Blast from the Past

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 23, 2006

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Design History

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One fifty-minute class period, one homework assignment


Throughout history people have designed objects that have changed and enhanced the quality of people's lives. These objects help us to both survive and enjoy life. In this activity, students will analyze historic artifacts to help gain an understanding of how the past has impacted their lives.

National Standards

Historical Understanding. Standard 1. Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns Standard 2. Level III. Understands the historical perspective 1. Understands that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history
Language Arts
Standard 1. Level III. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 5. Uses content, style, and structure (e.g., formal or informal language, genre, organization) appropriate for specific audiences (e.g., public, private) and purposes (e.g., to entertain, to influence, to inform) 6. Writes expository compositions (e.g., states a thesis or purpose; presents information that reflects knowledge about the topic of the report; organizes and presents information in a logical manner, including an introduction and conclusion; uses own words to develop ideas; uses common expository structures and features, such as compare-contrast or problem-solution) Standard 2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards Writing

Grade 6-8

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.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.

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.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 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.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.8 Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.

English Language Arts Standards: History/Social Studies

Grade 6-8

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.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.

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 do the following:
  • explain how "design" can be both a noun and a verb
  • analyze artifacts to gain an understanding of the past
  • examine how the past impacts our daily lives


  • Smithsonian Press Website-Legacies


  • copies of the website artifacts


Building Background Design a Noun and a Verb

The purpose of this activity is to provide an opportunity for students to understand that design is both a noun and a verb. 1. It's been said that "design" is both a noun and a verb, the noun being the final plan or the object produced and the verb being the process of originating and developing a plan for the new object. Discuss this concept with your class. Ask them to give examples of the word "design" being used as a noun and then as a verb.

Steps for Learning Survival and Enjoyment

In this activity, students will analyze historic artifacts to gain an understanding of how historic objects were designed according to the needs and wishes of a given era. 1. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of the images listed below.   Designs to Help People Survive: Designs for Enjoyment: 2. Ask students to look at each object and label it either as an object that was designed to help people to survive or as an object that was created for people's enjoyment. 3. Tell students to discuss the following questions as they view each photograph:
  • How might this object have helped people survive?
  • What problem did it help solve?
  • How might this object have increased people's enjoyment?
4. Have groups share their answers with the entire class. 5. Homework Assignment: Ask students to imagine that one of the items they just looked at that helps people survive had never been created. Tell students to write about the impact this would have had on people's lives today.


Answer the following questions:Why do you think certain people are driven to create objects that help people survive?Do you think it's important to produce items that people can enjoy? Explain.If you could design an object that would help people survive, what would you create? Explain.

Enrichment Extension Activities

1. Involve students in a class discussion about famous people whose lives are worth remembering, and the ways in which progress is an integral part of our nation's identity. Send students to the "A Shrine to the Famous" section of the Smithsonian Legacies website. Have students view the artifacts and choose what they think is the most interesting artifact from each collection. Ask students to write a brief paragraph explaining their reason for choosing the artifact.3. Tell students to create their own historical hall of fame by selecting an artifact from a person who is alive today. Ask students to write a brief explanation of how this person exemplifies an American value and ideal.

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