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Untold History: Artifacts and Writing about a Personal Artifact


Activity Website:

Activity Description

Untold Screenshot
Source: Untold History (License: Protected by Copyright (c) [i.e. screenshot])
In this lesson plan, students learn what an artifact is, learn about a national artifact, read about the place of artifacts in history and their importance, and then write about an important personal artifact.
This assignment is inspired by the Global Oneness Student Photography Contest - Artifacts in our Lives, online at


  1. Check the website to ensure it is not blocked at your site.
  2. Read through the lesson plan.
  3. Print and make copies of any handouts.


Preview the lesson and decide which parts to use or not, depending on your course student learning outcomes.

Teacher Tips

Models can be useful for students to understand assignment expectations. Compose your own sample writing about an important artifact to show students. You can also show some of the examples at See terms of use at 

More Ways

The Untold History website has educational videos on a wide range of topics in categories that include U.S. History, America Explained, Hidden Histories, Women and the American Story, Slavery, the Wild West, Democracy, Art that Change America, Famous Speeches, Girlhood, and more.

You may choose to use a different video, other than the Betsy Ross flag video. View other American artifact videos on the site at 

Program Areas

  • ABE: Adult Basic Education
  • ESL: English as a Second Language


  • Intermediate
  • High
  • Intermediate High
  • Advanced

Lesson Plan


Begin by showing a couple of personal artifiacts - realia or photos.

Elicit from students and clarify as necessary the similarities and differences between these terms:

  • souvenir
  • hand-me-down
  • artifact
  • heirloom
  • inheritance
  • relic
  • antique
  • memento
  • keepsake

Then return to the personal artifacts you have showed to students and tell anecdotes about them to have students decide which type of artifact each is (a souvenir? a hand-me-down?).


Tell students that they are going to learn about artifacts and then describe an important artifact in their own lives.


Ask students if they can think of anything in U.S. History that may be considered an artifact. List their ideas or in pairs or small groups have students list ideas. They can document their ideas on a Shared Google Doc. Some ideas may be the U.S. flag, the Statue of Liberty, the Declaration of Independence, Plymouth Rock, the first TV, the first telephone, the telegraph, the Wright brothers' airplane, etc. Show online images for any that students are not familiar with. Ask students why these artifacts are important.

Engagement Enhancement

1. Listening/Video:

Ask students if they know anything about the United States flag. You can prompt them by asking about the stars and stripes and their meanings and if there were predecessors to the current flag.

Tell students that they are going to learn more about this American artifact by watching a video and answering questions. Tell students that there was a predecssor to the current flag and ask them if they know who created it and what it looked like.

Show an image of the Betsy Ross flag and ask students to say anything else they know, what they notice, and what they predict (if they don't know) about its history.

Ross Betsy
Source: Wikimedia Commons by Edward Percy Moran (License: CC0/Public Domain)

Tell students: In 1777, The Betsy Ross Flag was adopted by the thirteen colonies fighting for freedom as the United States’ first official flag. But not everyone in America was free.

Tell students that they will watch a video to learn more. The video is titled "Betsy Ross Flag: The Flag that Divided America." Ask students why they think the flag may have been divisive or controversial.

Distribute the handout "Betsy Ross Flag Video" with the questions about the video or use EdPuzzle or other online video quizzing site, as desired, for students to answer questions about the video.

The video is captioned and is available on the Untold History website at and on YouTube at Have students watch the video, answer the questions, and compare with classmates before checking as a whole group. 

1. What was the purpose of the Revolutionary War in North America?
2. Who commissioned Betsy Ross to create the flag?
3. What are the colors and symbols on the Betsy Ross flag?
4. When was the Betsy Ross flag adopted as the United States' first official flag?
5. Why is the Betsy Ross flag controversial today?
6. Who embraces the Betsy Ross flag as a symbol of patriotism?
7. Who rejects the Betsy Ross flag and why?
8. What happened when Nike launched sneakers featuring the Betsy Ross flag in 2019?
9. Should symbols be studied as part of history? Why or why not?
10. Why does the meaning of an artifact or symbol change over time?

Correct answers:
1. The purpose of the Revolutionary War was to free British colonists in North America from monarchical British rule and establish a new independent democracy, the United States of America.
2. George Washington commissioned Betsy Ross to create the flag.
3. The Betsy Ross flag has 13 stripes (red for valor and white for purity) and 13 stars on a field of blue (representing vigilance, perseverance, and justice).
4. The Betsy Ross flag was adopted as the United States' first official flag in 1777.
5. The Betsy Ross flag is controversial today because it is embraced as a symbol of patriotism by some white supremacist groups and rejected by some members of the black community because it represents an era when slavery was widespread.
6. Some white supremacist groups embrace the Betsy Ross flag as a symbol of patriotism.
7. Some members of the black community reject the Betsy Ross flag because it represents an era when slavery was widespread.
8. Colin Kaepernick and other Black Lives Matter activists refused to endorse Nike's sneakers featuring the Betsy Ross flag, and Nike withdrew them from the market.
9. Yes, symbols should be studied as part of history because they can provide insight into the beliefs and values of a particular time period.
10. The meaning of an artifact or symbol can change over time due to changes in societal values, cultural norms, and historical events.

2. Jigsaw Reading:

Tell students that they are going to read more about artifacts and about the ways they shape and reflect our history. This article is modified from an article on the Smithsonian Institute website Artifact & Analysis, "Looking at Artifacts, Thinking About History" by Steven Lubar and Kathleen Kendrick, online at 

Distribute the text - handout titled "Looking at Artifacts." Begin by reading the introduction together. Preview the two questions for this section first. Model think-aloud reading strategies and annotation. Help students construct meaning from context of unfamiliar vocabulary. Then together answer the two questions together.

Divide students into five groups and assign them to work together on one section to answer the questions - sections A - E of the text. After groups have answered their assigned sections, regroup so that each group has a representative to tell the other students in their group about their assigned section.

After all groups have answered all the questions, debrief and ask students what they have learned.

3. Optional - Artifact show and tell. Have students select an artifact and tell a little bit about it on a short recorded video. What is the object? How, when, where did they get it? Describe it. Why it is important to the student? This can be a rehearsal for the writing and a diagnosis of vocabulary you may need to teach, in addition to an opportunity for you to get to know students on a deeper level.

4. Writing.

Return to one of the personal artifacts that you showed in the warm-up. Distribute the writing prompt - handout "An Artifact in My Life - Description Paragraph." As you go over the prompt, refer to your chosen personal artifact to verbally think aloud how you would address the assignment prompt. 

Have students chose their artifacts. If they don't have them in their possession, they can find an image online that looks similar. Then ask students to take photos of their artifacts. Have students do pre-writing of the description with a table:

My artifact ___________________

My artifact...

  • tells its own story.
  • connects me to someone.
  • captures an important moment.
  • reflects (a) change(s).

Words that describe its...

  • appearance
  • texture
  • sound
  • (taste) - may not apply
  • (smell) - may not apply

Then have students answer the questions on the prompt handout.

This will serve to help students compose their first draft. Show your own sample or some from the Global Oneness website (you may need to create a free account to view).

Have students submit their first drafts after inserting an image of their artifacts. Provide feedback on content and then have students revise. After that, with second drafts, provide students feedback for editing.

5. Publish.

Compile students' writing on a website like Google Sites or in a class magazine, with students' permission to include their writing.


Give summative feedback with a rubric or checklist.


Students will be able to state the importance of national and personal artifacts for the preservation of national and familial/individual history and will document in writing about a personal artifact.



  • Reading
    • Critical Thinking/Decision Making
    • Learning to Learn
    • Vocabulary
  • Reasoning Through Language Arts
    • Mechanics (Capitalization, Punctuation, Spelling)
  • Writing
    • Mechanics (Capitalization, Punctuation, Spelling)
    • Paragraph Skills


  • Reading
    • CCR Anchor 1 - Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    • CCR Anchor 2 - Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
    • CCR Anchor 4 - Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
    • CCR Anchor 7 - Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • Writing
    • CCR Anchor 2 - Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
    • CCR Anchor 4 - Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
    • CCR Anchor 6 - Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
  • Speaking and Listening
    • CCR Anchor 1 - Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
  • Language
    • CCR Anchor 1 - Demonstrate command of the conventions of English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • CCR Anchor 2 - Demonstrate command of the conventions of English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • CCR Anchor 4 - Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
    • CCR Anchor 6 - Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.


Grammar, Listening, Reading, Writing, Smithsonian, video, writing, Untold History, artifacts, grammar, listening, reading


MS Word, Google Docs, Untold History

Creative Commons License

CC BY-NC-ND:This license allows reusers to copy and distribute the material in any medium or format in unadapted form only, for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator.

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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN220124 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.