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Before and After: Analyzing Turning Points in History

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Major historic events inevitably bring about changes in society, from politics to daily routines. In this activity, students use four historical front pages to hypothesize about the impact of the covered events, then use current media to explore the continuing impact.

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GRADE LEVEL: Middle and high school

TIME: 30–60 minutes, plus discussion

MATERIALS: Copies of the Before and After: Analyzing Turning Points in History worksheet; access to the four front pages on the EDCollections Headlines That Changed  History poster (either printed copies or via devices; links below and in artifact gallery); internet access (optional); teacher key (download)


  1. Make copies of the Analyzing Turning Points in History worksheet, one per student.
  2. Review the four front pages. For additional background, read the artifact page on for each front page: Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, The Afro-American, and Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News.

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Overview PDF DOC
Worksheets PDF DOC
Extensions PDF DOC
Full Packet PDF DOC

To request a large print or Braille version, call 202.292.6650.


  1. Ask your students to answer a warmup discussion prompt: Think about a major event in your life (moving, starting at a new school, the arrival of a sibling, etc.). How was your life different before and after this event?
  2. Tell students they are going to use primary sources to gather evidence about how major historic events changed society. Using the information they can find in front-page news stories, they are going to hypothesize (make their best guess) how major events changed the lives of the people who lived through them. They should consider big changes and small changes. For example, the 9/11 attacks prompted the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan (big change), and it also led to “God Bless America” being played at ballparks (smaller change).
  3. Hand out the Analyzing Turning Points in History worksheet. To reduce the time required for this activity, you may assign one or two events (rather than all four) to each student. Using the front pages on this poster, give students 20 to 40 minutes to work individually or in small groups to make their hypotheses about the changes these events set in motion (left column of chart) and give their evidence/reason for each (right column of chart).
  4. If students are focusing on one or two events, have them confer with students who focused on the other events to fill in the rest of their chart.
  5. Give students 10 to 20 minutes to respond to the prompt in step 2 on the worksheet, evaluating how these events continue to affect our lives today.
  6. As a class, use the Newseum’s online Today’s Front Pages exhibit ( to look at front pages from across the nation and around the world. Look for headlines that show the lasting impact of these events. (Possible ideas: response to current economic challenges, the war on terror, continuing civil rights battles, etc.)
  7. Use the post-activity discussion prompts to begin a class discussion about the changes major events can set in motion, changing the course of history in big and small ways.
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  1. What were some of the big changes you found evidence to support? What were some of the smaller changes?
  2. What type of evidence/reasons did you use to make your hypotheses about changes?
  3. Sort the changes you hypothesized into categories. Possible categories: predictable versus unpredictable; positive versus negative; political versus personal, etc.
  4. Which event do you think had the biggest impact, resulting in the most significant changes? Why?
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  1. Choose one of the events covered on the EDCollections poster. Write a journal entry from the perspective of someone living shortly before this event occurred, then a second entry from after. At the top of your entry, give a description of who “you” (the person writing this journal entry) are. Use the second journal entry to describe some of the changes that have happened in your life since your chosen big event.
  2. Complete a chart listing changes and their reasons for a contemporary news story that has affected your life. Choose one news source to make your chart. As you did on the worksheet, list the changes you believe this event has caused on the left and the reason for the change on the right. List at least four changes and reasons.
  3. One area of life often affected by major historic events is the use/extent of First Amendment freedoms. Choose one of these events and research how it affected the role/use of the five freedoms of the First Amendment (religion, speech, press, assembly and petition).
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