Teaching the Renaissance: World History Lesson Plan and Activities

Photo: The Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata by Renaissance artist Donatello.

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

After the Middle Ages, much of Europe experienced a cultural "rebirth" of sorts from the 14th to 17th centuries. This period was marked by a rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature, and the arts, with some of the greatest thinkers and artists in history—Leonardo da Vinci, René Descartes, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Geoffrey Chaucer, to name just a few—flourishing during this time.

The Renaissance was a period marked by humanism, a cultural movement grounded in human achievement and the belief that humans were at the center of the universe. Therefore, education was highly valued. This led some Europeans to question religious texts such as the Bible and the role of the Roman Catholic Church. It was also during the Renaissance that the printing press came into existence alongside new scientific and mathematical ideas that continue to hold significance today.  

Many people remember the Renaissance for the famous artworks that came out of the era, many of which incorporated elements of realism and aimed to depict people and objects as they would appear in real life through techniques such as perspective, the use of light and dark, and shadows. Artists like Leonardo da Vinci followed scientific principles to replicate the human form with impeccable accuracy.

Renaissance Activities for Middle School and High School

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 Renaissance lesson plan: a passage from The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione (primary source enrichment activity) and a related writing enrichment activity about artist Sofonisba Anguissola.

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Learn more about HMH Social Studies, which presents the rich, endlessly inventive story of our world, challenging students to dig deep into the past.

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