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My Piece of History

Students analyze two pictures from the mid to late 20th century—a recreation room, and a set of wedding gifts—and use objects in the picture to identify differences between the past and the present.

Photography, 1970s wedding gift display, Illinois State Museum website

This lesson uses everyday objects from the past to facilitate the development of two foundational historical thinking skills for young students:

  1. understanding that people of the past lived differently than we do today and;
  2. that history consists of stories constructed from artifacts left from the past.

The lesson begins with the teacher introducing an object from his or her own past that is unfamiliar to students, and a discussion of what that object’s purpose might have been. Then, students observe photographs of everyday items from the 1960s and 1970s to identify both familiar and unfamiliar objects.

Activities 2 and 3 focus on students acting as “historical detectives,” as they generate hypotheses for the purposes of unfamiliar objects in the pictures, and then brainstorm methods for verifying these hypotheses—including interviewing older family members for additional information. Finally, students construct their own historical narratives about an object by creating a museum label for that object. In activity 4, students repeat the process using an object found in their own home.

This lesson walks students through the steps of historical inquiry and introduces them to key historical concepts (historical context and evidence) in an engaging and age-appropriate way.

Teachinghistory.org Lesson Plan Rubric
Field Criteria Comments
Historical Content Is historically accurate?


Includes historical background?

Several other museum exhibits from the mid to late 20th century are available here, and may be useful for augmenting the lesson as well as providing background for teachers.

Requires students to read and write?

While no reading of text is required, students write during the interview process, as well as in the final activity, creating museum labels.

Analytic Thinking Requires students to analyze or construct interpretations using evidence

This is the central feature of the lesson.

Requires close reading and attention to source information?

While no reading is required, close analysis of the photographs and attention to time period is necessary.

Scaffolding Is appropriate for stated audience?


Includes materials and strategies for scaffolding and supporting student thinking?

Discussion questions are provided to help students analyze unfamiliar objects, as well as a chart for students to organize information gained from interviewing older family members about “mystery objects.”

Lesson Structure Includes assessment criteria and strategies that focus on historical understanding?

While no specific assessment or criteria is provided, the final activity allows students to engage in the inquiry process independently, and may be used to assess student understanding.

Defines clear learning goals and progresses logically?


Includes clear directions and is realistic in normal classroom settings?