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Road To Russian RevolutionRoad-To-Russian-Revolution

  • Subject: World History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Historians can form a picture of a society based on primary sources such as diaries of people who lived through a period.
2. Documentation about Nicholas II's family has indeed come down to us in the form of photographs, diaries, and letters.


For this lesson, you will need:
History textbooks
Biographies of Nicholas II
Reference sources such as encyclopedias
Computer with Internet access


1. Based on what students have learned about Nicholas II from printed sources (textbooks, biographies, encyclopedias, etc.), videos and other electronic sources, and class discussions, assign them the task of writing a diary entry by the dethroned, exiled emperor. Students should assume that they are composing the imaginary entries in Ekaterinburg, where members of the royal family were isolated by the Communists from April 26, 1918, until their murder a few months later.
Students may do additional research into the Romanovs when they receive this assignment.
2. Explain to students that we have no proof that Nicholas II kept a journal at Ekaterinburg, so this assignment contains an element of the hypothetical. Go on to say that we know, however, that keeping diaries and taking photographs were common in Nicholas's family. This creative writing assignment will demonstrate students' grasp of the facts surrounding the decline of the Romanov dynasty.
3. Discuss with students' the role personal diaries can play in piecing together history. Inform students that historians have used diaries of both the powerful and the common folk in forming a picture of a period. Ask students whether they think people writing in diaries are truthful (because they think the entries are private) or slanted (because the writer wants to look good or may be self-deceived about his or her reality) or both.
4. Encourage the class to brainstorm to come up with the topics that they, role-playing Nicholas, should cover in a diary entry. These topics should give students an opportunity to demonstrate facts they've learned about Nicholas. Examples of diary topics include the following:
  • Nicholas's reputation among the peasantry at this time
  • Nicholas's feelings toward his wife of more than 20 years
  • Nicholas's feelings toward his four daughters
  • Nicholas's concerns about his son
  • Nicholas's most recent thoughts about Rasputin
  • Nicholas's feelings toward the Bolsheviks
In addition, direct students to include diary passages by Nicholas based on students' intelligent guesses as to what he might say about the following, undocumented topics:
  • The act he is most proud of carrying out as czar
  • His greatest regret as leader of the Russian people
  • His view of the future for himself, his family, and Russia
5. When students have drafted and revised or edited their diary entries, have them exchange work and comment on each other's entries. Students should point out to each other any unclear sections that might confuse readers who come across Nicholas's diary in the future. Writers should revise their entries to clarify such sections.
6. After you've collected students' work, lead a discussion about the assignment. What did students like about it? What did they dislike? What did they get out of the assignment?

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Allow students to work in small groups, perhaps assigning research to a few students in the group, drafting the entry itself to another student, and revising/editing/ proofreading to yet another.

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Discussion Questions

1. Describe the relationship of Czar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra, and relate how their relationship would contribute to their fall from power during the Russian Revolution.
2. Nicholas and Alexandra wrote many long love letters to one another. Nicholas also took many pictures of his family. What can you infer from the letters and photos of the Romanov family? Brainstorm a list of qualities of the family.
3. Did the actions of Nicholas II toward the Russian people during such incidents as the massacre of January 9, 1905 show that he was an autocratic ruler? How did politics under the czar's government differ from politics under the democratic government of the United States of the same period?
4. Describe the structure of Russian society around the time of Nicholas II and relate the social structure of Russian society to the political events of the time. What were other Eurasian countries' political structures like during that period? Were they similar or different? How do you think the similarities and differences contributed to the unpopularity of the Romanovs?
5. Compare Russian politics under the czar with that of modern Russian politics during the late 1990s. Pay special attention to the relationship of the Duma with the chief executive.
6. Hypothesize why it was so easy for the monk Rasputin to work his way into the lives of the czar's family. What characteristics did he have that allowed him to have such sway over the royal family? Why do you believe he became close to Alexandra?
7. Outline several reasons why you think democracy was doomed in Russia around the time of the czar.
8. How is Russian support for the Serbs in the Balkans today similar to its support during the time of the czars? How is it different? Support your answer with specific examples from current events.

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You can evaluate each student's diary entry using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: includes many statements about the topics on the brainstorming list and that reflect familiarity with the facts of Nicholas's life up to this point; includes reasonable predictions that Nicholas, logically, may have made at this point
Two points: includes a few statements about the topics on the brainstorming list and that reflect familiarity with the facts of Nicholas's life up to this point; includes far-fetched predictions by Nicholas
One point: does not address topics on the brainstorming list and does not reflect familiarity with the facts of Nicholas's life up to this point; does not provide Nicholas's predictions
You can have your students contribute to the assessment rubric by having them determine how many facts should be mentioned or alluded to in the entry.

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Hemophilia: A Medical History
Throughout his short life, Alexei Romanov suffered from hemophilia, a disease of the blood, that often brought him near death. Nicholas and Alexandra were so worried about the condition of their only son, and heir to the throne, that they let Rasputin into their home and their lives. Rasputin's role in the Romanovs' life made the monarchs unpopular with the Duma and the Russian public. Ask students working in groups to research and write reports on the disease of hemophilia and the treatments available during young Alexei's affliction. Each group should project how medical advancements in the treatment of hemophilia—had they been available at the beginning of the 20th century—might have altered the course of history. Have student groups present their reports and conclusions to the class.

Analyzing Photographs
Historians often use photographs to infer information about a time period. Ask students to suggest what Nicholas's photographs tell us about the royal family's personal and public lives and that period in Russian history. Have students take photos or bring in photos (or clips from home movies or videos) that would help future historians draw conclusions about modern-day society. As a class, discuss what one can tell about our times from pictures or videos.

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Suggested Readings

Anastasia's Album
Hugh Brewster. Hyperion Books for Children, 1996.
The czar and his family are captured in this collection of images from the State Archives in Moscow. Letters from Anastasia to her friends and relatives reveal the young girl's humorous side. Includes information on the death of the family—a topic that has long been shrouded in mystery.

A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra
Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov, with Sergei Mironenko and Andrei Maylunas, editors, translated by Darya Galy. Doubleday, 1997.
A collection of diary entries, letters, and documents, this book provides insight into the lives of the royal family in their own words.

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Russian History
An extensive set of resources on Russian culture and history. This site has important links to pages on the Romanovs as well as the Russian Revolution.

Treasures of the Czars
This site includes an interactive game where you look for the lost treasure of the Romanovs. It also contains a well-done educational section on the Romanov dynasty.

The Alexander Palace Time Machine
Describes the culture of Imperial Russia. It is a complete tour of the last residence of the Czar's family.

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

speaker    assassination
Definition: The murder of a political figure.
Context: The trauma of assassination was to haunt Nicholas II all his life.

speaker    autocrat
Definition: A person with unlimited power or authority.
Context: After Nicholas signed the Constitution of 1905, he relinquished his power as absolute autocrat.

speaker    Bolshevik
Definition: The communist party of Russia and eventually of the Soviet Union. Formed by Vladimir Lenin in 1903, the party was first a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).
Context: During its early years, the czar did not pay much attention to the newly formed Bolshevik party.

speaker    Cossacks
Definition: An ethnic group within Russian society found on the steppes of western Russia and the Ukraine region, used by the czars as an internal police force to quell civil unrest. The Cossacks also participated in numerous uprisings against the czarist government.
Context: The Cossacks were partially responsible for the deaths that resulted from the demonstrations that took place on Bloody Sunday, January 9, 1905.

speaker    czar or tsar
Definition: The emperor or monarch of Russia.
Context: Alexander was taught the basics of being a Romanov: orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality—the Church, the czar, and Russia.

speaker    Duma
Definition: The first nationally elected Russian parliament.
Context: The czar and czarina came to the Winter Palace for the ceremonial opening of the first Duma.

speaker    dynasty
Definition: A line of rulers who come from the same family. Also, the period of time that they rule over a nation.
Context: The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia for 300 years.

speaker    heir
Definition: The child of a king or queen destined to become the reining monarch after the death of the ruling king or queen. Also, the child who receives the inheritance after the death of the parent.
Context: The Romanov family had four female children, but they needed a male to be the heir to the Russian throne.

speaker    interloper
Definition: A person who meddles in the affairs of others, usually for selfish reasons.
Context: The Russian people came to perceive the czarina as an interloper, a German spy, and the source of the country's misfortunes.

speaker    propaganda
Definition: Any public information designed to convince or persuade someone to do, believe, or buy something.
Context: The Russian people believed the propaganda about the Russo-Japanese war, which promised swift victory.

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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: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands major global trends from 1750 to 1914.
Understands the importance of ideas associated with republicanism, liberalism, socialism, and constitutionalism on 19th-century political life in such states as Great Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Russia, Mexico, Argentina, the Ottoman Empire, China, or Japan (e.g., how these movements were tied to new- or old-class interests).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands patterns of global change in the era of western military and economic dominance from 1800 to 1914.
Understands the advantages and disadvantages of imperialism (e.g., the chief benefits and costs of introducing new political institutions and advances in communication, technology, and medicine to countries under European imperialist rule; how medical advances, steam power, and military technology were used in European imperialism).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands reform, revolution, and social change in the world economy of the early 20th century.
Understands the diverse events that led to and resulted from the Russian Revolution of 1905 (e.g., the Russo-Japanese War, Bloody Sunday, the October Manifesto, and groups agitating for political reform and those supporting radical changes).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands the causes and global consequences of World War I.
Understands the extent to which different sources supported the war effort (e.g., how nationalism and propaganda helped mobilize civilian populations to support "total war" ways in which colonial peoples contributed to the war effort of the Allies and the Central Powers by providing military forces and supplies, and what this effort might have meant to colonial subjects; the effectiveness of propaganda to gain support from neutral nations; how and why original support and enthusiasm to support the war deteriorated).

Benchmark: Understands Lenin's ideology and policies and their impact on Russia after the Revolution of 1917 (e.g., Lenin's political ideology and how the Bolsheviks adapted Marxist ideas to conditions particular to Russia; why Lenin declined to follow Marxist economic philosophy; the platforms and promises of Kerensky and Lenin in 1917, the impact of war upon Kerensky's program, and the importance of Lenin's promise, "land, bread, peace").

Benchmark: Understands the impact of the Russian Revolution on other countries (e.g., the challenge that revolutionary Russia posed to western governments; the impact of the Bolshevik victory on world labor movements; how the Red Russians, White Russians, British, French, and Japanese viewed the Russian Revolution).

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George Cassutto, social studies teacher, North Hagerstown High School, Hagerstown, Maryland.

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