because I felt that our integrating it into the overall history plan diluted it somewhat. It was good for us to do this review as it helped prepare my son for studying Economics and Government.

4. Use the plan and make adjustments as needed.

When it was time for us to have our history “class,” we opened the Word document that contained our lesson plan and marked the lesson’s completion by changing the background color of the row of cells for that lesson. If we partially completed the lesson, we’d change the background color only on those items we completed. We used bright yellow for its visual impact. When it came time for the next lesson, we already knew where we needed to pick up because of the color change.

A history lesson plan like ours is open to being modified, especially if you find that your pace is not as expected. Just because you have an entry in your grid, don’t hesitate to skip it if time does not allow. This is one of the benefits of designing a personal plan of study for each of your students.

Why We Created a Customized History Lesson Plan

I believe that having just one textbook for history is a mistake because it presents a single point of view. With multiple sources, you have exposure to different perspectives of a certain event. If at all possible, I tried to have more than one resource for each lesson. If there was a conflict in the information presented by these resources, we had the opportunity to discuss why we believed that to be the case.

When my son attended our community college during his 10th-12th Grade years, he had to take history classes as part of the “core.” He passed his history courses with ease because he remembered his lessons from our chronological study. That pretty much spoke to the impact of our having studied history in this way. I hope that you’ll find this reward as well if you decide to put together your own history lesson plans.

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