Teaching World History: Enlightenment and American Revolution Lesson Plans

Photo: Galileo Galilei, an Enlightenment astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher.

This post is part of a Shaped blog monthly series providing teachers for Grades 6–12 with downloadable world history classroom resources and discussion topics.

The Enlightenment, known as the Age of Reason, was a European intellectual movement during the 17th and 18th centuries that emphasized the powerful influence of human reason, science, and rational change. The philosophies that arose from this era even played a role in the start of the American Revolution and, subsequently, the 13 colonies' independence from Great Britain.

Defined by scientific, political, and religious innovations, the Enlightenment led to significant discoveries by well-known historical figures. Among them were Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus with their groundbreaking scientific findings, and John Locke and Thomas Hobbes with their unique ideas about government that led to long-lasting change.

To help students put this in context, have them look at the timeline below (with a supplemental enrichment activity available for download as a PDF). Then, distribute the accompanying resources as part of your Enlightenment and American Revolution lesson plan: a passage from Two Treatises of Government by John Locke (primary source enrichment activity) and a related writing enrichment activity about how Enlightenment ideas made their way into American documents.

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