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:
    • What was daily life like during the second half of the nineteenth century?
    • What conclusions can you draw about the socio-economic levels of these people after looking at the images?
  • Students will be able to form arguments for or against this thought-provoking statement and support their answers with valid arguments:
    • Money and the ability to afford modern conveniences mean a better way of life.
  • Students will also be able to:
    • Utilize visual data
    • Make inferences
    • Form opinions and support them with facts

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

One 70-minute class period


  • Student textbooks
  • Photos of outhouse exterior and outhouse interior
  • Outhouse plan from the Built Heritage collection from the North Carolina State University Special Collections Research Center
  • LCD projector with computer or overhead projector to show images to students


  • Before this activity students should have background knowledge of:
    • What is an outhouse?
    • For what was it used?
    • What inventions had to occur before outhouses became obsolete?
  • Arrange the room so all students will be able to clearly see the images. Make sure there is room for students to move to the images to inspect them more closely if they so choose.


Preview activity: Responding to Visual Images (10 minutes)

  1. Project the image of the outhouse exterior from Stagville Plantation for students without telling them what it is. (Tip: Clicking on the “size” link below the image will display a larger version of the image without its title.)
  2. Give students five minutes to sketch the image and record their impressions of it and their theories about its purpose.
  3. Ask several students to share their responses.
  4. At this time, you may also want to show them the outhouse interior picture.
  5. Ask these questions: Have you ever used an outhouse? If yes, when? Believe it or not, a few people still use outhouses as their only bathroom. Why do you think some people still have and use outhouses? Have you ever used a Port-a-John? Is this an outhouse? Why or why not?

By leading students through this questioning process, you give them conceptual information they will need to better evaluate the outhouse plan in the picture you will discuss as a class.

Activity: Visual Discovery

  1. Project the plan for Judge Barnes’ outhouse, designed in 1875, from the Built Heritage collection.
  2. Give students five minutes to silently study/analyze the plans.
  3. Ask students the following questions to reveal important information about the picture:
    • What are some of the key details in the picture?
    • Who had these plans drawn?
    • Is there any other important information on the plans?
  4. Now, ask questions that will motivate students to interpret and make inferences about the information they have gathered:
    • In what time period do you think these plans were drawn? What evidence can you provide to support your answer?
    • Do you find anything unusual about these plans? If yes, what and why?
    • How would you describe Judge Barnes? Why? Use evidence you have gathered so far to support your answer.
    • Where do you think Judge Barnes lived? Use evidence you have gathered or information from class discussions to support your answer.
    • How does this outhouse compare to the one at Stagville Plantation that we observed in the preview activity?
  5. Finally, ask questions that will encourage students to use critical thinking skills to make hypotheses about the plans and the owner:
    • Why do you think Judge Barnes wanted this particular outhouse built?
    • How do you think people felt about using this outhouse?
  6. Pull the class back together to debrief the activity. Place the original image of the outhouse (used for the preview activity) before the students again. Have students add more details, such as how many people used it at one time, who probably built/owned this particular outhouse, etc.
  7. 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:
    • Have students draw their own bathrooms and compare them to Judge Barnes’ outhouse. They will use the same scale as the architect Hank Harrell (1/2” = 1’). Make sure the completed drawings include the following items, which may be used to create a rubric:
      • Student name, title of the plans, date, and scale
      • Plan details: fixtures are drawn and labeled, lengths of doorway, windows, and walls are provided
      • Neatness/appearance: the plan is neat and easy to read
      • On the back of the drawing, 2 – 3 paragraphs describing at least 3 similarities and 3 differences between student’s bathroom and Judge Barnes’ outhouse
      • Free of errors that confuse or interrupt the reader
    • Have students design a different, better outhouse plan for Judge Barnes to consider building. They should use the same scale and doorway widths, but all other details should be new and original. Make sure the completed plans include the following items, which may be used to create a rubric:
      • Student name, title of the plans, date, and scale
      • Plan details: lengths of doorway(s), windows, and walls are provided and labeled. All details are labeled clearly. Remind students that they want Judge Barnes to choose their plan!
      • Creative, but realistic ideas. There were no flush toilets in Mr. Harrell’s plan, so remind students to make their plans historically accurate according to the time period.
      • Neatness/appearance: the plan is neat and easy to read
      • On the back of the drawing, a short note to Judge Barnes explaining how this plan is better than Mr. Harrell’s. Students should include only an explanation of the conveniences they added (not the cost to build them).
      • Free of errors that confuse or interrupt the reader

Enrichment activity

  • If the weather permits, have students stake out the actual size of the outhouse. You will need the following materials:
    • Yard sticks, meter sticks, or tape measures
    • Tent stakes
    • Small hammer or something to drive the stakes
    • Yarn
    • Four large circles (to represent the four seats in the outhouse)
    • Camera (You’ll want to capture their antics during this activity!)
  • When you have finished, ask students if they thought it would be this big/small. How does it compare to the bathroom in your home? In the school?

Critical vocabulary

An outbuilding with one or more seats and a pit serving as a toilet. (Also called a privy.)

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.H.3 Understand the factors that contribute to change and continuity in North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.3.1 Explain how migration and immigration contributed to the development of North Carolina and the United States from colonization to contemporary...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 8

  • Goal 5: The learner will evaluate the impact of political, economic, social, and technological changes on life in North Carolina from 1870 to 1930.
    • Objective 5.04: Identify technological advances, and evaluate their influence on the quality of life in North Carolina.