Fourth of July Lesson Plans to Spark Interest in History
The Classroom

Fourth of July Lesson Plans to Spark Interest in History

Newsela Editorial
Jun 20, 2024

As your students likely already know, we celebrate Independence Day in the United States on the Fourth of July. This date commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The document severed the country’s ties with Britain and cemented the new nation as its own country.

Use these Fourth of July lesson plans to teach your students about this historic day, either in summer school or during classroom lessons throughout the year:

Share engaging Fourth of July lesson plans for social studies

What makes the Fourth of July such an important holiday in our country? Encourage students to explore social studies content that looks at the significance of this holiday:

Celebrating Independence Day

The Fourth of July is a time for Americans to reflect on our shared national identity. It also explores what freedom and independence mean for our country. Use these resources to help students explore different aspects of the holiday and its history, like:

  • An interactive video that explains what the Declaration of Independence is.

  • An explainer article that looks at why we celebrate Independence Day as a national holiday.

  • An article that explains the chemistry behind fireworks, a Fourth of July tradition.

What led to independence in the United States?

How much do your students know about the historical events and influential people that played a part in our country’s independence? Use a unit lesson to help students get to know these people and situations better, with content like:

Examine American history with ELA Resources for Independence Day

Have students look at what independence meant to writers past and present with a collection of fiction and nonfiction texts on Newsela ELA

Fictional texts that explore American independence

Use these poems, novels, and short stories to introduce students to diverse perspectives of American independence and Fourth of July celebrations:

Poets’ views of America

Poets often find ways to express intricate and abstract ideas and feelings in their writing. Use this as an opportunity to teach students about figurative language and help them understand the definition of independence:

  • Discuss what metaphors are and how poets use them in their writing.

  • Share Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing,” which celebrates the diverse sounds of people at work in America.

  • Explore Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” best known for its engraving on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Novel study: “My Brother Sam Is Dead” by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

During the American Revolution, not all colonists wanted to claim independence from Britain. The novel “My Brother Sam Is Dead” by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier shows that being a Patriot or a Loyalist could even divide families. Use this novel study to build background knowledge on the American Revolution and other key themes like:

  • Listening to the opposing side of an argument, even if you don’t agree with that viewpoint.

  • Why Patriots thought all colonists should fight for independence. And why Loyalists thought it was more practical to remain British citizens.

  • How political views still divide families and households, even today.

Elementary texts on the Fourth of July for grades K-2

Invite early readers to engage with short texts about the Fourth of July! Share poems and stories like:

  • “Let’s Celebrate July 4th!” by Mick Manning

  • “A Parade”: A poem by Deborah Garmon

  • “Parade Day” by Marianne Mitchell

Nonfiction resources for the Fourth of July

Use these nonfiction resources to analyze important documents, primary sources, and current events articles related to Independence Day:

Primary source analysis: What is the Declaration of Independence?

How much do your students know about the document that solidifies our country’s independence? Encourage ninth- and tenth-grade students to learn more about this foundational document by:

  • Watching a video about the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence.

  • Reading the full text of the document and analyzing the beliefs Thomas Jefferson included.

  • Reading an excerpt from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” another text from the same period that addresses concepts like natural rights, equality, and government.

Rhetoric in the Declaration of Independence

Take your Fourth of July lessons even deeper for eleventh- and twelfth-grade students and have them examine the rhetoric in the Declaration of Independence. To help them understand the true meaning of this document, use resources like:

  • An interactive video that explores little-known facts about the Declaration of Independence.

  • The full text of Patrick Henry’s speech “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” to build background knowledge on the significance of gaining independence for the United States in the 1700s.

  • A primary source analysis worksheet to help students track facts about Henry’s speech or the full text of the Declaration of Independence and draw conclusions about their rhetoric.

Speech analysis: Frederick Douglass and the 4th of July

Though the Fourth of July celebrates American independence, not all people in the country became free the day the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Have students explore abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ take on the Fourth of July with the following lesson:

  • Read the full text of Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

  • Use the primary source graphic organizer to record the context of the speech and its impact on history.

  • Ask students to respond to the question: “Did reading this text change how you think about the Fourth of July? Why or why not?”

How is Independence Day different from Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day are all yearly patriotic celebrations. But how are they different? Help students uncover what makes these holidays unique by:

  • Reading about the origins of Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day.

  • Completing a triple Venn Diagram with evidence from the readings to note what the holidays have in common and how they’re different.

  • Using the Venn Diagram to create a short story or poem highlighting the three holidays' similarities and differences.

Practice seasonal STEAM with Fourth of July activities

Turn summer holidays into a STEAM exploration with these fun Independence Day experiments:

Color your own Fourth of July flowers

Help students brighten up the decorations for their picnics with patriotic-colored flowers:

  • Explore plant anatomy to teach students the factors that can affect the color of a flower.

  • Discover the parts of a flowering plant, like the stem and the petals, that soak up and store water and nutrients to keep the plant alive.

  • Share the steps for an experiment that uses colored water to dye white flowers red and blue.

Explore density with patriotic drinks

Teach students the principles of density to help them create fun red-white-and-blue-colored drinks for their Fourth of July barbeques:

  • Explore what density is and the formula to find the density of an object.

  • Discover how density and buoyancy work together to determine if an object will sink or float.

  • Encourage students to use what they learned about density and buoyancy to make a patriotic-colored drink with high-, medium-, and low-sugar liquids and ice cubes.

Explore more historical content with Newsela’s subject products

You can teach about American independence, and other important world and U.S. history topics all year with Newsela’s knowledge and skill-building products. If you’re not a Newsela customer yet, sign up for Newsela Lite and try our premium differentiated content and activities for free.

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