Digitizing History: Exploring moments in time through Web design

Author: Dr. Thomas Gant
Lesson Plan:

The World Wide Web was created at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, in the 1980s. It was originally meant to facilitate efficient, “user-friendly” publishing and to search and retrieve CERN files, among other uses. The roots of the project can be found in a 1989 proposal paper written by British software engineer Timothy Berners-Lee while he was associated with CERN. Numerous technical developments have now made web sites pervasive in nearly every area of professional and personal daily life and much more vibrant and useable.  


In this project, older elementary-age students will work in teams to create a home page or small web site, each based on a different theme related to a recent history or social studies lessons. By doing so, they will learn the basics of organizing a web site and more deeply explore an aspect of the curriculum.

Teacher Preparation:

  • You will need a web site creation software program that is geared for young students, such as Serif’s WebPlus. Most programs will have tutorials to get you going quickly. Serif provides several online resources as well as a CD of lesson suggestions, worksheets and other materials to all educational users.
  • Discuss with your IT manager the best way to make and have access to a shared drive or folder for students to store all the source files needed for the project including text documents, digital photos, scans of student drawings and other graphics, animated GIFs, video clips and sounds files.
  • Create a schedule for accessing the computers in your classroom

Subject area: This lesson applies specifically to history and social studies, but it can be modified or applied to other subject areas or age groups who would benefit from discussing and presenting the information in their lessons in graphical ways.

At the end of this project students should be able to:

  • Understand what makes an effective web site;
  • Organize, refine and present information about a historical time period in different forms, including images, sounds and text; and
  • Work collaboratively as a web design team, whether in small groups or as a whole class.

Lesson Description: With the entire class, visit one to three web sites of your own choosing. Using a data projector or interactive whiteboard, if possible, ask students to take a good look at the site. Ask them, who is the intended audience for the site? What is the purpose or function of this site? Does the site look clean and streamlined or messy and cluttered? How easy is it to find and read the web site content? Navigate around the site and look at how the pages are linked together. Ask students if there are any features they like or don’t like.

As you go, identify web site features and discuss the terminology including a navigation bar, buttons, links, text, headings, graphics and a home page. (A searchable set of Internet terms geared for parents is available at www.NetLingo.com). Talk about the illustrations, the size of the fonts, the amount of text on a page and any other animations or features.

Divide the class into five or six teams and explain they will now create a web site to document a period in history they have recently covered, such as the American Revolution. (Alternate topics in other subject areas could include a favorite author, poet or artist, an aspect of government or a science or geography topic they have covered recently.) Alternatively, an entire class could work together to create a single, complete web site.

Explain the hierarchical structure of web sites. One analogy suggests that web sites are “museums,” and most people will enter through the “front door,” or home page, which contains links that help visitors navigate to the site’s other pages. Note that most web sites should make finding information easy for a visitor. Tell students that as the “architects” of these sites, they must discuss and decide what pages will be included on their web site (no more than five or six linked from the home page will be enough) and what information each page will feature.

Ask students to diagram their web site structure together and plan what pages they will incorporate, such as Revolutionary government, home life, industry, music or cultural trends. (A blank template for a simple web site structure can be found in the WebPlus user manual.) Ask individual members of these groups to take responsibility for a different aspect of their page, for example, making or finding illustrations or multimedia content, for research, for writing or proof-reading or for inputting content into the template. If working as a full class, begin a brainstorming session to discuss proposed pages for the site.

Also ask them to choose together a style for the site and a suitable color scheme. For example, more primary or muted colors would work better than bright hues or modern fonts to portray early America. Ask them questions to encourage them to consider how suitable or not their proposed designs are for their choice of theme an audience. Help them try to reach a consensus on debated aspects of design by writing down the three top picks and taking a vote.

Familiarize the students with your web site design software. Some, like Serif’s WebPlus, have a wizard that can guide students through the initial site design. Show them that they can create a master page from which changes to content and layout will be reflected on all pages in the site.


Have the students write and input their page titles and text. Ask them to replace any default text and images in the template with their own photos. (Many historical photos can be downloaded from the web for free. Start by searching on Google.) Serif’s WebPlus, for example, enables students to modify most site features by simply double-clicking on the object they would like to alter. Caution students to proof-read the entire site including clicking on every link to make sure they take visitors where the designers meant for them to go.


Tell students to save any text documents, artwork or other items for their web sites on a designated drive or folder on your class, school or district’s network. Also remind them to save their work frequently.


When finished, have students visit each other’s sites and share what they like and what other aspects of the time period they might have included. The completed sites can be published to a local folder for viewing within the school computer network or to a school web site to showcase the class’ work to a wider audience.


Grading Rubric: Students’ grades should be based on their ability to:

·         Present accurate information and understand the subject matter;

·         Find, select and organize relevant information;

·         Understand the underlying hierarchical structure of a simple web site;

·         Match the content, language and illustrations to their intended audience; and

·         Work together well in small groups to design the site.


Curriculum standards: This lesson addresses these National Educational Technology Standards for Students:

  • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity and promote creativity.
  • Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations.
  • Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate and use information.


Teaching Tips:

To extend the lesson, have students:

  • Create an animated marquee or other animation for their web site;
  • Record a short video or audio clip for the site;
  • Add interactive features such as a hit counter, blog, poll, or “shout-out” box;
  • Build a site from scratch without using a software wizard; or
  • Compile a list of top 10 tips for creating future web sites.