Making an Historical Newspaper

Students investigate nineteenth century life in Canada through three context-based activities that each involve research, artifact creation and presentation components.

Created by Jackie Underhill Governor General's History Awards Winner and Kathy Thompson. Jackie Underhill is a 2004 recipient of Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History.

Posted January 3, 2013

Lesson Overview 

Students investigate nineteenth century life in Canada through three context-based activities that each involve research, artifact creation and presentation components. They are encouraged to explore a range of traditional and digital media including: editorial cartoons, videos, novels, newspapers and websites. In the process, they develop and practice skills in research, writing, note-taking, role-play, visual analysis, print design and web tool applications.

Time Required 

Intended as concurrent activities for a 4-6 week 19th Century History Unit

Historical Thinking Concept(s) 

This lesson plan uses the following historical thinking concepts: establish historical significance, use primary source evidence, and take historical perspectives.

Learning Outcomes

Student will:

  • Recognize and describe the meaningful ways that a variety of events and individuals have contributed to the development of Canada’s political history;
  • Create an editorial cartoon that demonstrates their understanding of a municipal, provincial, or national issue and illustrates their point of view (Synthesis/Create)
  • Identify and describe the techniques used to create political awareness through humour in editorial cartoon (Knowledge, Comprehension, Application);
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the concepts of exploration or settlement in the area that would become Canada (Application); 
  • Understand the historical events, individuals, and society of Canada in the 1800s (Knowledge, Comprehension)

Background Information

These activities focus on the experience of settlers and their descendants, their political challenges and aspirations, and the economic realities of the 1800s in what became Canada. Specific topics include: colonialism, settlement, rebellion, confederation and nationhood. 

The Lesson Activity


In the first activity, student interest is piqued visually as they survey and examine period editorial cartoons. They collect, identify and analyze them for common persuasive techniques that endure today. After further practice, they create their own editorial cartoons to demonstrate their understanding of the conventions.


Activity two deals with exploration and settlement through research. Students brainstorm potential topics, presentation tools and assessment methods. They select a topic, draft a timeline, make a log book, then begin the inquiry process in the school library. When their investigation is complete, they are responsible for presenting their topic in a creative manner.


The final project builds on applying the research and analytical skills they have acquired in the previous two activities into a contextualized product. Students examine the structure and composition of a newspaper then use their research and writing skills to investigate an event, personality or feature of society in nineteenth century Canada.


  • Editorial cartoons from a variety of newspapers
  • Digital and print resources on nineteenth century exploration and settlement
  • Samples of historical newspapers

Extension Activity

Assessment: Students are assessed by how effectively they demonstrate their understanding of the topics, document their research process, support and communicate their point of view, and express their creativity. The artifacts generated are meant to be shared with the class through presentations and the school community through various media like school the school newspaper and website.

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