Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

What Is History?

Intro to History

Kristen Sublett, Susan McHale, Kristen Sublett | Published: November 18th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course Oklahoma History, U.S. History, World History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 1 class period(s)
  • Duration More 50 minutes


This short, introductory lesson is great for beginning the year in any history class from 8th-12th grade. Students will create their own definition of history and then compare it to quotes about history and the term's dictionary definition. Students then will reexamine their own definition, modify as needed, and discuss what the dictionary definition left out. Students will also justify why what was left out is important to include in any understanding of history. This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

What is history? Why is history important? 



Students create their own definition of history.


Students look at quotes about history to add to their working definitions.


Students compare their definitions of history with the dictionary definition.


Students discuss the importance of learning and understanding history.


Students write a Two-Minute Paper about the definition and importance of history.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • History Quotes Magnetic Statements (attached)

  • I Think, We Think, We Re-Think Graphic Organizer (attached; 1 per student)

  • History Quotes Sheet (attached; 1 per student)


Before beginning the lesson, place history quotes, found in the History Quote Magnetic Statements attachment, around the room.

Display slide 3 of the Lesson Slides. Read aloud the two guiding questions for the lesson and tell students to keep them in mind as they move through all of the activities. Tell the students they're going to start with the first guiding question, "What is history?"

Pass out the I Think, We Think, We Re-Think Graphic Organizer to each student. Display slide 4. Ask students to think about how they would define the term history. Give them a few minutes to get their thoughts in order, and then ask them to write down their definitions in the "I Think" column of their graphic organizer. This is a modification of the I Think/We Think instructional strategy.

Display slide 5. Have students find an Elbow Partner and share their definitions. Ask partners to come to a consensus and create or modify a definition together. Have students write this shared definition in the "We Think" column of their graphic organizer.


Display slide 6 and have students use the Magnetic Statements instructional strategy. Have students walk around the room, looking at each of the different history quotes posted. Ask them to choose a quote that most attracts them or that they most agree with and then stand next to it.

Ask students within each quote group to share what attracted them to this quote and why they chose it. Give groups 5–10 minutes to discuss, depending on how large the groups are, and tell them to be prepared for a whole-class share out.

Ask members of each group to share out why they chose their particular quote.


Display slide 7. Pass out copies of the History Quotes Sheet and ask students to return to their original elbow partner. Tell students to read through each quote on the page and put an A next to each quote that they agree with and a D next to each quote that they disagree with. Ask them to think about the quotes and if any of them might make the students want to change or add to their definition of history. Circulate around the room and help partners decipher any quotes that they might not understand.

Show the students the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of history displayed on slide 8. Ask the partners to compare their definitions to the dictionary definition. You might tell students to think about what might be missing from either the dictionary definition or their personal definition. Discuss as a class by having partners compare and contrast their definitions with the dictionary definition.

Display slide 9. Ask partners to think about everything that has been talked about in class up to this point (original definitions, magnetic statements, the quote sheet, the dictionary definition, and all student discussion). Ask partners to decide upon and rewrite their final definition of history in the "We Re-Think" column of their graphic organizer. This final definition can be used as a formative assessment for the lesson and can be turned in.


Display slide 10. Read the Santayana quote to the students: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Ask students to think about a historical event that stands out in their minds as something significant or important to know. Ask them to share the event with their partner and explain to them why every citizen should know about this event. After sufficient time, ask some of the partners to share out in a whole-group discussion.


Display slide 11 and have students use the Two-Minute Paper strategy. Tell students to think back to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of history. Ask them what the dictionary definition left out. Tell them that for the next two minutes, they should write about what the dictionary left out, and what should be included in the definition of history. In their paper, they should explain why this additional information is important to include in the definition of history.