Teaching World History: A Protestant Reformation Lesson Plan

Image: Martin Luther, who wrote the "95 Theses" at the start of the Protestant Reformation.

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

During the 16th century, Catholic Europe experienced a religious, political, and cultural revolution of sorts where papal authority and the role of the Roman Catholic Church were called into question. 

One of the best known figures of this time period was Martin Luther, who published the “95 Theses” in 1517. In this document, Luther accused the Catholic Church of acting corruptly by selling people “indulgences” as forgiveness of their sins. At the core of the “95 Theses” were the beliefs that the Bible was the primary religious authority and that humans could only reach salvation based on their faith. 

The spread of Luther’s ideas across Europe—particularly through the newly developed printing press—contributed to the rise of Protestantism as a new major branch of Christianity, therefore dividing western Europeans based on religion. Other key figures—such as John Calvin, who also challenged existing laws in the Christian community—similarly had a significant impact on religious thought. 

Protestant Reformation Activities for Middle School and High School

The Reformation led to profound political changes as well as years of conflict across Europe. At the same time, there became a greater value of literacy and education, in part due to the printing press. To teach students about this time period, have them look at the Protestant Reformation lesson below, including a timeline with a supplemental enrichment activity available for download. Then, distribute the accompanying resources: a selection from the "95 Theses" (primary source enrichment activity) and a related writing enrichment activity.

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