"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana (1863 – 1952), Spanish philosopher
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This free ESL lesson plan on history has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

History is the academic study of past events, as opposed to a story, which is the retelling of events (fictional or real). We study history to understand what led us to the present, and so that we learn not to repeat past mistakes. But history, or a version of history, is also used to instil national pride or to remind people where they came from. One thing is for certain: humans have a very long memory, and things that happened hundreds of years ago have been passed down through the generations and still remain with us today. In this ESL lesson plan on history, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the importance of learning history, who writes history, and how history has an effect on the present.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.


Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

Time | The Civil War Never Stopped Being Fought in America’s Classrooms. Here’s Why That Matters

The article highlights the efforts made by supporters of the Confederate side in the American Civil War to rewrite history. The war was fought over the South’s refusal to accept the end of slavery, yet decades after the war had finished, Confederate organisations embarked on a campaign to ensure school textbooks would teach the war was fought over states’ rights instead. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “Time: The History & Future of Everything” by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell which looks at the entire history of humans and what came before, as well as looking at what the future hold.

Courtesy of kurzgesagt.org


The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including the most significant events from history, what schools don’t teach in history classes, and whether there is one definitive version of history or many naratives.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with history such as the course of history, to live in the past and to go down in history. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about history. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as whether history hides the truth of the past, why people try to rewrite history, and what future historians will write about the current day.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of history. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.


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