Curriculum: Learning Through Places
October 10, 2018
Learning Through Places: Lesson 1 The Connecticut State Capitol
October 10, 2018

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Learning Through Places


In 2017 Connecticut Explored, the magazine of Connecticut history, launched Where I Live: Connecticut, an exciting 80+ page book and website to provide teachers and students a fresh way to learn about Connecticut’s geography, history, economy, and civic life. Developed in conjunction with teachers and curriculum specialists, Where I Live Connecticut and this website support the Connecticut Social Studies Frameworks adopted in 2015 for third grade, “Our State and Our City/Town: Yesterday and Today.” The editors worked with teachers and curriculum specialists to create accessible content. Now used in more than half of the state’s third- or fourth-grade classrooms, Where I Live Connecticut is a tool to build students’ pride in their home state, an interest in history, and a commitment to civic engagement.

In 2018 Connecticut Explored received funding from the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office to create lesson plans that inform and strengthen student’s connection to their neighborhood, town, and state. These 10 lesson plans are based on the National Park Service’s successful program, “Teaching with Historic Places.”

Each lesson plan will help students to notice and understand the world around them. They will learn to be detectives and to find clues that will tell them part of the story of their neighborhood, their city, and their state. They will, for example, better understand what that green space is in the center of their town, and its colonial roots as a town green, or why their city is on a river and what the mill buildings tell them about where they live.

Each lesson plan includes curriculum connections, articles for teachers, a focused reading written at the third-grade reading level, primary sources, maps, and activities about places listed on the National Register of Historic Places including selected sites on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.

Six types of communities are represented (find links below):

  • Capitol City and Connecticut’s State Capitol
  • Neighborhood Subdivision
  • Mill town
  • Rural town
  • Maritime village
  • Transportation hub

and four historic places with special stories to tell

  • Family farms
  • Women’s history
  • Engineering
  • Native American places 

Based on teacher and student feedback, more plans could be developed that highlight, for example, industry, labor, immigration, the arts, or examples from civic and residential architecture. 

Tips for Using the Lesson Plans

The lesson plans are numbered but they are not required to be used in any particular order. You may use any number of them–pick and choose the plans that best fit your curriculum.

Each plan includes several components designed to provide everything you need but also to provide some flexibility to tailor the lesson to your class’s needs. Each lesson is tied to a section of Where I Live: Connecticut and it is recommended that the students read that section before proceeding with the lesson. The lessons begin with a pre-lesson discussion to set the stage and anticipate what the students will be learning. The next step is a focused reading with images and primary documents. Questions are provided with the first image to get the students looking closely and to begin applying what was discussed in the pre-lesson discussion. After reading the remainder of the focused reading, there are three to five suggested activities to deepen students’ understanding of core concepts and make connections to their lives and the place they live today.

As students read or the class reads the material together, you may wish to have them identify new vocabulary words and include defining those words as part of the lesson. 

About the Author: Mary M. Donohue has more than 30 years experience as an award-winning historic preservationist, architectural historian, and author. She serves as the assistant publisher of Connecticut Explored, the state’s history magazine, and co-host of the magazine’s podcast Grating the Nutmeg. She has co-authored three award-winning publications including most recently A Life of the Land: Connecticut’s Jewish Farmers. In 2018 she guest curated New Haven Museum’s exhibition Road Trip! which won an Award of Merit from the Connecticut League of History Organizations. She also served as the historical consultant for the Emmy-nominated 2018 documentary film Harvesting Stones: The Jewish Farmers of Eastern Connecticut.


LINKS to Lesson Plans — Additional plans are coming soon! 

Lesson Plan 1                                    The Connecticut State Capitol

Lesson Plan 2                                    Neighborhood Subdivision: Beman Triangle in Middletown                

Lesson Plan 3                                    Mill Towns: Taftville in Norwich

Lesson Plan 4                                    Rural Towns: Lebanon

Lesson Plan 5                                    Maritime villages: Stonington

Lesson Plan 6                                    Transportation Hub: Litchfield

Places with Special Stories to Tell

Lesson Plan 7                                    Family Farms:  Jewish Farmers in Connecticut

Lesson Plan 8                                   Women’s History: Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington

Lesson Plan 9                                    Engineering: West Cornwall Covered Bridge

Lesson Plan 10                                  Native American Place: The Tantaquidgeon Museum                      


Additional Resources about teaching historic preservation: 

Balaban, Richard C. and St. Clair, Alison Igo. The Mystery Tour Exploring the Designed Environment with Children. Washington, DC: The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1976.

Connecticut Explored‘s issues devoted to historic preservation stories
Volume 1 #2 Built It/Razed It
Volume 4 #1 Build It/Razed It II
Volume 8 #1 Modern Architecture
Volume 11 #2 Next Wave of Historic Preservation
Volume 12 #3 History Underground
Volume 13 #3 Historic Preservation—Not Just Buildings!

Volume 16 #2 Preservation Detective Stories

National Register of Historic Places, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Teaching with Historic Places

National Trust for Historic Preservation, Saving Places

10 Ways to Get Kids Excited about Preservation

Preservation Books for Children and Teens

How to Explore Architecture with Kids

Utah Museum of Fine Arts. The Built Environment, Lesson Plans for Educators. Salt Lake City: UT, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 2012.