United States History

"I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong."

George Washington (1732 – 1799), 1st president of the United States
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This free ESL lesson plan on American 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.

“We the people…” Perhaps the most important words ever spoken in the history of the world. Following a revolution, independence and a civil war, the United States emerged as the world’s foremost superpower. Significant events from the history of the United States affected not just that country, but the whole world as well. From slavery to the Prohibition era, from World War 2 to the Vietnam War, and from the Moon Landing to 9/11, America has certainly left its mark on history. In this ESL lesson plan on United States history, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on the most significant events in American history.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for American Independence Day, which takes place in July. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

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):

Britannica | 25 Decade-Defining Events in U.S. History

The article looks at the most significant event in each decade of the United States since its independence, including the Battle of Gettysburg, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the Monica Lewinski affair. 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. The questions for the video are styled in a way similar to an exam like the IELTS.

The video for this class is a called “The story behind the Boston Tea Party” by TED Ed which looks at the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party which in turn was one of the catalysts for the American Revolution and eventual independence.


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 slavery in the original colonies, why the American Revolution happened, and why the civil war was fought.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with US history such as Founding Fathers, checks and balances and Civil Rights Movement. 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 American history. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as the events of the Cold War, how 9/11 changed the world, and what America’s future role in the world will be.


After the class, students will write about their opinion of United States 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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