Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Analyzing Early American Figures (8th Grade Version)

Analyzing History

Chelsee Wilson | Published: May 26th, 2022 by K20 Center


History courses are filled with people who have "made" history. In this lesson, students will analyze historical figures and make connections about their place in history. Students will research an early-American historical figure of their choice and examine their impact during their historical period, as well as their relationship to other historical figures. This lesson can be used in any history course, but it is best suited to introduce key historical figures at the beginning of a unit or to review key historical figures at the end of a semester.

Essential Question(s)

Do people make history, or does history make people? 



Students participate in a Tell Me Everything activity about early American historical figures.


Students randomly choose a name and begin completing a KWHL chart about the historical figure they chose.


Students research their historical figure to finish the KWHL chart.


Students create a poster project related to their historical figure.


Students participate in a Gallery Walk, revisit their KWHL chart, and submit their posters and KWHL charts.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • KWHL Chart (attached, one per student)

  • Early-American Historical Figures List (attached, one set per class)

  • Historical Figures Project Template (attached, one per student)

  • Historical Figures Project Rubric (attached, one per student)

  • Hat or other container (for drawing names)

  • Markers, colored pencils, crayons, pens, pencils, etc.

  • Internet access


Begin by displaying slide 5. Ask students to get out a piece of paper to participate in a Tell Me Everything activity. Give students 1 minute to write down the name of every famous early-American historical figure they can think of.

After the time is up, display slide 6, and give students an additional minute to write down everything that they know about the people they included in their list. Invite students to discuss their lists with a partner.

Display slides 7 and 8, and ask students if any of these people (slide seven: Crispus Attucks and Osceola; slide eight: Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) were included in their lists. If students say no, ask them why they were not included in their initial lists.

Explain to students that there are a number of famous early-American figures who played important roles in history, and it will be the students' job to become experts on ONE famous early American.


Display slide 9. Ask students to draw their historical figures at random by selecting a slip of paper from a container. They will use the person they select to complete a KWHL activity. To prepare for the drawing, feel free to print out the Name Strips document that is attached to this lesson, and cut out the names you wish to use.

Display slide 10. Once students have selected their historical figure, pass out copies of the KWHL Chart handout and have students write the name of the figure at the top of the chart.

Next, ask students to fill in the "K" column with everything they know about their historical figure. Allow 3–5 minutes of writing time.

Display slide 11. Ask students to fill in the "W" column with everything they want to know about their historical figure. Give students an additional 3–5 minutes for this part of the activity.

Display slide 12. Ask students to fill in the "H" column with ideas about how they might find the information they listed in their "W" column. Tell students that this will serve as an action plan as they research their historical figures.


Using their KWHL Charts (specifically the "W" and "H" columns) as a reference, students will now consult their history books and/or appropriate online resources to find the information they identified in the "W" column.

Display slide 13. As students research, ask them to take appropriate notes about their findings and write down where they found the information. In their notes, students might include the following information relating to their historical figures:

  • Notable accomplishments

  • Education

  • Connections to other historical figures

  • Interests or hobbies

  • Contributions to their field

  • Interesting facts


Give each student a sheet of white paper, or pass out copies of the attached Historical Figures Project Template.

Display slide 15. Students will fill in the required information that they found during their research and draw in any images and symbols that they associate with their historical figures.

  • Quote: Which quote would best reflect the historical figure? If the assigned historical figure has many quotes attributed to them, suggest to students that they select one of those.

  • Fast Facts: What are the key pieces of information about the historical figure? Students should highlight five things in short bullets.

  • Historical Importance: Why is the figure important in the scope of history? Students should write a quick sentence or two explaining why their historical figure is important.

  • Six-Word Memoir: Instead of having students write a long biography of their historical figure, have students create concise "memoirs" of their figures that sum up their historical importance.

  • BFF: If time travel were available, which other historical figure would this historical figure get along with the best? Why would they be friends?

  • Worst Enemy: Who would the historical figure despise the most in all of history? Why would they not get along?

  • Image: What does the historical figure look like? Students should draw a picture of the historical figure.

  • Symbols: Based on the student's research of the figure, what four symbols would they associate with them? Students should draw these four symbols.


Ask students to post their projects on the wall to prepare for a Gallery Walk activity where they will view the projects of their peers. Give students some sticky notes, and have them grab a pen or pencil.

Display slide 17. As they move around the room to view the projects, encourage students to use sticky notes to provide feedback or praise for other students' projects.

Once students have rotated back to their own projects, give them time to review the feedback and make any changes that they see fit.

Display slide 19. Have students return to their KWHL Charts and fill out the "L" column with what they have learned about their historical figures.

Have students turn in their KWHL charts and research notes. Consider providing formative feedback about their research techniques and providing suggestions that can aid them in their next research project. Consider grading students' projects according to the attached rubric.