Classroom Activities for Abraham Lincoln: The Kentucky Years

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This page includes the activities on the PDF along with additional ideas.


  • Compare the Lincoln Birthplace Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Talk about what is similar and what is different about each site.
  • Make models of log cabins and talk about why log cabins were popular in Lincoln’s time and how homes today are different.
  • The source of water at Sinking Spring was a main reason the Lincoln family located there. Look at and discuss water sources that resulted in the settling of your county. If space allows, hide a few signs that say “spring” in the recess area and direct students to find the spring and create their own settlement with sticks or sidewalk chalk around it.
  • Launch a penny campaign to raise money for your school or public library. Examine how Lincoln loved books and would have enjoyed access to a library. Count how many pennies it takes to buy books.
  • Use hula hoops as Venn diagrams and talk about similarities and differences in the childhood of Lincoln and childhood today. Use the topics of school, helping at home, learning, stories, family, play, transportation and conflict. One hoop represents Abraham Lincoln’s childhood and one hoop represents childhood today. Students can stand in each hoop one at a time and state a key idea of each period, or one student can stand in each hoop with a poster board on which all students’ ideas are recorded. After differences are established, look for ways the circles would intersect with common attributes.
  • The video says that as a boy Abraham Lincoln wrote letters in the dirt. Use a small container of sand and unsharpened pencils to encourage students to trace shapes and letters.
  • Design a “touch and feel” story as a class about the boyhood of Lincoln. Include representations of items that would have been important to Abraham Lincoln’s family such as clothing, water, food, and shelter.
  • Use a stick as a story prop to retell key points in the heritage and boyhood of Abraham Lincoln. In the story use the stick as a walking stick to Lincoln’s pioneer grandparents, log for log cabins on the frontier, kindling for firewood, stick for practicing writing letters, a branch for saving young Abraham Lincoln, and a walking stick again as the Lincolns left Kentucky for the Indiana wilderness.
  • Tape pennies to a center table and allow students to do penny rubbings in different colors and patterns. Tape copier paper over the penny pattern and demonstrate how to rub with crayon to get the clearest image. Tape one pattern down in the shape of an A for Abraham. Working together to make one in the shape of Kentucky with a special color for Hodgenville to mark Lincoln’s birthplace.
  • Take a stretch break pantomiming the activities of Abraham Lincoln in his boyhood. Walk (in place) to school, feed the chickens, gather eggs, plant corn, pick a pumpkin from the garden, sweep the floor, run (in place) in the fields, gather and carry firewood and, finally, sit at the end of the day to listen to stories.

Grades 4 and 5

  • Discuss how conflict resulted in many changes in the personal family history of Abraham Lincoln. Create a domino display showing key events in the personal history of Lincoln that caused other events to occur. Tape a drawing or key words on dominoes to demonstrate the cause and effect inherent in life.
  • Examine how pioneers like Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather and the Native Americans had different perspectives about the land we now call Kentucky. Research the different perspectives on land ownership, farming, westward migration, hunting, and territory. As a class or individually, have students write a sentence to summarize perspectives on each issue. Perform the point and counterpoints as dramatic readings.
  • Trace the path of Abraham Lincoln’s father from the Cumberland Gap to Long Run, Elizabethtown, Hodgenville and Indiana. How was the story of Abraham Lincoln’s family similar to other families of the day? How did the topography influence the paths of people on the frontier?
  • Look for primary source information to see what Lincoln himself said about his childhood. A good source is Have students select key phrases to illustrate.
  • Create a timeline to indicate how Abraham Lincoln’s family came to Kentucky before his birth and left Kentucky in his boyhood. Use key ideas where times are unavailable. Create personal timelines that highlight key events in the lives of students or the school.
  • Storytelling was important in the heritage of Abraham Lincoln. Have students use facts from his early life in Kentucky to tell a story.
  • Look into the meaning of Kentucky’s motto, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” Compare this to what Lincoln said about the importance of preserving the Union and the role of Kentucky in the Civil War.
  • Lincoln’s formal schooling would only lasted about two years, but his intelligence and natural curiosity must have been evident. Have students write a journal entry from the perspective of Lincoln’s teacher.
  • Cut a large poster board or bulletin board paper into three separate “puzzle pieces” that will fit together. Print the terms liberty, justice, and equality, one on each piece. Have students define each word. Show how these democratic principles fit together. Students could add drawings or images. Create another puzzle-shaped piece with the word slavery on it that doesn’t fit. Talk about slavery as discussed in the DVD and how slavery doesn’t “fit” with these basic democratic principles of liberty, justice, and equality.

Grades 6-8

  • Abraham Lincoln’s school was two miles from home. So, every school day he walked at least four miles. Have students use pedometers or other tools for measuring to determine how far the average middle school student walks in a day. Examine how changes in transportation have influenced the way people spend their time. Discuss whether kids today get as much exercise as frontier kids.
  • As a class, make a list of basic democratic principles and rights guaranteed in historical documents. Discuss how the Lincolns pursued their rights and were influenced by these founding ideas.
  • Have students explore the history of cabin at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. What is the story of the cabin and the effort to preserve this symbol of Abraham Lincoln?
  • Make a list of names of people who would have been potential primary sources in the life of Lincoln. How did the literacy rate and access to pen and paper influence the primary source material available?
  • Have students create brochures for the Lincoln Birthplace memorial including interesting historical and biographical information to draw visitors to the site.
  • Have students write letters to a tour company suggesting Lincoln tours. They should select Kentucky locations that could be included and should provide at least three good reasons to create Lincoln tours.
  • The mill would have been a place where farmers saw each other and shared news of events. Have students write a short dialogue between two farmers sharing news about the family of Thomas and Nancy Hanks.
  • Have students write songs to the tune of “Yankee Doodle” about Abraham Lincoln’s early years in Kentucky.
  • As a class, make a chain reflecting the interconnected chain of events from the Kentucky years in Abraham Lincoln’s life. Write key events on each part of the chain. Discuss the nature of cause and effect.

Grades 9-12

  • As a class or individual, have students examine the statement, “Abraham Lincoln is proof that any father’s child can live in the White House.” Discuss the historical facts that prove this statement in the life of Lincoln. Is this statement still true today?
  • Every great story has conflict. Ask students what conflicts from Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood are compelling to them.
  • Have students create a map of major roads from the time of Lincoln’s birth. Examine the roads that influenced Lincoln’s life including the Cumberland Gap trail and the road he observed slaves going to market. What primary sources verify these roads in frontier Kentucky? Discuss: Personally, what roads have been influential in your town and your life?
  • Using historical and biographical information, list reasons why Kentucky has a claim on Lincoln.
  • The early years in childhood have been called the formative years. Ask students: What early influences from the Kentucky years could have inspired or informed Abraham Lincoln as President?
  • Conflict and competition greatly influenced the family of Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky. Have students research how these conflicts uniquely represent the culture of the day.
  • Have each student choose a character from “Abraham Lincoln: The Kentucky Years” and write a short monologue reflecting his or her unique character and historical perspective. Haven them perform their monologue for the class or present them as audio only.
  • Have students create collages of major events shaping the early years of Abraham Lincoln’s life in Kentucky. They should create images and use key phrases and vocabulary in printed form.
  • Use a video camera to survey people with the question, “What do you admire most about Abraham Lincoln?”