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Charting History with Pennies

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Students collect pennies and sort them in ascending order of dates. For the year on each penny, students research key events in history and pick a single event, explaining its historical significance. Then students use these events to create a timeline of U.S. history.

Coin Type(s)

  • Cent

Coin Program(s)

  • Generic


On their own, students will research random years in U.S. history and identify key historical events.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies

Minor/supporting Subject Area Connections

  • Language Arts


  • Third grade
  • Fourth grade
  • Fifth grade

Class Time

Sessions: One
Session Length: 30-45 minutes
Total Length: 0-45 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Individual work


  • Pennies (20 per student)
  • Paper
  • Pens/pencils to create "date sheets."
  1. Ask students to collect 20 pennies - each with a different mint date - and bring them to the classroom.
  2. Have students create a "date sheet" for each penny. (You may want to have students tape or otherwise attach each penny to its sheet of paper.) Then have students sort the date sheets in chronological order.
  3. Have students research events in U.S. history for each year on their date sheets.
  4. On each date sheet, have students note a key event, explaining its historical significance.
  5. Collect all date sheets from students. Post the sheets in chronological order around the classroom, creating a timeline of U.S. history.

Differentiated Learning Options

Use the class timeline to create a Web page or site that electronically charts the same information.

Technology Extensions

If your class has access to software programs such as PowerPoint and AppleWorks, you could have students use the programs to create more polished date sheets.

  • Use the students' projects to determine whether the students:
    • Were able to correctly date sheets in chronological order. 
    • Effectively used reference materials to find and research key events. 
    • Accurately explained the events selected and gave supporting facts.
  • Evaluate students' spelling, grammar, and other writing conventions for accuracy.

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

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: All Language Arts Standards
Cluster: Applying Knowledge to Language
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

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.