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Ben Franklin TimelineBen-Franklin-Timeline

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): K-5
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will:
1. Understand the contributions of individuals from various backgrounds who have influenced the history of the United States.
2. Understand the characteristics of leadership.


For this lesson, you will need:
construction paper
old magazines
felt-tipped pens, colored pencils, crayons
butcher paper or tag board


1. Ask each of your students to research and write a paragraph about one of Benjamin Franklin's many accomplishments. Here are some key events and ideas that they can focus on:
  • Franklin's success as a printer and author ( Poor Richard's Almanac )
  • His success as a public servant (started a fire department and a public library, reorganized the mail service, raised money to build a hospital, founded a school which later became a university)
  • His role as an inventor and scientist (experiments with electricity, his invention of the lightning rod)
  • His role in politics (diplomat, coauthor of the Declaration of Independence, revolutionary).
If possible, make sure that each student chooses a different aspect of Franklin's life—you may otherwise want students to work in pairs.
2. When their paragraphs are complete, ask students to create an illustration or collage depicting the events described in the paragraph they have written. These illustrations and collages may incorporate quotes and symbols. The students should also add the appropriate date or dates for the events or accomplishments they have written about. Students can use scissors, construction paper, old magazines, felt-tipped pens, colored pencils, and crayons to create those scenes. (Some students may want to try different artistic techniques—you can encourage their creativity!)
3. When their paragraphs and illustrations or collages are complete, ask your students to use the tag board or butcher paper to assemble them all into a giant Benjamin Franklin timeline. You can then ask each student to read his or her paragraph aloud and invite other classes to come view the timeline.

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Younger students can simply dictate their stories instead of writing them. Ask your students to work with an adult or an upper-grade student from another class. With younger students, you may also want to give them direction about which scenes to depict. You can also begin the activity with the illustration, then have students dictate their stories.
Older students can use the information from their research to write a bio-poem, rather than a paragraph, to accompany the illustrated timeline. (A bio-poem is simply a poem built around a character sketch of a famous person, including biographical details and noted accomplishments.) You may want to speak to your students about different kinds of poetry before they start—rhymed and unrhymed, haiku, iambic pentameter, etc.—and then let them choose whichever form they prefer. In addition, you could also discuss a poem or two about a famous person before beginning the activity (like Walt Whitman's poem about the death of President Lincoln, "O Captain! My Captain!")

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Discussion Questions

1. Benjamin Franklin is famous for inventing great things like the lightning rod and the fire department. How have his inventions improved our country? What recent inventions have improved your way of life?
2. Benjamin Franklin did so many different jobs during his lifetime. He was a writer, a politician, and an inventor, among other things. Can you think of people alive today who do more than one job? Who are they? What would make it hard to be good at so many different things?

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You can use a simple checklist to assess your students' performance in this activity. Give the members of each group one check for each of the following aspects of their project: organization of information, clear illustrations, accuracy of information, well-written descriptions, and working together well.

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Ben Franklin Day
Ask your students to imagine that their school is considering creating a holiday to recognize Benjamin Franklin. What events and activities might be part of the celebration? Have them write letters to their principal explaining their ideas.

What is Your Dream?
Everyone has a dream. Ask your students to write short speeches on their hopes for the future. They can include examples of how they plan to help achieve their goals and how they would like future generations to remember their accomplishments.

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Suggested Readings

The Ben Franklin Book of Easy and Incredible Experiments
Lisa Jo Rudy. John Wiley & Sons, 1995.
Whether for social studies, science, or just plain fun, take a tour of Ben Franklin's favorite interests. Observation, innovation, and invention will excite young readers as they build their own creations from simple materials.

Dear Dr. King: Letters from Today's Children to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jan Colbert and Ann McMillan Harms. The Colbert Company, 1998.
This tribute contains letters to our American civil rights hero from today's elementary-age children. It inspires thoughtful conversation about Dr. King's dream and how it relates to our hopes for the future. Historical black and white photography and images of contemporary children are the powerful backdrop for the letters to Dr. King.

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Benjamin Franklin: An Enlightened American
A comprehensive look at the life of Benjamin Franklin, this site features a biography, quotations, anecdotes, interesting facts, and detailed descriptions of his inventions.

The World of Benjamin Franklin
An examination of the roles of Benjamin Franklin from statesman to inventor, this site includes resource materials, enrichment activities, and a brief glossary.

This comprehensive Internet directory of MLK resources emphasizing classroom materials and lesson plans includes speeches, biographies, articles, photos, and tributes.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    apprentice
Definition: One who is learning a trade or art by practical experience under skilled workers.
Context: When Benjamin Franklin was 12 years old, he was sent to work as a printer's apprentice with his older brother James.

speaker    barricade
Definition: To prevent access to.
Context: About 187 Texas rebels barricaded themselves in an old church known as the Alamo to wait for Santa Ana.

speaker    dictator
Definition: One ruling absolutely and often oppressively.
Context: Davy Crockett was one of many Texans who didn't like the way the Mexican leader and dictator General Santa Ana ruled the country.

speaker    diplomat
Definition: One employed or skilled in diplomacy, the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations.
Context: Benjamin Franklin was now a diplomat, and he set sail for England to talk to the lawmakers about the problems with the English government.

speaker    segregation
Definition: The separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group.
Context: Martin Luther King wanted to end segregation in schools, hotels, and restaurants, but he wanted to do it in a nonviolent way so no one would get hurt.

speaker    treason
Definition: The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government.
Context: If the English had captured Benjamin Franklin seeking the help of the French, he would have been tried for treason and probably hanged.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: K-2, 3-4
Subject area: history
Understands the folklore and other cultural contributions from various regions of the United States and how they helped to form a national heritage.
Knows regional folk heroes or songs that have contributed to the development of the cultural history of the United States (e.g., Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, John Henry, Joe Magarac).
Understands how regional folk heroes and other popular figures have contributed to the cultural history of the United States.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: civics
Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy.
Knows how various American holidays reflect the shared values, principles, and beliefs of Americans (e.g., Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Presidents' Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday)

Grade level: 5-6
Subject area: U.S. history
Understands how political, religious, and social institutions emerged in the English colonies.
Understands the influence of Enlightenment ideas on American society (e.g., Benjamin Franklin's experiment with electricity).

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Beth Lemberger, a former middle school teacher currently teaching fourth grade social studies at the Nysmith School for the Gifted in Herndon, Virginia.

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