Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Through the Years (Language Arts)

Kristy Rousseau
Bay District Schools


-Through the Years- gives the students an opportunity to write their own autobiographies. It is the first lesson in a three-part series seeking to answer the question, -How do we know about history?-


The student produces final documents that have been edited for-correct spelling-correct use of punctuation, including commas in series, dates, and addresses, and beginning and ending quotation marks-correct paragraph indentation -correct usage of subject/verb agreement, verb and noun forms, and sentence structure and -correct formatting according to instruction.

The student organizes information using alphabetical and numerical systems.

The student creates narratives in which ideas, details, and events are in logical order and are relevant to the story line.

The student understands broad categories of time in years, decades, and centuries.


-The book, THE HUNDRED PENNY BOX by Sharon Bell Mathis (1975, Viking Press)
-Pennies for the years the students have lived
-Pictures or memorabilia of students for each year of life
-5x7 index cards and white paper for timeline construction
-Production materials for personal books (see step #15 for options)
-KWL chart or overhead transparency (Download master from Associated File.)


1. Obtain copy of THE HUNDRED PENNY BOX by Sharon Bell Mathis (1975, Viking Press.) Preview book for possible stopping places if it will be read over a series of days.
2. Obtain pennies for the different years of students' lives.
3. Prepare a note to send home so parents will have time to search out pictures and know that they will not be destroyed.
4. Gather needed materials for book production (see step #15 for options.)
5. If using a multimedia platform to produce the book, become familiar with presentation programs such as PowerPoint and how to use a scanner to import pictures.
6. If Internet access will be required for research, set up computers and check for connectivity. You may also want to bookmark sites that contain information of worldwide events, or search engines that students can use to research each year.


BACKGROUND: This is the first lesson in a three-part series seeking to answer the question: -How do we know about history?- To answer this question, students will actively research personal, county, state, and national history through oral interviews, printed resources, and multimedia information.

1. Ask the students, -How do we know about history?- Chart their responses and lead them, through questioning if necessary, to the fact that history is passed on through spoken and written words.

2. Tell them that during this unit they will be researching their personal as well as county history by gathering information from the spoken and written words passed on to them by others.

3. Read THE HUNDRED PENNY BOX by Sharon Mathis Bell as a model of personal history being passed on by the spoken and written word. Use the book to begin discussing how time is divided into years, decades, and centuries. Ask the students if any of them have reached a -decade- yet. (The teacher may want to divide the reading of this book over several days since it contains 47 pages.)

4. Explain to the students that they will be creating their own -penny box and book- to record their personal histories. Encourage students to start searching for pennies dated each year they have lived. The students will need TWO pennies for each year to create their book and box. (The teacher also needs to begin gathering pennies to help students who may have trouble finding the ones they need.)

5. Use a KWL chart to begin brainstorming with the students what they know about their first year of life. Divide the KWL chart into two rows with three sections each.

6. First Row (My Life): -What I KNOW,- -What I WANT to Know,- -What I LEARNED.- Second Row (My World) -What I KNOW,- -What I WANT to Know,- -What I LEARNED.- Ask them, -What do you know about your first year of life?- Ask them how they know what happened during that year? (Someone told them about it or they read something written, i.e., a baby book.) Ask them what they can do to find out what happened if they don't remember? (Ask someone to tell them, or look for written information.)

7. Explain that over the next few weeks, they need to start asking questions to find out what events occurred during each year of their life. Refer back to Aunt Dew's memories in THE HUNDRED PENNY BOX for ideas.

8. Look back at the KWL chart and ask students if they know what was happening in the world during their first year of life. Use the KWL chart to record their responses. Ask them how they know this information (someone told them or they read it). Ask them what they can do to find out this information (ask someone to tell them or search for written records).

9. As a class, brainstorm resources that can be used to find out what was going on in the world during each year of their life. Possible resources include: (Spoken words: oral histories and interviews with family and friends; Written words: books and magazines highlighting events of each year; printed pamphlets, cards, and posters summarizing historical events and fads of each year; Internet searches; multimedia encyclopedias, CDs, etc.)

10. Encourage students to bring in any materials that relate to each year of their lives. These events will be shared with the class and a list will be made for the students to choose from as they begin creating their own books.

11. Label one 5x7 card for each year covered by the students' lives. Attach a piece of paper to the bottom of the card and keep a list of world events for that year as they are shared. (This timeline will be -under construction- throughout the project and can be used to re-emphasize the time categories of years, and possibly decades, during this first lesson.)

12. After the research has been completed, the students will bring in pictures of themselves for each year they have lived. If they are unable to find a picture, an object or memorabilia may be used as a -memory jogger- for that year.

13. Using the information gathered from spoken and written sources, students will begin writing their autobiographies. Each year of life will be highlighted on a two-page spread. One page will contain sentences about one or more worldwide events that the student chooses to include about that year. The penny for that year will also be included on this page; pennies can be glued. On the second page, the students will glue in their pictures for that year and write about events that occurred in their lives that they have gathered from family stories and records. These events should be written in a narrative form as they -retell- their stories from that year.

14. To ensure high-quality work, and to break up the time needed for research and writing, the teacher may want the students to work on one year at a time. For example, after the class has gathered research of worldwide events for 1992, the students would write in their books about that year. Then, the class would research the next year, and write about it before starting on the third year.

15. Students' books may be created various ways:
a) using white paper for the pages and a stiffer material for the cover,
b) purchasing hardcover, empty books for students to write on,
c) or using multimedia platforms to produce the books electronically and then print personal copies.
Final products will be presented in class to the other students, and copies will be made for the students to take home.
(The first time this project was done, hardcover books were purchased. The students put a lined piece of paper behind the white page to guide their writing, and only wrote one page a day to ensure neatness and quality writing. Now this project is completed using scanners to import pictures into a productivity program such as PowerPoint in which the students can also type about each year.)

16. While the research is going on, and students are bringing in pennies, the second penny for each year will be stored in a 35mm film canister which has been labeled -My Penny Box- so students can also keep a collection for themselves. To reinforce the categories of time, encourage students to start a new penny box after they turn 10 years old. Then, they can collect pennies for the next 10 years, or decade, and start a new penny box at 20. If they continue, not only will they have a penny for each year, but they will also have a visual reminder of the decades, and possible century, they have lived.


Criteria--Each two-page spread, which represents one year of life organized chronologically, must include:
1. A penny for that year

2. A picture, drawing, or memorabilia for that year
· This lesson serves as an introduction, so students' understandings of -broad categories of time in years, decades, and centuries- will be informally assessed as they gather information and objects for each year of life.

For the next three criteria, the level of mastery can be identified as -superior,- -acceptable,- and -needs improvement- based on all elements being present, most elements present, and some elements present, respectively:

3. A written statement about at least one worldwide event selected from the class timeline
· Assess that students have -organized worldwide events using a numerical system- by checking that book pages only contain national and personal events for that year.

4. A narrative account of personal events for that year
· Read pages of personal events to see that students have -created narratives in which ideas, details, and events are in logical order and are relevant to the story line.- Check that events are
a) written in a story format,
b) chronologically correct,
c) relevant to the students' personal history.

5. Written accounts free from spelling and grammatical errors
· Assess if students' final documents have been edited for:
a) correct spelling,
b) correct use of punctuation,
c) correct use of capitalization,
d) correct paragraph indentation,
e) correct formatting according to instructions.


(Due to the emphasis on narrative and edited writing, Language Arts time was used to develop and practice writing process skills.)
1. This project was initially done during a unit on county history and this lesson is the first in a three-part series that seeks to answer the question, -How do we know about history?-
2. Student-completed books may be produced and presented as Mother's Day gifts.
3. As students collect and examine pennies for each year, class discussions can include information about where the pennies were minted (each penny has a letter on it by the year, i.e., -D- stands for -Denver.-) Students can then use a U.S. map to plot the locations of different minting sites. Free videos on minting can also be obtained from the U.S. Government.
4. Local coin collectors can be brought in to share collections and the worth of older coins.
5. Foreign coins may be brought in, and a chart kept of equivalencies and currency exchange rates between countries.

Attached Files

K-W-L Chart for "Through the Years"     File Extension: pdf

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