Developing a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the past is one of the most crucial tools that will allow young learners to become better able to understand the future. Writing assignments that are engaging and entertaining but also require focused blocks of time to fully consider the topic are great ways to help your students develop that kind of comprehensive and nuanced understanding.
From exposition to fiction to persuasive writing, these are some of our favorite social studies and history-themed writing prompts for elementary students!
1. Where Is Best?
Ask your students to think about everywhere—and everywhen—they know about on the planet. Next, ask them to write what time and place on the planet would be the best time and place to live. Be sure to remind students to consider what daily life would have been like, the benefits and difficulties that would be seen as normal and expected and what major historical events would influence their lives during the time and place they’ve chosen.
2. What Is Best?
Think about all the different inventions throughout history and how each invention changed the course of history from that point onward. Which invention do you think has made the biggest impact on history? What effect would it have if that invention had never been invented? What other inventions would have also never happened—or what other invention would have taken the place of the missing invention?
3. Nice Place to Visit
This prompt is similar to the first prompt, but this time, you’re going to have your students write about the time and place that they would like to visit the most. Where (and when) would they go if they were going for a vacation? Remind students of the limitless potential of time travel tourism: they can witness any historical event—or speak to any historical figure—they want to! They can try any food and witness any entertainment!
4. Good Time to Visit
Ask your students to think about the decades they know about from the past 100 years. Tell them to imagine that they get to live in any decade they choose for one month. What decade would they choose to live in? Why did they choose that decade? Is there any particular month they want to go to in that decade, any specific event they want to be a part of or a historical figure they’d like to meet?
5. Make History Personal
Imagine a historical event that is personally significant to you and has affected your life. Describe the historical event, how you learned about it, how it’s related to your life and the impact the event had. The event doesn’t have to be recent or related to you very closely; it can even be a historical event that happened on the other side of the world hundreds of years ago, as long as it has changed something about your life.
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6. Sailors Wanted for 10-Week Voyage
Tell your students they’ve all been invited to join the crew of a 10-week-long voyage. Next, ask them to describe what they think the voyage will be like. Remember to consider things like living conditions, food and water, sharing small spaces with many other people and acclimating to life at sea.
7. History x Geology Collab
Imagine the history of the planet from the perspective of water. Consider how much water flows on the planet in different places and different ways. Choose a time in history—either a general historical period or a major historical event—and ask your students to write about that period or event from the perspective of water.
What was the ocean’s opinion of the Boston Tea Party? Did the moats around medieval castles think it was fair they were moats instead of being part of more majestic water forms? Describe the reaction of a river as a human civilization develops around it.
8. “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
This famous quotation from British philosopher Edmund Burke has been used to confound—and sometimes gently taunt—students since time immemorial and you can join in this long and celebrated history with a simple writing prompt. Share the above quotation with your students and ask them to write about what it means.
This quotation might be tough for younger students to understand, so feel free to nudge them in the right direction. Despite that, promoting higher-level thinking from a young age is a great way to prepare your students for similar critical thinking problems in the future!
9. Horse vs Cow
Which animal is best: horse or cow? Think about the many different things these animals can both do and how they benefit people. Next, which animal would be best to own 200 years ago: horse or cow? Did your answer change? Why or why not?
For most of human history, people were only able to travel as far as they could walk. Then, they were able to travel as far as their horse could walk. In the 1860s, the transcontinental railroad linked the eastern United States to California and then people were able to travel as far as a train could go.
Imagine being a person who was alive during the time when transcontinental train travel was a brand-new option. Did things feel different now that people could travel that quickly and conveniently? What effect would this have on families and companies?
11. Welcome to New Stonehenge
Imagine a character from an advanced future society is visiting a famous landmark, historical site or other significant location with a friend. Write the conversation they have about the location. Make sure to include what and where it is, its historical significance and what happened to it. Bonus points if one character gives a completely wrong explanation and the other character has to correct them about what really happened!
12. Choose Your Historical Butler
Due to a glitch in the fabric of space and time, you’ve been chosen by the universe to be awarded a magic butler of your choosing based on a historical figure. This magic butler has to help with all your chores and schoolwork for one week before they disappear. Which historical figure would you choose to be your magic butler and why?
If your students have trouble thinking of one, popular choices of magic butlers from out of history, space and time include Albert Einstein (good at math), William Shakespeare (good at insults), Leonardo da Vinci (good at everything) or George Washington (good at crossing rivers… oh, and he was the first president).
13. Historical Figure Class Speaker
Due to a different glitch in the fabric of space and time, a wormhole portal has allowed a historical figure to travel to your classroom to visit for a day. Your students’ first task is to choose the historical figure (Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, etc.) who want to visit the classroom. Next, have your students write a list of questions they’ll plan to ask the visiting historical figure, along with any advice they’d like to give them to help them in their own time.
14. Welcome to the New Colosseum
Ask your class to imagine that a new colosseum is being built to provide entertainment like in Ancient Rome. The new colosseum will feature popular entertainment for general audiences. Have your students make predictions about what kind of entertainment they think will be on display. Will it be the same all the time or will there be different types?
15. Historical To-Do List
Choose a historical figure on an important day in history, perhaps even on the day in history that this historical figure is most well known for. Next, write the historical figure’s to-do list for the day. Make sure to include anything they have to do that sets the rest of the day’s events in motion!
16. Plains vs Island
Imagine it’s 1,000 years ago. Would it be better to have a civilization located in the plains or on an island? Consider factors such as finding water and food, defenses, being able to trade and barter with other nations and ease of travel and proximity to other people. What about the location you’ve chosen makes it better than the other location?
17. Kickstart a Historical Invention
What would a crowdfunding proposal for a historical invention look like? Imagine Ford, Edison or Bell trying to fund their inventions by crowdfunding the money to get started.
How would Edison explain the light bulb to potential investors who are used to using candles and oil lamps? How would Ford convince people that cars are a more economic purchase than a horse? How did Bell envision people using telephones? Choose one and write the script for their crowdfunding video.
18. What’s in a Name?
Ask your students to think about what famous historical figure they’d like to rename themselves after. They can choose any historical figure (or any historical figure within your chosen time period) and any part of their name to swap out for any part of their own name. Which historical figure would they choose and why? Remind them to give specific, concrete details for their answers.
19. The Improbable Artifact
There are countless stories of people finding historical artifacts where they’re least expected. Whether it’s a family heirloom that turns out to be something of profound historical significance or a painting on top of a historical document that’s later uncovered, history sure does show up in some strange places!
Ask your students to write a story imagining how they discover a historical artifact in a surprising place. Remind them to include details like how the historical artifact ended up where they found it and how they discovered it was valuable.
20. Who Lived Over 500 Years Ago
Try to list as many people as you can who lived over 500 years ago. Next, do you see anything that the people on your list have in common? Are they people who did something to be remembered or does it have more to do with something that happened to them or circumstances they were involved with? What do you have to do to be remembered by future generations?
Write Your Own History!
You can help your class create their very own classbook and become published authors by using one of our FREE classbook publishing kits! Simply sign up online, and we’ll provide everything you need to publish your students’ writing and illustrations, including any help you need along the way.
Many of the history-themed writing prompts listed above would be excellent choices to focus on for a classbook project! Each of your students will have a hand in penning your definitive classroom version of any part of history you choose—you’ll get a free classroom copy, and parents can also order copies to keep at home as a meaningful keepsake for the future.
You can also check out our blog and online Teacher’s Lounge for more writing activities, lesson plans and teaching strategies. Now that you have more fun and engaging history-themed writing prompts to add to your lesson plan, your students will have even more ways to learn about the past and learn from it as well!