Top of page

Lesson Plan Recreation Yesterday and Today

Students research entertainment and recreation in the early 20th century using the American Memory collections. Students then compare the rural experience for this time period to the national experience and to their own experience. While this lesson is about recreational activities, it is also about being a teenager in the 1920s and 1930s.


Students will be able to:

  • understand the difference between primary and secondary sources;
  • understand and use research methodology, including online primary sources;
  • identify key search terms and use synonyms in searching for other examples of recreation and entertainment in addition to those viewed in class; and
  • express ideas in writing.

Time Required

Three to five classes

Lesson Preparation


Lesson Procedure

Day One

Read definitions of primary and secondary sources in Using Primary Sources and discuss with students as necessary.

Optional: Introduce students to the strengths and limitations of the historical record.

  1. Assign students to work individually or in small groups. Alert students that they will share their activity responses with the class.
  2. Ask students to think about all the activities they were involved in during the past 24 hours, and list as many of these activities as they can remember.
  3. Have students write down what evidence, if any, each activity might have left behind.
  4. Direct students to review their lists, and then answer these questions:
    • Which of the daily activities were most likely to leave trace evidence behind?
    • What, if any, of that evidence might be preserved for the future? Why?
    • What might be left out of a historical record of these activities? Why?
    • What would a future historian be able to tell about your life and your society based on evidence of your daily activities that might be preserved for the future?
  5. Now think about a more public event currently happening (a court case, election, public controversy, law being debated), and answer these questions:
    • What kinds of evidence might this event leave behind?
    • Who records information about this event?
    • For what purpose are different records of this event made?
  6. Based on this activity, students will write one sentence that describes how the historical record can be huge and limited at the same time. As time allows, discuss as the strengths and limitations of the historical record.

Day Two

Students will view the Entertainment and Recreation Galleries and select or be assigned primary sources for further analysis. Students analyze the primary sources to learn more about recreation in the early 20th century. recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus and prompt analysis.

Day Three

Students will form groups of two or three, and use the resources to find two photos to illustrate an example of the same types of recreation that they studied.

These photos will be reproduced and each group will present the photos and their analysis to the class. The photos may then be posted on the classroom bulletin boards to be viewed by the rest of the class.

Day Four

Following the presentations, the class will discuss similarities and differences in the conclusions reached by each of the groups about entertainment and recreation during the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with these questions:

  1. What similarities in activities from one section of the country to another did you notice as you looked at the pictures? What differences?
  2. What differences do you see between rural entertainment and urban entertainment?
  3. What differences do you see between your recreational activities and those you studied? Is this a matter of generation or is there a different factor such as rural/urban or region?


  1. Students conduct oral histories with local people in order to test their conclusion about recreation and entertainment in their community.
  2. Use population density maps or settlement maps to hypothesize about a connection between distance and entertainment. Changes in transportation technology could also be brought into this discussion.

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluate completed homework according to your standard. Develop guidelines for evaluating the bulletin board displays and essays with your class as appropriate.


Dawn Jaeger & Marla Johnson