Wessels Living History Farm - York Nebraska Learner Resources for the 1930s
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Online Lesson Plan
Life Before Electricity

  John LeFeber  
We live in a time when there are very few places in the United States that does not have the luxury of having electricity at our fingertips. In fact many of us cannot remember the time when we had to depend upon another form of energy other than electricity. The amazing thought is that that time was not long ago.

Lesson Plan by John LeFeber, Curriculum & Instructional Developer, National Council on Economic Education.



Suggested grade level: 6th-8th. The student will:
  •  Describe life before the introduction of electricity
  •  Debate the implications of the introduction of electricity on society


  Kerosene lamp  
In this lesson, students will find folks in their community who can remember a time when flipping a switch to get heat or light was not normal or even possible in their home or farm. This lesson explores the thoughts of several who remember those days and can bring those days to life through their interviews.

The Resources

Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you'll be back to this page.] Direct the students to these pages to learn more about migration and immigration.

Other Links:
Worksheets in PDF format for handouts:

The Process

Part 1
Have your students complete the attached Venn Diagram activity that asks them to list as many examples of what life is like with electricity and then have them list as many examples what life was like without electricity. The challenge is to have them look for examples that might fit in both experiences.

Part 2
Have your students read the information and listen to the interviews provided on the Bringing Electricity to the Farm page and the pages following it. After they have gone through the information, have them create a Four Panel Foldable per the instructions provide on the PDF file. After they have created the foldable have your students label each panel as "Radio," "Lamp," "Refrigerator," and "Games." After the foldables have been labeled, have your students illustrate how people living during the 1930's might have dealt with life without electricity.

Part 3
Have your students continue their research about life before electricity and also have them explore life after electricity. Use the Bringing Electricity to the Farm page and the pages following it as a basis for their exploration. Divide your class into two groups identified as BEFORE and AFTER. Have your students use the Debate Worksheet to develop a position based on their research they have completed. Once they have completed the worksheet and are prepared to present their position have them discuss their individual positions within their group and develop some consensus. Have the groups select several spokespersons to represent their position in a classroom debate. The rest of the class needs to be completing their individual forms based on the discussion generated through the debate.

Learning Advice

This is a good opportunity for you to:

  • bring in guest speakers
  • bring in items that have been used in the past
  • visit your local historical society
  • have a representative come from your:
    • local historical society
    • local power company
    • local government representative
You might consider having your students research games and activities of the 1930s and have them recreate them in class. After your students have made some games and activities have them share with each other or go to another class and share with them.

Conclusion of the Lesson

Complete the lesson by discussing the variety of views presented through the study of Life before Electricity. Point out that this was not long ago and the progress that we have made. Spend some time in speculation about how far we will go in the near future.

Assessment Activity

Use the completed BEFORE and AFTER worksheet as a measurement of what the students have learned through their research and debate.

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Next – Debating the Depression

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Where Do We Go?
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Life Before Electricity
Debating the Depression
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