Skip to main content

Lesson Plan Twentieth Century Entertainment: When Work is Done

An analysis of leisure time activity in the early 20th century.

After completing the introductory lesson using photographs as primary sources, students compile their own albums based on a thesis statement about life in the 20th century.


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • analyze documents, records, and data (such as artifacts, diaries, letters, photographs, journals, newspapers, historical accounts, etc.);
  • formulate historical questions and defend findings based on inquiry and interpretations;
  • develop perspectives of time and place, including the construction of various time lines of events, periods, and personalities in American history; and
  • communicate findings orally, in brief analytical essays, and in a comprehensive paper.

Lesson Preparation



Lesson Procedure

Step 1. Introduction

Distribute or display a photograph selected from Photograph Investigation to all students and analyze as a whole class activity. Before the activity begins, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

  • Ask students in groups to brainstorm about what they see in the photograph.
  • Ask each group to analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool.
  • Now ask what kinds of further research they would have to do to answer these questions.
  • Review questions and photograph for possible thesis ideas.

Step 2: Photograph Investigation

  1. Divide students into pairs. Discuss Photograph Investigation with each group.
  2. Tell the groups that the set of photographs labeled "Card Playing" was found in a museum drawer. We do not know why it was put together. The students' task is to:
    • find a connection among the pictures; and
    • write the description that would go with this set of pictures if it were put on display in a museum.
  3. The description should be in the form of a thesis statement.
  4. To accomplish this task, students should answer the questions from the Photograph Investigation page.
  5. When the groups have finished looking at the set of pictures, tell them to look for patterns in their answers and analysis. Using these patterns, ask them to write a thesis about "Card Playing in The United States," along with the observations they made that support the thesis. Then groups should list questions that may have come from their examination of the photos.
  6. Each group will present its findings and thesis for class discussion. Call attention to similarities and differences that students have discovered.
  7. Ask them what further research would be needed to prove this thesis.

Photograph Investigation

This set of pictures was found in a museum filing cabinet. It was to be part of an exhibit titled "When Work Is Done," about leisure time activities in the 20th Century. The explanatory data for the album was missing.

Join our museum staff and help us fill in the missing information.

As a member of the museum staff you will be expected to examine the set of pictures and decide what patterns are present in the pictures.

  • Why did the curator select these pictures?
  • Why would someone have photographed this scene?
  • What do the photographs have in common?
  • How are they different?
  • Record your observations. Possible questions to consider include:
  1. As you go through the album, pretend that you are a curator of a museum trying to discern answers to the following questions about each picture.
    • What is happening?
    • Who is present?
    • Who is not present?
    • Where is the action taking place? (region of the country, physical location)
    • Why was the picture included in this set?
    • What point is the curator trying to make?
  2. Once you have the answers to these questions, try to find a pattern. What do these pictures tell us about leisure time in the 20th Century in general? What do they tell us about card playing?
  3. Write the description that would be with the display of this item when exhibited in the museum. (Be sure it is in the form of a thesis.)
  4. Compare your description with your classmates'.

Step 3: Creating a Photo Set

  1. Create groups of five students
  2. Discuss album assignment.
    Individuals from 1900-1950 began to find that they had time for activities other than work. Various factors, such as gender, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, age and region of the country affected what these activities were. Create an album of leisure time activities that makes a statement about this time period and at least one of these factors. Possible guidelines might include:
    • Each group must think of a thesis for a set of images that will be included in the exhibit 20th Century Leisure Time Activities. The set may explore a single activity over the entire time period (such as card playing), a single group of people over the entire time period (such as women or people in the Midwest), or leisure time in general in a specific decade or two (such as leisure time activities of the twenties).
    • The set should consist of at least 20 images or memorabilia facsimiles (ex. posters, music scores, tickets). These images must be appropriate to the time period and support the thesis.
    • Each item must have a short description that shows its relation to the thesis. The descriptions can take the form of historical fiction, as long as the history is correct. For example: women in the twenties had more freedom to participate in sports than in earlier times.[thesis] This is a collection of my great grandmother in the 1920s. Here is a picture of granny at age 7 in 1910 watching her brothers play basketball. Here is a picture of granny age 17 as a member of the girls’ intramural basketball team at Michigan High. (Pictures are not of your granny but are historically accurate.)
    • The thesis should be on the front page. Include a sheet that lists the members of the group and a group bibliography.
    • This will count as a group grade.
  3. Each group is responsible for creating one album in the museum’s collection on Leisure Time Activities in the 20th Century
  4. Each group is to research leisure activities during the 20th Century, prepare an album, and write a rationale for the album. Pictures may come from the Library of Congress online collections, or other resources.
  5. Each group must decide on a theme or thesis.
  6. Each group should discuss what pieces of evidence they will need to illustrate their ideas.
  7. Finished albums will receive a group grade.


  • Teachers may extend the activity by changing the time period or topic.
  • Albums could be done as web pages.
  • Album thesis could become the basis for a traditional research paper.
  • Once albums are completed, groups could give an oral report that brings their album to life.

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluate student participation in class activities and the albums produced according to criteria specified or generated in conjunction with the class.


Charlotte Bruce & Helen Stephan

 Back to top