A “New Society” Project

By Gretchen Davis, January 30, 2010

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

180 minutes for classroom activities and 60 to 90 minutes for homework


In the 8th grade, students will learn how American society changed rapidly between 1904 and WWI.  This time in history is called the Progressive Era. Students will learn such topics as: Eugenics and its effect on society; immigration and the “new” America; workers’ rights movements; child labor; education reform; women and work; marriage laws; gun politics and other progressive topics.

After several history lessons on the topics mentioned above, students will be faced with a challenge (the focus of this lesson): Design a new society while addressing many of the issues that America had to address in the early 1900s.

This lesson focuses not on the history instruction, but on the design process. Therefore this design-based lesson could be adapted to any time in history and any grade level from 6th through 12th.

National Standards


Standard 17. Level III. Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity

2. Understands the scientific theories of race and their application to society and politics

Standard 20. Level III. Understands how Progressives and others addressed problems of industrial capitalism, urbanization, and political corruption 1. Understands the spread of Progressive ideas and the successes of the Progressive movement (e.g., how intellectuals, religious leaders, and writers alerted the public to the problems of urban industrial society; Progressive social reforms in education, conservation, and the "Americanization" of immigrants)  

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards Writing 

Grade 6-8

Text Types and Purposes:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.A Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.B Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.C Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.D Establish and maintain a formal style.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.E Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.A Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.B Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.C Use appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.D Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.E Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2.F Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.3 (See note; not applicable as a separate requirement)

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Reading Informational Text

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-7.9 Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

English Language Arts Standards: History/Social Studies

Grade 6-8

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-yt54LITERACY.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.3 Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
Craft and Structure:
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.5 Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.10 By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.


Students will:

  • understand the major social and political movements of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
  • understand how writers alerted the public to the problems of urban industrial society
  • learn about Progressive social reforms in education
  • understand the wave of immigration after 1870 and how it changed America
  • understand the scientific theories of race (Eugenics) and how it affected racism in America
  • make decisions on the creation of a new society based on their knowledge of the social/political mistakes and triumphs of the Progressive Era


The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

“China Says Abusive Child Labor Ring Is Exposed”, David Barboza, New York Times, May 1, 2008



“Inquiry Finds Under-Age Workers at Meat Plant,” Julia Preston, New York Times, August 5, 2008


  • Society Project Organizer
  • Society Project Planning Sheet
  • Miscegenation handout


  • manifesto: a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer
  • miscegenation: the mixing of different racial groups for marriage, cohabitating or sexual relations
  • Progressive Era: a time of social, political, moral and economic reform in America from the late 1800s to WWI
  • resolution: a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent voted by an official body or assembled group
  • utopia: a perfect society; an impractical scheme for social improvement


The Design Process:

1. Review the challenge: After a series of history lessons on the issues listed above and the Progressive Era, students will be told that their table group will now form their own society. They must develop their own laws (manifesto) on the issues we’ve been studying, a name for their society, a flag, and ultimately a kind of advertisement highlighting the benefits of their society and intending to attract others to move there. They also must complete a diagram or a model of what their society/town will look like.

2. Students will begin by reviewing their history notes and making a list of all the issues they will need to decide upon and address in their manifesto. (Important note: students will not be allowed to form a “utopia”. They will not be able to magically fix all problems – instead they must debate and rank the issues in terms of importance to their society, and all solutions must be historically plausible.)

3. Groups are given the Society Project Planning Sheet while we go over the steps of the assignment.

(Note: The first part of the design process will mostly be focused on the issues leading to their manifesto, i.e. application of historical content.)

4. Investigate: After receiving their assignment, students will be gu ided through a deeper discovery process in order to gather information on their top four selected issues. Resources will include classroom texts, textbooks, articles and Web sites. Teacher will model in the beginning and will provide a worksheet (Society Project Organizer) to help students find what would be most important in understanding the issue as a whole.

5. With the new focus of forming their own societies, students will ask themselves a series of questions (ex: What do we do about immigration? What do we do about child labor vs. the cost of skilled laborers? Etc.).

6. Frame the Problem: After the allotted time for research, students will hold a discussion with their group around the questions:

Did we correctly identify the top four issues that we would like to address in our society?

  • How has our researched added to our understanding?
  • What do we still need to know?
  • What types of ideals are immerging as representative to our society (ex: peace, freedom of expression, equal rights)?

(Note: At this point, student groups will begin to brainstorm both their solutions to their chosen issues and their representative ideals of their society {name, images, etc.}.)

7. Generate Possible Solutions: Students will brainstorm possible solutions to the challenge by discussing ways they could solve the issues in their society. We refer to these solutions as resolutions. At first, no idea is too crazy, even though one of the design constraints is to keep it historically plausible. (Note: This generation of ideas will begin in class and then be a homework assignment, which will be discussed and shared the next day.) Brainstorm can take the form of a list, a drawing, diagram, or a written narrative. Quantity will be emphasized. Students will also brainstorm names for the society based on the immerging ideals they are trying to establish in their manifesto.

8. Editing and Developing Idea: Teacher will help the students to narrow down their ideas by reminding them of the constraints (no utopian societies, historically plausible). This will be done by using one group’s Society Project as a model and posing questions to troubleshoot and determine its historical plausibility.

9. After interviewing the example group, students will then meet in their own groups and make final decisions on their manifesto. By now they should have finished their research and be ready to move on to designing the name, flag, layout of the town and advertisement. Students will choose two to three different ideas to develop though writing, sketching, diagramming, or modeling.

10. Sharing and Evaluating: Students will be partnered with another group to briefly share their ideas about their flag, name, layout and advertisement. Teacher will model this briefly and provide specific guiding questions for groups to ask each other. The goals are to provide excellent feedback, to be receptive to peer’s comments, and to utilize the best of those comments to improve their work.

11. Finalize: Students make a final decision on their society’s name.

12. Then, they will choose one theme to focus on and develop that idea further. At this point they will decide who among the group will take on the following tasks: sketching the town layout or building the town as a model, writing the manifesto which addresses all the issues and solutions, constructing the flag, and completing the advertisement (this can take on many forms). One of these tasks may have two people working on it.

(Note: The last step should be a few days later so that students have time to work on their presentations and finalize their individual parts of the project.)


13. Articulate: As a final step, students turn in a complete society project with all the components listed above. Societies will present their ideas to the class and the class will help the teacher determine which societies best met the challenge.


1. Presentation Skills

2. Elements of the presentation/project:

  • The name of the society and what it means – did students provide a depth-of-thought explanation of their society’s name?
  • The society’s “manifesto” – did students demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues?
  • A map or model of the society – did students thoroughly and thoughtfully plan out their society design?
  • Discussion and completion of a flag design for the society – does the flag incorporate the society’s basic ideals and interpret them through imagery instead of language?
  • A marketing tool that could be used to attract residents – did students find a creative and effective way to market their society and does that marketing tool advertise the basic ideals of their society?

Enrichment Extension Activities

This lesson plan is designed to trigger higher level thinking in that it asks students to apply historical knowledge to a pretend scenario and decide on difficult legal and political decisions. Since the assignment is open-ended, higher-level students can be given more difficult readings. Teachers could also give higher-level students more difficult issues to study and lower level students less complicated issues to focus on.

Cross-curricular connections include Visual Art and English.
  1. Hi Gretchen–this design challenge is skillfully presented with just the right number of parameters so that students can have an entry point, excellent work! I’d really like to see that ‘Society Project Planning Sheet’ you’ve created also. I long ago got to facilitate a similar design project with 5th graders in a Boston public school classroom, only we worked together for one hour a week over the course of a whole year. The end product included a manifesto for their ideal city, a scale model of the buildings and layout, and an open house where students took character and interacted with guests (similar to a panel, only they were roaming freely in the room) as specific members of the city they had created. I have to say that one of the most valuable processes for the kids were discussions on the days we had surprise ‘breaking news’ alerts and then called an emergency town hall forum. It was the headline “Man breaks through store window during night and steals milk carton and loaf of bread” that finally got the students to articulate whether or not their initial decree of ‘no guns at all–not even for the police’ was too utopian. I learned so much myself from those students’ discussions! Anyway, I see that in your lesson plan you’ve created a pathway for student groups to have agency and hone in on the societal issues that they are most interested in addressing–love it! Thanks for sharing your work!

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