Lesson Plans

Evaluating and Reshaping Timelines in The 1619 Project: New York Times for Kids Edition

Daguerreotype of Rhoda Phillips, circa 1850. Photograph by Erica Deeman for The New York Times. From the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Daguerreotype of Rhoda Phillips, circa 1850. Photograph by Erica Deeman for The New York Times. From the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Introducing the Lesson:

The following lesson plan guides students in exploring a special 1619 Project section of The New York Times for Kids"Why You Should Know About the Year 1619." The section includes…

  • A timeline starting with the year 1619 that presents standout facts and dates related to slavery. The timeline aims to visualize underrepresented facts about the history and legacy of slavery.
  • A column addressing common myths about slavery.
  • A column explaining the career of a historian.

The lesson plan is designed to help students engage with the timeline and come up with their own connections between slavery and the larger narrative of U.S. history, while also encouraging them to think about the ways in which history is framed in their own education. Thematically, this lesson explores how history is written by engaging students in the following questions: 

  • Who gets to write history, and how does that story determine what we know about the world? 
  • What research goes into creating a historical narrative?
  • What can historians do when they are lacking written sources?


1. If you were to make a timeline of the history of the United States, what are some of the important dates, people, and events that you would include? Create this timeline as a class.

2. As a class, discuss how the events were selected. Consider…

  • Which three events on the timeline do you think are most important, and why?
  • Are there any events on the timeline you do not think should be included? If so, why?
  • What events did the class choose not to include?
  • What role did slavery play in the timeline you and your classmates created?
  • How did you learn about the history of slavery in the U.S.? What did you learn, and how was that information presented?

3. The 1619 Project aims to challenge our understanding of U.S. history by proposing 1619, rather than 1776, as the nation’s founding year. That year, the first enslaved Africans were brought to the state of Virginia. In Nikole Hannah-Jones’ essay “The Idea of America,” cited in the introduction to "Why You Should Know About the Year 1619," Hannah-Jones writes: “The story of 1619 is not a black story, and it’s not a white story; it’s truly an American story.” What do you think is meant by this quote?

Analyzing the Timeline:

1. Fill out this graphic organizer as you read through the timeline from "Why You Should Know About the Year 1619."

2. In her introduction to "Why You Should Know About the Year 1619," journalist Lovia Gyarkye writes:

“This year marks the 400th anniversary of when the first enslaved Africans were brought to what is now the state of Virginia. Most of us are familiar with how slavery worked in this country. We learn that enslaved men, women and children were kidnapped from their homes in Africa, locked into heavy iron chains and crammed onto ships for a dangerous journey. They had no idea where they were going and often died on the way — from heat, starvation, thirst and violence. They were brought to the colonies and were sold and forced to work on the land and in the homes of white people for the rest of their lives, though resistance and rebellion were common. And they eventually fought for and won their freedom — sacrificing their lives to escape bondage. But this is only part of the story.”

Use the quote above and the details from the timeline to answer the following questions in a class discussion: 

  • What information from the timeline surprised you?
  • How does the information from the timeline connect to what you have already learned about slavery and its lasting legacy?
  • How does the information from the timeline reflect the lasting impacts of slavery? Where else do you see evidence of the modern-day impacts of slavery?


Analyzing the Column: "How I Became A Historian"


After reading the column “How I Became a Historian,” write your responses to the following questions on a separate piece of paper. Be prepared to share your responses with the class.


  1. How did Annette Gordon-Reed decide to become a historian? 
  2. In her interview with Elise Craig, the historian Annette Gordon-Reed describes her experience reading a biography of President Thomas Jefferson that was written from the point of view of a fictionalized enslaved boy who is not very bright.
    • How can fiction help us understand history?
    • How do you think a point of view might affect the story told? Is it possible for a story to be written without a point of view?
  3. Gordon-Reed describes the reading she does in order to confirm that Jefferson had children with an enslaved woman on his plantation, Sally Hemings. Notice that these sources are mostly created by white enslavers.
    • How does this make writing history about slavery more difficult?
    • Are there other sources that you could use to get a different point of view about how enslaved people were treated, or about what the U.S. was like during slavery?

Analyzing the Column: "4 Myths About Slavery"


Read through the myths about slavery, written by Erica L. Green and respond to the following questions on your own, or in small groups:


  1. How do you think the myths described in column came about? 
  2. What do you think history professor Hasan Kwame Jeffries means by “a sanitized version of history”?
  3. Which of the myths described by Green are ones you have heard before? Discuss how you would go about correcting the misinformation, whether in person, through a letter, or in some other way.

Extension Activities:

1. Timeline Construction

For this activity, refer back to the events in the timeline that you created as a class. Work on this exercise individually.

1. Create your own timeline of U.S. history that combines the events you chose as a class and the events or figures that stand out to you from The New York Times timeline.

2. Reflect back on the events you chose to include in your U.S. history timeline as a class during the warm-up activity. Did you learn anything new about these events by reading The New York Times timeline?

3. With a partner, discuss: Why do you think the timeline presented in The New York Times was structured in this way? What story does the timeline tell by presenting information in this order, and in this way?

2. Creative Writing

1. Choose one of the events from the timeline and imagine how you might write a short story about it. Consider the following as you plan your story:

  • Who would be the main characters? 
  • What kind of research would you need to do to make sure the story is both accurate and creative?

2. Write a brief scene or moment from this short story, supported by research from The 1619 Project or other external sources.

Note: For inspiration, students may wish to explore the creative works in The 1619 Project magazine.

3. Research and Presentation

From the timeline, which event are you most curious to learn more about? Select one historical event and use multiple sources to research how this event is described using different texts. Create a presentation using a poster, PowerPoint, or monologue that addresses the following:

  • What did you learn about the event? What led to this event, what happened, and what was the lasting impact of the event?
  • What similarities and differences did you notice in the way that this event was described in different sources?

4. Analyzing Historical Sources

Select a historical resource about slavery from your library or online (such as a book, article, website, or movie).

1. Fill out this graphic organizer to analyze how this resource teaches the issue of slavery.

2. If you were writing a history book, what three facts from The New York Times timeline would you choose to include? Brainstorm how you might present the information.

3. As a class, discuss:

  • In an educational setting, are there productive ways to use sources that perpetuate myths about slavery? 
  • What can these sources tell us about U.S. history?

4. Compare your analysis of different resources with that of other students. As a class, decide which ones you would recommend using for a class syllabus on slavery.

Educator Notes: 

For more ways to connect The 1619 Project to your classes, click here.

Common Core Standards:

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

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