K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

  • Students will be able to answer these essential questions about a particular person, based on his or her tombstone:
    • What was life like for this person during this period of history?
    • What events in history affected this person’s life?
  • Students will be able to form answers to this thought-provoking question and support their answers with valid arguments:
    • Why should everyone be honored for his or her impact on history?
  • Students will also be able to:
    • utilize visual data
    • draw inferences
    • draw conclusions
    • form opinions and support them with facts

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

One 70-minute class period



  • Make copies of the images to distribute among the groups of students. Each group will need two photos. Another option is to set up an LCD or overhead projector to display the images for the class.
  • Obtain copies of the obituary section from the local newspaper.


Preview activity: Provocative propositions

  • Introduce one of the key themes of the lesson by asking students, What would you want people to know or remember about you if you died in the near future?
  • Give students 5 – 10 minutes to think about and write an answer in response to this question.
  • Ask several students to share their responses. Ask these questions: Why would you want people to know this about you? What events in your past have made you the person you are? Did these events have any effect on the things you want people to know about you? Why or why not?

By leading students through this questioning process, you give them conceptual information they will need to better evaluate the tombstones in the pictures they will be given.

Activity: Students as archaeologists

  1. Lead a class discussion to ensure that students have the necessary background knowledge for this lesson. Ask the students:
    • What is an epitaph?
    • What is an obituary?
    • Why do people write/create these writings to honor people who have died?
  2. Explain to students they will be given two pictures of tombstones. Using this picture, their textbooks, and each other, they are to create a rough sketch of what these peoples’ lives were like before they died. (For example: What major historical events might they have encountered? Where there any wars during this person’s life? Taking into consideration the time period in which this person lived, what would their daily life have been like? Add other questions you would like for your students to answer. A worksheet has been attached that you can modify to fit your needs.)
  3. Place students in cooperative groups of three to four (depending on class size).
  4. Give each group two pictures, two Archeological Findings sheets, and two Tombstone Photo Analysis sheets to record their observations.
  5. Give each group a piece of chart paper and have them list their inferences about the activities this person probably took part in and the cause of the person’s death.
  6. Pull the class back together to debrief the activity. Have each group share their inferences. Did groups make the same inferences? If they made different ones, what evidence caused them to make these inferences?
  7. If time allows, post the groups’ chart papers around the room and have students do a gallery walk to see the observations made by all groups.
  8. To conclude the lesson, the author recommends using one of the following activities, which allow students to express themselves creatively while demonstrating what they have learned during the unit:
    • Obituary: Students will write an obituary about one of the people whose tombstones they analyzed within their groups. Let students use examples from local newspapers to help with the writing process. Their obituary should include the following bulleted items, which should be used as a rubric:
      • Biographical information: the name of the person, date of death, and age at death, and a possible cause of death as determined through your group analysis
      • Accomplishments/honors: What is this person known for? Why should we remember him or her? List two or three possible accomplishments of the person during his or her life. (For example: wife, mother, etc.)
      • One or two events that actually occurred in history during the life of this person that might have had an effect on his or her life.
      • A picture of what you think this person looked like at some point in his or her life. It must be drawn by you. Remember to keep in mind the time period in which your person lived.
      • Be free of spelling and grammar errors that confuse or interrupt the reader
    • Epitaph: Students will design a different tombstone for one of the people whose tombstones they analyzed during the group activity. Students should remember this person’s station in life (how much money his or her family had). Do not create an elaborate tombstone for a poor person, because no one in their family could have paid for it! Their tombstone should include the following bulleted items, which should be used as a rubric:
      • The person’s full name
      • The person’s date of birth
      • The person’s date of death
      • An appropriate epitaph to give honor to this person’s time spent on earth
      • No spelling or grammar errors that confuse or interrupt the reader
    • Life Line: Students will create a timeline of events that occurred during the life of one of the people whose tombstones they analyzed during the group activity. The timeline should include the following bulleted items, which should be used as a rubric:
      • The birth date and full name of the person as the first date and event on the time line
      • Eight historical dates and events that occurred during this person’s life that could have had some effect on his or her life
      • A picture to illustrate each event (may be drawn or cut from magazines)
      • The date and cause of death (as determined by your group if unknown) as the last event on the timeline
      • All timeline guidelines have been followed: dates on one side, events/pictures on the other side
      • Be free of spelling and grammar errors that confuse or interrupt the reader
    • Sympathy letter: Students will assume the role of friend to one of the deceased people about which their group made inferences. In this role as friend, they will write a sympathy letter to one of their family members. Their letter should include the following bulleted items, which should be used as a rubric.
      • A salutation (Dear ___________,)
      • A brief introduction in which you tell who you are and how you knew the deceased person
      • A recognition of two or three things this person accomplished, or may have accomplished, during his or her life
      • Why you will miss the deceased person
      • Be sure to include sympathy for the loss of a mother, brother, sister, etc.
      • A closing (With deepest sympathies, You will be in my prayers, etc.) with your name
      • Be free of spelling and grammar errors that confuse or interrupt the reader


Assessment will vary according to which concluding activity you choose. In all cases, assess by student participation in group work and whole-class discussion, as well as demonstrated historical understanding in students’ final products.

Critical vocabulary

The inscription upon a person’s gravestone, tombstone, headstone, or memorial plaque written in memory of the person. Most include the name of the deceased, the date of birth, and the date of death. Some include the person’s significant achievements. Many include quotes or excerpts from holy texts, writings or expressions, or short witty statements.
A speech or writing in honor of a deceased person.
A stone marker, usually inscribed, on a tomb or grave. Gravestone and headstone are words that are often used, too.