Keywords: Archeology, local history, forest history, reading the land, Cooper Settlement; Lesson Plan Grade Level: ninth through twelfth grade; Total Time Required for Lesson: two class periods; Setting: local forested historic site (adapted for the Cooper Settlement, Drifting, PA)

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students will explore the methods historians use to reconstruct the past.
  • Students will become familiar with forest succession and how to read the land.
  • Students will explore local history.

Materials Needed

State Standards Addressed: 8.3.9D, 4.8.10C

Teaching Model: Experimental Learning Model (Experience, Share, Process, Generalize, Apply)

Subjects Covered: social studies, local history, archeology, forest biology

Day 1: Experience Phase (30 minutes; additional 15 minutes travel time)

Teacher Preparation

  1. Read over lesson, including handouts.
  2. Handout may be modified for any local historical site.
  3. Visit site and complete entire activity on your own (trouble shoot).

Doing the Activity

Introduction: "Today's lesson is called 'How Do They Know That?'Your objective is to become an archeologist and collect as many clues to the history of this site as possible. It is important to take in as much information as possible. Look for evidence of human artifacts and disruption to the ground. Also, pay close attention to the natural environment. Make note of trees: look for their size, type, and distribution. Be aware of any sudden changes in plant life. What could cause this?"


  1. Give each student a packet with all of the handouts (blank computer paper, tree key, and clue sheet). Review each of the sheet with the students and clearly explain their use. If the site is large, you may divide students up into different groups to cover separate areas.
  2. Allow students to move freely within their area. Travel among the students, check their progress, and answer any questions.
  3. Keep students on task, by making them aware of the limited time on the site.
  4. Conclude experience stage by stating the following: "Today you have been performing the tasks of an archeologist and collecting data on an actual historical site. Tomorrow we will share and process the information you have collected. Be sure to bring your packet to class. You may also wish to look over your packet tonight and make notes of anything that you remember from this experience."

DAY 2: Share Stage

  1. You may wish to restate the lesson introduction from yesterday. Remind students that they are working in the role of an archeologist.
  2. Divide students into groups of two or three.
  3. Have students compare their maps. They may discuss and add any shared information to their map.

Process Stage

  1. Have students discuss in their groups what they think the information they have collected might tell them about the site.
  2. Groups need to write up an explanation of what they have found in their notebooks.
  3. Groups will share their findings with the class.
  4. Have the class decide on one single interpretation of the facts they have collected. Place this finalized version on an overhead.

Apply Stage

  1. Have students suggest other local sites that they could study in the same manner.
  2. Provide students with a brief look at the next section (The Old Stone Age). Explain that while other methods may be used to look at an Old Stone Age site, the same major steps are followed. Have students focus on similarities and differences in studying an ancient site.
  3. Introduce students to some of the methods used to study ancient sites.


  1. Pass out a map of an Old Stone Age site (or a map of a different local site).
  2. Have students comment on what they see and how they read the evidence.
  3. Explain to students that even at an ancient site many of the same principles apply.
  4. Point out that some trees may live to be up to 4,000 years old. What could be learned from such a tree?


"The past two days have been an introduction to world cultures and archeology. You should now have some idea of the methods used to reconstruct ancient cultures and our own past history. I hope you enjoyed this activity, but also keep in mind what you have learned. Throughout the rest of the year try to be aware of how historians know what they know."


Smith, Sanford S. "Forest Forensics" Lesson Plan .

Hansen, Robert S., and James C. Finley (1996). Trees + Me = Forestry . University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.


Scott McCamley, West Branch Area Junior Senior High School