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First Week of School & Geography Lesson Plans for 8th Grade American History

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.


Need some help with your American History lessons? Take a peek at my lesson plans and ideas.

Need some help with your American History lessons? Take a peek at my lesson plans and ideas.

My first year teaching I was dying to see other teachers' plan books, but most of them were either blank or didn't seem suitable for our students ("high-risk" with poor reading skills). After teaching American history to 8th graders for a few years, I've developed this webpage in the hopes that it can help first year teachers get an idea of what to do, or help out some experienced teachers freshen up some lessons. Just to let you know, my "at-risk" students have the same passing rate on the history portion of the state standardized exam as the "advanced" students.

Included are my lessons for the Weeks 1-2: Introduction and Geography. Please see my other lenses to see my complete lesson plan book. Please visit my Procedures and General Ideas for 8th Grade American History to see my classroom set up, procedures, grading, use of textbook, exam ideas, etc.

Please DO NOT copy this elsewhere without giving proper credit: .


Week 1: Day 1: Getting Acquainted


Objective: Getting Acquainted

Homework: a) Bring in a "Show and Tell" object b) Get class sheet signed c) Buy class materials (by next week)

1. Introductions: Tell who I am and why I teach history.

2. Name Game: First everyone writes down their first name on a sheet of paper that's been folded in three. This acts as a nameplate at the front of each student's desk until I learn everyone's names. I collect them at the end of the class and then try to pass them out at the beginning of the next few classes in order to learn names. Then everyone goes around and says "My name is (your name) and I am (an adjective that describes you that begins with the same letter as your name." An example would be, "My name is Sasha, and I am silly." The next person says "He is...She is...He is...and I am...," naming off everyone who's gone before them and then introducing him/herself. Helping is aloud.

3. Class Procedures. I also pass out the information sheets. One page lists what we'll study in the class and what students need to bring (a 1-inch 3-ring binder, colored pencils and a pencil that will stay in my class, and a pencil pouch. They'll also need the usual paper and a pen. ) I tell students that if they cannot afford these things to tell me privately after class, and I will get them. (I have had some students who cannot get them.) The other sheet has a place where they fill out their schedule, brothers and sisters along with their ages and schools, and a favorite activity. Their parents/guardians provide their name, address, contact numbers, e-mail, and a signature.

4. Partner introductions. Interview the person next to you and then introduce him/her. The questions to ask: Name, What you did over the summer, What your favorite radio station is, Something that's interesting about you.

5. Milling to Music: Play music and have everyone walk around. Whenever the music stops, stand next to the person closest to you. The teacher calls out a question (like "What's your favorite TV show?" or "How many brothers and sisters do you have?") You each ask the other person the question. Then the music starts again.

Best Book to Help You on Your First Days of School - Honest and So Helpful!


Week 1: Day 2: Getting Acquainted


Objective: Getting Acquainted

1. Celebrations: Let anyone share good news that's happened lately. See "Class Procedure" to get an explanation of how this is done.

2. Show and Tell: Students should each have an object they brought that tells us about him/her. They each go up and talk about it. If s/he forgot to bring something, tell her/him to quickly draw a picture of what s/he would have brought, and that can be her/his "object."

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3. Class Contract: Everyone signs the rules. This goes in the class notebook (see "Discipline"), so that a student cannot claim that s/he never knew the rules and/or consequences.

4. Extended nametags: On your nametag, answer the following in each of your four showing corners: Place you spent the happiest summer OR your favorite place on earth, 3 things you do well, favorite activity to do on the weekend, name of person who taught you something important. We then share what we wrote.


Week 1: Day 3: Defining America

Defining America

Objective: Defining America

Homework: Bring class materials and get agenda signed

1. Celebrations

2. Survey (School info sheets)

3. Brainstorm: Select either "America" OR "History." Write as many words as you can think of that have to do with that word. Try for 30+. (7 minutes) (I play soothing music like Enya.)

4. Poster: Get into groups of 3 who picked the same word as you. Pick 3 words that best represent that word. Make a poster of that word including the words you selected. (45 minutes)

5. Snap presentations: QUICKLY show your poster and what you drew. (This activity is done for 3 reasons: 1) It allows me to see the personalities of individuals and how they work together. 2) It shows them how future projects will be. 3) It provides decoration for the walls.)

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Week 2: Day 1: Physical Features of America

What does America look like?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What seven letters do not begin any of the 50 states? [Answer: B, E, J, Q, X, Y, Z]

Objective: What does America look like?

1. Warm-up: Take out your assignment book and carefully study the map of America. You'll be quizzed on it soon.

2. Explain Notebook Set-up:

o Explain how pages should be numbered and dated in the upper outer corner. The warm-up and wrap-up should be on the left side of the page, and the class woek should be on the right side across for the corresponding warm-up and wrap-up.

o Cover Page (10 minutes): Your name, period, subject and a picture (if you have time)

o Table of Contents: Date, Page, Right or Left (R/L), Assignment/Title (This will be optional to maintain. You get extra credit if you include it in your notebook. I'll always keep a master Table of Contents on one board.)

3. Your view of America: On the upper right corner on the back of page 1, draw America. Include everything you can think of (rivers, mountains, states, etc.). (5 minutes)

4. Pass out textbooks

5. Physiographic Pairs Game (25 minutes): Each pair has a question about America's physiography. They must answer the question on their sheet, draw the feature on their map, and then trade the sheet with another pair. The pair that gets the most questions answered CORRECTLY gets extra credit. [See Below for ideas on questions. We have 30 questions.]

6. WRAP-UP: On the bottom half of page 2, answer the following question: Do you think America is made up more of rivers, mountains, flatlands, or lakes? Why? Name as many of those geographic features as you can. Example: I think America is mostly bays because I have seen 6 on the map but only 3 mountains or rivers. Monterey Bay, Tampa Bay, etc.

Physiographic Pairs Game Question Examples:

1. Label the 5 bodies of fresh water that form a border between the US and Canada? What one name is used to describe all 5 bodies of water?

2. What is the largest bay in California?

3. What is the river west of the Appalachians that forms a border between Indiana and Kentucky?

4. In which ocean is the only island state located?

5. What body of water lies 41 degrees N latitude and 112 degrees W longitude?

6. What ocean lies east of the US?

7. What is the tallest mountain in Alaska?

8. What river empties into New York City Harbor?

9. What is the large body of water west of FL that is an extension of the Atlantic Ocean?

Fun Ways to Teach the 50 States


Week 2: Day 2: Geography of America

How does geography affect where people live?

Objective: How does geography affect where people live?

Homework: Get your agenda signed

1. Warm-up:

o Where is the furthest place from Houston you've been in the U.S.? (If you've never been outside Houston, write "Houston." )

o What did the land and water look like (oceans, mountains, swamps, lakes, rivers, deserts, etc.)?

o Do you think these types of geography would or would not make people want to like in that place?

2. Flight over America (Pretend like we're flying in an airplane over these areas. I go into a short "tray-tables in up-right position," etc. spiel as I quickly pass out a small handful of pretzals to each "passanger" to make it a bit more fun. I do add that I better not find ANY on the floor if they ever want food again.): View and discuss images of many of the landforms they have mapped. ).

Show powerpoint slides of American geography, ask questions to get the kids looking at them, and then and describe them. I show pictures of Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Lake Michigan, Chesapeake Bay, Hudson River, Mississippi River, Columbia River, Cape Cod, Appalachian Mountains, & Rocky Mountains.

The students take notes. Have them drawn 3 columns: Place, Description, and History. Do first one with them: Pacific Ocean - 1/3 of Earth, Rough water - Magellan named it "tranquil" (1521)

3. WRAP-UP: DIARY OF A SAILOR: The year is 1590. You have been hired to explore the Atlantic Coast of the New World in order to locate a good place to start a settlement. You are keeping a journal of all you see. Write one page describing all you saw that day. 1) Include at least 1 place we discussed today. 2) Describe what that land/body of water is like. 3) Suggest if this would be a good or bad place for a settlement and explain why.

Next Unit: Weeks 3-8: Thirteen Colonies

Are you ready to open up my lesson plan book?

Are you a history teacher?

Comments? Questions? - Let me know you dropped by! Was this lens helpful? Do you have any questions, comments, or additional ideas? Please post here!

Linda on March 12, 2020:

If you had one textbook to teach from what would be your first choice?

Shannon (author) from Florida on September 26, 2017:

You can simply use whatever textbook you have available and have students read the pages from the book you have that correspond to the topic.

Camille on September 26, 2017:

Hi! If I were to use this without the Houghton Mifflin textbook, how would I go about that?

novicemiddleschholsocialstudiesteacher on July 24, 2017:

Thank you so much for sharing your lesson plans, ideas and even books, DVDs and music with us. You are an awesome teacher. You realized how difficult it is for new teachers to start the year and you found it in your heart to help. Thank you and God Bless!

Shannon (author) from Florida on July 19, 2017:

Thank you so much!

DianeV on July 19, 2017:

Excellent job! I will come back to your site!

Shannon (author) from Florida on September 23, 2016:

You're welcome! Thank you for visiting! The questions came from the American History set of "History Alive!" binders, so I can't post all the questions since they are part of that curriculum. I did post some of them so that you can get an idea of they types of questions to ask.

mikerednam on September 11, 2016:

Thank you for this page it is a great resource! I was wondering, you mention you have 30 questions for the Physiographic Pairs activity. Do you have a list of all of the questions you use and are you willing to share the list? Thank you.

Shannon (author) from Florida on July 06, 2015:

Thank you for visiting my page! I taught American History in a school that followed the block system, so I had my students for 1 1/2 hours every M/W/F one week and then Tuesday & Thursday the next week.

Valerie on July 06, 2015:

As my first year of teaching this subject comes closer, I am so excited to have found these resources! Is there a reason that you only post Days 1-3 for each week? Are you assuming two days of review, or just allowing for a margin of time in case a lesson spills over into a second day...? I've never done this on my own before, so I'm interested in other teachers' thought processes on time allotment within each week.

Shannon (author) from Florida on June 12, 2015:

Thank you so much! Wow, that is a lot to prepare for and to teach! I am sorry, but I don't have additional lesson plans on those subjects. My favorite resource for finding activity ideas was TCI's History Alive binders. Their resources have changed since I first started using them, so I'm not sure what their current curriculum looks like. If you're able to find them (possibly through inner library loan), they might be invaluable in your lesson prep.

Staci Buie on June 10, 2015:

I was wondering if you had any suggestions or references for someone who teaches in a small school, which equals 5-6 different preps, this is fabulous for 8th graders and I intend on using the same principles in my other classes. I also teach Geography, American History 2, World Hisotry, Government and Economics. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated - I want to work smarter not harder!

Shannon (author) from Florida on August 25, 2014:

@clanglin: That sounds like a fun class! I am glad my lessons will be able to help you!

clanglin on August 23, 2014:

@iijuan12: Thank you, having the visual helps me so much! I was just hired to teach an 8th grade literature-based social studies class (new program) so your ideas are a true blessing for me as I am putting together my lesson plans!

Shannon (author) from Florida on August 22, 2014:

@clanglin: I am so happy you have found my lessons to be helpful! I just uploaded a photo of a student's Table of Contents page on this webpage under the module "Week 2: Day 1: Physical Features of America."

Shannon (author) from Florida on August 22, 2014:

@clanglin: Thank you so much!

clanglin on August 22, 2014:

This page has some great pointers and tips for someone who has never taught 8th grade history. I appreciate all your ideas you have shared with us!

clanglin on August 22, 2014:

Thank you so much for sharing your ideas with us! I have been teaching since the late 80's but is has been in the lower elementary grades, this year will be my first year as an 8th grade social studies teacher. I am very excited about this year and starting this new adventure. I was wondering, do you have a photo of the Table of Contents page of the student notebooks, I am trying to visualize what it looks like.

Shannon (author) from Florida on August 12, 2014:

@picklesnewmiddleschoolteacher: I'm so glad you've found my lessons to be helpful! Have a blessed year!

picklesnewmiddleschoolteacher on August 12, 2014:

Thank you so much!!! Although I have taught for 16 years (4th grade), this will be my first year teaching 8th grade U.S. History. I need all the help I can get. :)

Shannon (author) from Florida on September 02, 2013:

@anonymous: I'm so happy you've found my lessons to be helpful! Have a blessed year!

Shannon (author) from Florida on September 02, 2013:

@favored: Thank you!

Fay Favored from USA on September 01, 2013:

History was one of my favorite subjects that I taught. You prepared a good lesson.

anonymous on August 31, 2013:

Thank you, Thank you, thank You!!! This was extremely helpful as I am a first year teacher

Shannon (author) from Florida on May 08, 2013:

@anonymous: Thank you!

anonymous on May 07, 2013:

The geography lessons were useful and fits in with my curriculum/calendar. I appreciate all the details/reasoning that were included (i.e,.where students would write the names ) that are not always included in a many lesson plans.

Shannon (author) from Florida on April 18, 2013:

@anonymous: Thank you! These are lessons I used when I taught 8th Grade American History in a public school. I used Houghton Mifflin Company's "History of the United States, Volume I" because that was the American history textbook assigned for us to use.

anonymous on April 15, 2013:

I am liking the look of your 8th grade lesson plans for American History. I am also a homeschooling mom (from 6 down to 3 as three are now grown). I have two students entering 8th grade next year. What textbook did you use for these lessons? Thanks!

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