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Getting to Know an Era

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Students will describe the ways in which the United States Mint honors the contributions of individuals, events, and institutions. They will recognize how the United States Mint 50 State Quarters® Program reflects the nation’s history, diversity, unity, pride, and commitment to maintaining these American ideals.

Coin Type(s)

  • Quarter

Coin Program(s)

  • 50 State Quarters


  • Students will describe the ways in which the United States Mint honors the contributions of individuals, events, and institutions.
  • They will recognize how the United States Mint 50 State Quarters® Program reflects the nation’s history, diversity, unity, pride, and commitment to maintaining these American ideals.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies


  • Seventh grade
  • Eighth grade

Class Time

Sessions: Three
Session Length: 45-60 minutes
Total Length: 121-150 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Pairs
  • Individual work

Terms and Concepts

  • The United States Mint 50 State Quarters Program
  • Commemorate
  • Commemorative
  • Events
  • Leaders
  • Institutions


  • 1 overhead projector (optional)
  • 1 overhead transparency (or photocopy) of any quarter reverse from the 50 State Quarters Program
  • Copies of the “They’ve Made A Difference” worksheet (1 per student)
  • A reserved computer lab with Internet access
  • Copies of either the “Commemorative Coinage Web Questionnaire” or “The United States Mint 50 State Quarters® Program Web Questionnaire” (1 per student)
  • Classroom Social Studies text (1 per student)
  • 1 overhead transparency (or classroom set of photocopies) of the “Quarter Design” page
  • 1 blank overhead transparency sheet or chalkboard
  • Overhead markers or chalk
  • Blank coin outlines (1 per student, one per group)
  • Colored pencils, markers, or crayons
  • “Independent Work Rubric” (1 per student)
  • Classroom Social Studies text
  • Colored pencils, markers, or crayons
  • “Group Effort Rubric” (1 per group)

Worksheets and Files

Lesson plan, worksheet(s), and rubric (if any) at

Session 1

  1. Write the terms “commemorate” and “commemorative” on the chalk board.
  2. Assign each student a partner, and conduct a Think-Pair-Share activity in which students define the word “commemorate” and identify a way in which the United States commemorates an important person or event. For example, the United States commemorates our independence on the fourth of July each year.
  3.  Display a quarter reverse for all the students to see. Ask if students have ever seen this coin, and what they know about it. Who produces this coin? What does it commemorate?
  4. Introduce students to the idea that the 50 State Quarters Program is one way in which the United States Mint commemorates our country’s heritage but that there are many other coins made at the Mint to commemorate individuals, institutions, and events.
  5. Distribute a “They’ve Made a Difference” worksheet to each student and allow approximately ten minutes for its completion.
  6. Regroup and, as a class, discuss some of your students’ responses. Why were certain people, places and events selected over others? How did students come to the decision as to what they’d choose to commemorate.
  7. As a class, visit the computer lab.
  8. Distribute a copy of either the “Commemorative Coinage Web Questionnaire” or the “United States Mint 50 State Quarters® Program Web Questionnaire” to each student.  Either individually, in pairs, or as a class, read the questionnaire.
  9. Explain that students will use only the United States Mint Web site, and others bookmarked by their teacher, which relate to commemorative coinage. 
    Note: Depending on your unit of study, you may want to direct the students to identify key events, leaders or institutions that pertain to a particular time period.
  10. Explain that students will research the appropriate responses using the available Internet resources. Explain that in the next session they will determine cultural aspects worth commemorating in the time period they are studying.

Session 2

  1. Ask students to take out their Web questionnaire from the previous session.
  2. Review the terms “commemorate” and “commemorative” and ask students to name the kinds of topics commemorated with coins from the United States Mint. Consider specifically the 50 State Quarters Program.
  3. Place the terms “events,” “leaders,” and “institutions” on the board and ask the students to write a description of each term.
  4. On the overhead projector or on the chalk board, record the topics listed by your students.  As your students identify the classifications, make mention of examples that exist on the new quarter reverse designs. (For example, one military accomplishment is represented by George Washington crossing the Delaware.) You may direct the students to create the following categories: Arts, Entertainment, and Sports, Politics, Military Accomplishments, Society (Social Movements, Social Activists), Natural Resources, Economic Prosperity.
  5. Place students in jigsaw groups based on the categories they listed. Explain that in these groups they will commemorate the time period that they are studying.
  6. Each group will brainstorm aspects of American society during this period that relate directly to their assigned category.
  7. llow students 10-15 minutes to identify key leaders, events, and institutions that relate to their category and time period.
  8. Supply each student with a blank coin outline and art supplies. Direct the students to design a coin that commemorates the particular time period and category that was researched.

Session 3

  1. Place students in new groups. Each new group must contain one member from each of the previous groups.
  2. In the new groups, each student will share his or her coin and the reasons for the images he or she selected.
  3. Distribute a “Group Effort Rubric” and blank coin outline to each group.
  4. Each group will decide which aspects were of greatest importance during this time period and will design one coin to commemorate only those aspects.
  5. Give the student groups about 20 minutes to create one coin.
  6. After the students have been given an appropriate amount of time to create a group coin, ask one representative from each group describe his or her group’s coin to the class. The representative must explain what is on the coin, and why his or her group feels that this design best commemorates this era.


  • Expand this lesson to serve as an “end of the course” review for benchmark/standardized test. Each group will explore a different time period. Display the coins around the room and use them as study guides.
  • Students will design a Web questionnaire of their own, featuring coins from a specific period in U.S. history.
  • After examining a selection of American commemorative coins, direct students to write an essay establishing the criterion for selecting commemorative coins.

Use the worksheets and class participation to assess whether the students have met the lesson objectives.

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: Time, Continuity, and Change
Grade(s): Grades K–12

Teachers should:

  • assist learners to understand that historical knowledge and the concept of time are socially influenced constructions that lead historians to be selective in the questions they seek to answer and the evidence they use
  • help learners apply key concepts such as time, chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity
  • enable learners to identify and describe significant historical periods and patterns of change within and across cultures, including but not limited to, the development of ancient cultures and civilizations, the emergence of religious belief systems, the rise of nation-states, and social, economic, and political revolutions
  • guide learners in using such processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and interpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighing evidence for claims, searching for causality, and distinguishing between events and developments that are significant and those that are inconsequential
  • provide learners with opportunities to investigate, interpret, and analyze multiple historical and contemporary viewpoints within and across cultures related to important events, recurring dilemmas, and persistent issues, while employing empathy, skepticism, and critical judgment; and enable learners to apply ideas, theories, and modes of historical inquiry to analyze historical and contemporary developments, and to inform and evaluate actions concerning public policy issues.

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: Civic Ideals and Practices
Grade(s): Grades K–12

Teachers should:

  • assist learners in understanding the origins and continuing influence of key ideals of the democratic republican form of government, such as individual human dignity, liberty, justice, equality, and the rule of law
  • guide learner efforts to identify, analyze, interpret, and evaluate sources and examples of citizens’ rights and responsibilities
  • facilitate learner efforts to locate, access, analyze, organize, synthesize, evaluate, and apply information about selected public issues—identifying, describing, and evaluating multiple points of view and taking reasoned positions on such issues
  • provide opportunities for learners to practice forms of civic discussion and participation consistent with the ideals of citizens in a democratic republic
  • help learners to analyze and evaluate the influence of various forms of citizen action on public policy
  • prepare learners to analyze a variety of public policies and issues from the perspective of formal and informal political actors
  • guide learners as they evaluate the effectiveness of public opinion in influencing and shaping public policy development and decision-making
  • encourage learner efforts to evaluate the degree to which public policies and citizen behaviors reflect or foster the stated ideals of a democratic republican form of government
  • support learner efforts to construct policy statements and action plans to achieve goals related to issues of public concern
  • create opportunities for learner participation in activities to strengthen the “common good,” based upon careful evaluation of possible options for citizen action