Connecting Past and Present: A Local Research Project

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Nine 50-minute sessions
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When students make real-world connections between themselves and their community, they can participate in authentic communication activities based on issues that matter to them personally. In this activity, students research a decade in their school's history, with small groups researching specific topics. Within each group, students take on specific roles, such as archivist, manager, techie, or researcher. Students become active archivists, gathering photos, artifacts, interviews, and stories for a museum exhibit that highlights one decade in their school's history. The final project can be shared and displayed in your classroom, in the school auditorium or in the library.

This lesson plan was developed as part of a collaborative professional writing initiative sponsored by the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project (KMWP) at Kennesaw State University.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In Writing Our Communities: Local Learning and Public Culture, educators find these poignant questions:

How can students create rather than regurgitate knowledge that matters to them? How can they interact meaningfully with the community around them? How can the classroom become a real community, not a contrived one in which teacher and student are performing for each other? (xi).

These questions inspire this research unit, which works to instill excitement and interest among students who dread the annual research paper. Additionally, such authentic research projects greatly reduce the possibility of plagiarism and bought papers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this activity creates a classroom community of learners, based on the belief that "students need to engage in multiple communities that surround them and also that those communities benefit from the energy and enthusiasm that students bring to active citizenship, where citizenship means recovering, critiquing, and actively engaging the world around them" (Winter & Robbins, xi). After completing this research project, students will realize the broader connections they have with their school and community.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology




  • Gather enough supplies for each student, including file folders, colored paper, poster board, tri-fold displays, markers, paint, paint brushes, lettering, scissors, cardboard, glue, and tape.

  • Prepare a copy of the Museum Exhibit Planner for each student.

  • Prepare a copy of the Museum Exhibit Project Checkpoints sheet by writing in due dates for each step. Then reproduce a copy of this sheet for each student in the class.

  • Refer to the Museum Exhibit Teacher Tips sheet for suggestions on facilitating a successful project.

  • Identify local resources, such as historical societies, a local college or university, the school library, old yearbooks, parent-teacher-student organization, local clubs (i.e., Optimists, Rotary, Civitan, etc.), local citizens/historians, and family members. Become familiar with the availability of resources about different decades in your school’s history. The class will select a decade for their research and should be encouraged to select a decade for which a wide variety of resources are available.

  • Gain access to and familiarize yourself with technology needed for this project, including digital cameras, a scanner, and research databases.

  • Test the ReadWriteThink Printing Press and Notetaker interactives on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the Technical Support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • discover connections between the community and themselves.

  • conduct research using yearbooks, newsletters, club scrapbooks, school newspapers, etc.

  • interview community members.

  • identify applicable artifacts.

  • organize collected artifacts.

  • create museum displays.

Session One

  1. Have students respond to the following journal prompt: Going back in time, think about how many decades have passed here in our school, our community, our town, and our county. Pick one decade from the past 150 years (adjust this number to reflect how long the school has been in existence), and write what you would expect to find (people, cultures, buildings, etc.) at that time in history. Place yourself in that decade.

  2. Allow enough time for students to respond, and then lead the class in a general discussion, allowing them to share their journal entries. Ask questions such as the following:

    • Which decade did you write about?

    • How did you describe the people, culture, and places during that time period?

    • How did your response differ from those of classmates who wrote about the same decade?

    • How was your response similar to those of classmates who wrote about the same decade?

    • Why do you think there are differences among your classmates’ knowledge and perceptions of the same time period?
  3. Introduce the research project to students and explain that they will research one decade in their school’s history by gathering photos, stories, and other artifacts. As a final project, they will create a museum exhibit.

  4. Distribute the Museum Exhibit Project Checkpoints Sheet to students. Explain that the sheet outlines the due dates for each step of the project.

  5. Ask students to keep track of their progress by recording the dates they finish each step on the Checkpoints Sheet.

  6. Explain that after completing each step, groups will meet in with the teacher to mini-conference about their progress and review their next step.

  7. As a class, begin discussing which decade the class will research. Even though students should have ownership of this decision,you may need to guide them toward time periods based on your knowledge of the information available for the chosen decade (e.g., the school might have been in existence for 150 years, but that does not mean that one could find enough resources for the first decade as compared to the resources that are available for the 1960s.)

  8. On chart paper, outline the steps students will take to complete the project:

    1. Select a decade to research.

    2. In groups, choose a specific topic to research, such as sports, extracurricular activities, school alumni, etc.

    3. Conduct research using the Internet, archived newsletters, yearbooks, school newspapers, and community resources.

    4. Interview members of the community and school.

    5. Identify artifacts that apply to the selected decade and specific topics chosen by each group.

    6. Organize collected artifacts.

    7. Create a fun and interesting museum display by bringing the findings together.

  9. For homework, have students consider which decade they would like to research. Ask students to write their top two choices in their journals, and briefly explain why they think each would be a good choice for a museum display.

Session Two

  1. Have students share their top two choices for the project. Tally responses on the board or on a sheet of chart paper. If there is no clear favorite, students can debate their choices. This would also be a good time to offer your input regarding available resources for specific decades.

  2. Have the class come together to brainstorm a list of topics that should be researched and included in the class exhibit. Possible topics include sports, extracurricular activities, school alumni, a world or national event that impacted the school community, etc.

  3. Once students select a decade, arrange the class into groups of at least five, categorized by interests (i.e., administration, teachers, sports, clubs, and so forth).

  4. Pass out the Research Group Roles handout, and discuss the group roles:

    • MANAGER—keeps group members on task; communicates with teacher; provides leadership.

    • REPORTER—keeps all of the group’s records; manages paper; tracks “who’s doing what.”

    • TECHIE—manages the group’s technology needs (e.g., computers, digital cameras, scanners, and other technology); knows how to use the technology or is willing and able to learn new technology as needed for this project.

    • ARCHIVISTS (2)—organizes found stories, photos, and artifacts.

    • RESEARCHERS—all group members participate in the research process, actively researching their topic throughout the time spent on the project.
  5. Have students decide on role assignments within their groups and begin sharing preliminary ideas about the research task.

  6. After roles are decided, each group should confirm their topic of interest for the research project.

  7. Once roles and topics have been decided, each group should begin planning. Have students refer to the Museum Exhibit Planner handout and discuss the following as the groups’ reporters take notes:

    • What group members already know about their topic

    • What specific information the group wants to learn about the topic

    • Five questions the group has about the topic

    • The group’s plan for collecting information and artifacts

    • A list of preliminary Internet and community research resources. (The teacher should circulate with suggestions, since students may not be familiar with what is available.) Possible community resources include newspaper archives, historical societies, museums, the public library, a college or university history department, etc.

    • A plan for collecting, organizing, and displaying artifacts

    • What work can be done in class and what work will need to be done outside of class
  8. Group recorders should provide the teacher with a copy of this sheet for review.

  9. At this stage, make sure groups have a clear and effective plan for beginning their research. Assist groups as needed and then return the sheets to group recorders for their records.

Session Three

  1. Have students visit the Smithsonian’s The Promise of Freedom online exhibit to get ideas for types of artifacts they could include in their museum exhibit.

  2. Allow time for students to become familiar with the ReadWriteThink Notetaker tool and explain that they will use the tool to take notes about their research as they work.

  3. As a class, discuss the process of conducting research within the community. Have students brainstorm a list of community research guidelines before they visit libraries and museums or make contact with individuals at universities or historical societies. The list should include the following points:

    • Call or e-mail contacts; don’t just show up without an appointment if you wish to meet with a specific individual.

    • Remember you’re representing your school as you’re conducting community research for this project. Use appropriate behavior guidelines.

    • After meeting with an individual for an interview or receiving assistance from someone in the community, be sure to send a thank you note.

    • Don’t take photographs or recordings unless it is expressly permitted. If you’re not sure—ask!

    • Do be prompt and courteous when meeting with individuals in the community.
  4. Review each group’s list of possible community and Internet resources and address any concerns you have before they begin that portion of their research.

Session Four

  1. Before students prepare to conduct interviews, you may wish to teach a minilesson on interviewing techniques. Share the Tips for Interviews handout with the class.

  2. Have pairs of students role-play interview scenarios in front of the whole class or within their groups. Using the Tips for Interviews sheet, have audience members orally critique each mock interview.

  3. For homework, students can begin their independent research activities. During out of class time, students can:

    • Conduct community interviews

    • Interview alumni

    • Conduct research at community historical societies, museums, newspaper archives, libraries, etc.
  4. Have students discuss any additional community resources they identify with you in advance.

Session Five

  1. Review students’ homework by completing the Museum Exhibit Project Checkpoints sheet and discussing your comments with each group.

  2. Suggest any necessary changes to students’ research and offer additional guidance as needed.

  3. Next, have students begin their Web research. Encourage students to visit Internet sources they have already identified, but to expand their research to additional Websites as needed.

  4. Remind students that they will have additional opportunities to conduct Internet research in future sessions.

Sessions Six to Eight

  1. Allow three to four sessions for students to complete their research and assemble their exhibits. During this time, students should have access to computers as they conduct Internet research and record their findings using the ReadWriteThink Notetaker tool. Note that students will need to print their notes each time they use the Notetaker tool, as the tool will not save students’ work. Each group’s techie should also have access to necessary technology (a scanner, digital camera, etc.).

  2. Be sure to review students’ work at each of the checkpoint due dates you previously recorded on the Project Checkpoints handout. It is especially important to review students’ research at several checkpoints during the project, in order to keep students accountable and identify poor/inadequate research during the process. Each group should also check in as they finish their research so that you can guide them in locating additional sources of information if necessary.

  3. Before students begin organizing and displaying their artifacts, have the class brainstorm a list of options to consider. Some examples could include:

    • Digital photographs of relevant location in the school or on school grounds

    • Scans of archival photographs or documents

    • Printouts from Internet resources

    • Primary source documents including maps, posters, postcards, yearbooks, and photographs

    • Objects including trophies, scrapbooks, or memorabilia

    • Audio recordings of interviews or music
  4. Explain that exhibits do not need to contain all of these artifacts, but there should be a mix that visitors will find fun and interesting to view. A combination of sights and sounds will keep exhibit-viewers interested and engaged.

  5. Remind students that while the group archivist will set up the final exhibit, all group members are responsible for the display and should be involved in the design process. Students may want to browse the school museum exhibits Websites included in the Resources section for ideas for their own exhibits.

  6. Be sure to check in with each group before they begin assembling and organizing their artifacts. Provide feedback using the Museum Exhibit Project Checkpoints sheet.

  7. During these sessions, provide students with additional assistance as needed by referring to the suggestions on the Museum Exhibit Teacher Tips sheet.

  8. During this process, group managers should refer to the Museum Exhibit Planner to ensure that their groups are taking their original ideas into account as the project progresses.

Session Nine

  1. After all research is completed and artifacts are created, the group archivists should be responsible for organizing the exhibit in the location you have selected (auditorium, library, classroom, etc.). Have the archivists from all groups come together in order to create a coherent display of artifacts from all the topics researched during this project.

  2. When the exhibit is complete, students can create flyers to pass out to other classes in your building using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press interactive. If possible, have students bring a copy home to share with parents and include a copy of the flier in your school newspaper or newsletter.


  • Have students conduct similar research on and expand their focus to their local community, or shift focus to an organization in the community such as the public library.

  • Create a digital museum to post on your school’s Website. Have group techies organize a photo shoot to create digital pictures of all artifacts in the exhibit. If possible, invite tech-savvy students to participate in the creation of the Web page.

  • You may wish to try a related ReadWriteThink lesson titled The Year I Was Born: An Autobiographical Research Project. In this lesson, students research what was going on internationally, nationally, locally, in sports, music, arts, commercial, TV, and publishing during the year that they were born.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Have students reflect on their participation during this project by completing the Connecting Past and Present Student Reflection sheet. Students should reflect on their group participation, their group role, the content of their completed exhibit, and the creativity of their exhibit.

  • For a more formal assessment of this project, use the Connecting Past and Present Rubric to evaluate students’ group role and participation, as well as the content and creativity of their completed exhibits.



K-12 Teacher
I'm taking on this project for the second year in a row, and I'm so thrilled with it :) My students are engaged, curious, and ready for the challenge. Thank you!
K-12 Teacher
I'm taking on this project for the second year in a row, and I'm so thrilled with it :) My students are engaged, curious, and ready for the challenge. Thank you!
K-12 Teacher
I'm taking on this project for the second year in a row, and I'm so thrilled with it :) My students are engaged, curious, and ready for the challenge. Thank you!

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