From Then to Now: Teaching How Communities Change Over Time


How do you teach students about how communities change over time? We always struggled with how to teach about the past in an engaging and relatable way. That’s why we decided to create a resource that helped bring history to life for our students, our Communities Change Over Time: Past and Present Unit.

If you’re in need of a resource that will take the guesswork out of planning and provide you with simple, yet engaging lessons, keep reading to find out more!

Communities Change Over Time

Then and Now Interview Assignment

We start out by giving the students an assignment before the unit begins. They have to interview an adult to find out how things have changed since he or she was a child. On the “then” side of the interview, there are questions for them to ask about how communication, technology, and music have changed. On the “now” side, they will answer the questions about their own lives. When students share the responses with the class, it makes for a great discussion, as it gets them thinking about the ways that life was different in the past.

Grab the interview to use with your students for FREE by clicking below!

Communities Change Over Time

Guess the Artifact

One of our favorite parts of the unit is where we show the class photographs of items used in the past. Then, they try to guess what they are and what they might have been used for. It’s so fun hearing their guesses and then revealing what the items actually are! Give it a try by looking at the picture below:

Communities Change Over Time

Do you know what it is? This is a…

Grain Mill! It was powered by a donkey to grind grains into flour.

Primary or Secondary

The concept of primary vs secondary sources can be difficult for students to understand. This video is a great intro to learning about the different types of sources:

After watching the video we have a page for the students to complete with several examples of both types of sources. They even come up with a couple of examples of their own and see if their classmates can guess whether they are primary or secondary.

How Communities Change Over Time

The rest of the unit is broken down into five categories: Changes in Environment, Changes in Business, Changes in Education, Changes in Communication, and Changes in Transportation.

  • Changes in Environment: After reading and discussing the book, Window, by Jeannie Baker, students draw what they think their community looked like 100 years ago. Then they look at actual pictures of environmental changes and discuss positive and negative effects.
  • Changes in Business: This lesson has students think about businesses that they can find in their community and compare them to businesses from the past. One example of a business that is brought up is a general store. Students discuss why they are no longer as common and what stores have replaced them.
  • Changes in Education: An article is included for students to read about what schools were like in the past. The information from the article is then used to help them to fill out a venn diagram and do a picture sort.
  • Changes in Communication: The video below about rotary phones will get students talking about changes in communication! Then, after reading one of the recommended books, students complete the cut and paste timeline and worksheet
  • Changes in Transportation: Students will learn about how transportation has changed from horses and wagons, to light rail trains, as they complete the timeline. The flipbook allows them to draw an example of transportation from the past, present, and even imagine what transportation might look like in the future.

The unit also includes an overview with daily plans, as well as a Jeopardy-style review game, and quiz to help assess your students’ understanding.

If you need to spice up your social studies curriculum and want to get your students excited to learn about how communities change over time, be sure to check out our unit below! We hope your students love it as much as ours do!

Communities Change Over Time

Interested in more engaging activities to get your students learning? Check out our blog posts below!

Biography Wax Museum

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