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'Pick a Penny'
Research Project



Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
Educational Technology
Social Studies
--Current Events



Brief Description

Pick a penny from a jar and research important events that took place the year that penny was minted.


Students will

  • pick a penny from a bowl or jar and research the top news events of that year.
  • present their lists of top news events in one of a variety of formats.


timeline, end of year, penny, Lincoln, new year

Materials Needed

  • a bowl or jar of pennies (the bowl should contain at least one penny for each student in the class; make sure that each penny in the bowl has a different year marked on it)
  • Internet access

Lesson Plan

This lesson can be used in many different ways and at different times of the school year. It is perhaps ideally suited to use in the days leading up to the December holiday break (when students might have some trouble focusing) or to start the new calendar year; in either of those cases, looking back at the year just ending/ended will serve as a motivating hook" for learning about the most important events throughout the years.

You might begin the lesson by exploring some of the big events of the previous year. At the end of each year, many major magazines and TV stations do looking back" issues that highlight some of the most important events of the year. The Resources section below might serve as a source of the big events of the year.

Share with students a bowl of pennies that you have collected. Make sure that each penny in the bowl has a different year marked on it. The bowl should contain at least one penny for each student in the class. Invite each student to reach into the bowl and pull out a penny. The year on the penny is the year the student will be asked to research. Students will explore online resources to identify ten big events that happened that year.

Suggested Activities
This lesson can be taken in many different directions and focus on many different subjects and skills.

  • Technology. This is a nice lesson for the computer lab. Give students a class period to use the Resources below to research important events in the year that appears on their pennies. Students might create a simple one-page report listing the Top Ten Events of 19_ _". They might type their list of events onto a single page and attach the penny to that page. Post the students work on a Top Ten Events of 19_ _" or A Look Back at the Year" bulletin board. You might create a penny template from this penny art; photocopy it, white-out the date, then make a copy of the dateless penny for each student. Students can write in the date of their report, color the penny, and use the penny as art that appears next to their bulletin board posting.
  • History. You might have students research 10-20 key events from the year and create a simple timeline for the year. Add a technology component to this lesson by having students download this timeline template (alternate template) to use in creating their timelines.
  • Language arts. Have students choose what they feel to be the key/most important event of the year that appears on their pennies. Challenge them to research that event and write a one-page report about it. Use the penny art (see Technology lesson above) as art on the report page or as the cover page for the report.

These resources will help guide each student to some of the most important events that happened during the year marked on her/his penny:


Assess students based on the quality of their research and the quality of the presentation of information they learned/shared.

Lesson Plan Source

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

GRADES 5 - 12
NSS-USH.5-12.7 Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
NSS-USH.5-12.8 Era 8: The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
NSS-USH.5-12.9 Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)
NSS-USH.5-12.10 Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the Present)

GRADES 5 - 12
NSS-WH.5-12.8 The 20th Century

NT.K-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
NT.K-12.4 Technology Communications Tools
NT.K-12.5 Technology Research Tools

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