Book Builders - High School

9, 10, 11, 12

In an effort to strengthen the notion that individual voluntary action can have a significant impact, students will create books where one key historical figure's actions turn from philanthropic to selfish. They will imagine what the world would be like in the absence of great deeds of generosity and character. The students illustrate with their imagination and words the impact of character and philanthropy to make a difference.

PrintOne class period, plus time for a project

Students will be able to:

  • conduct research on a key historical figure and glean what attributes made them influential and important.
  • write a story, grounded in educated speculation to what the world would be in the absence of this figure.
  • determine through group discussion what traits made historical figures important and relate this to their lives.
  • lists of the Most Influential People -- men and women in history
  • computers to create online books, if you opt to use technology
  • paper, markers, colored pencils, if you opt to make physical books
  • grading rubric to grade students on their performances


  1. Anticipatory Set: Ask each student to write on a piece of paper the names of highly influential persons they can recall from history. Then ask them to say them aloud as you compile a list on the board.

    Note: Some students may come up with negative influencers, and it is up to you whether this is fine for the activity. The absense of a trait, such as respect or fairness, can teach us about the trait as well. This will require a different approach to the writing assignment. 

  2. Brainstorm a list of key traits of these influential people (leadership, influencer, caring, integrity, curious, etc.). See the handout of defined traits.

    Then ask the students to identify one trait, quality, or key decision made associated with each individual on the board. This will include discussion and decision making. It is okay to problem-solve to determine the most apt trait and to have the same trait assigned to more than one person. 

  3. Go online to find lists of the 100 Most Influential People in history and the top 100 Women of history and project them for all to see. These are not definitive lists, but they will provide ideas.

    Each student chooses one person from this list (avoid duplicates) and researches their accomplishments and character traits. 

  4. Assignment: Based on research, write a historical fiction story about your person in their actual context, but rather than exhibiting the trait or action they are known for, they choose apathy or the opposite action. The story imagines how history would be different without that influencer's act of character. The story should have a setting, problem and resolution, and a lesson learned for the readers. 

    Note: if the student chose a negative character from history, such as Hitler, the narrative can be written as if their worst trait, racism, was turned around into compassion. 

  5. Once students complete their stories, they can print their best work to share with others. To make the assignment clear to others, the students should include a reflection at the end about the character trait their story illustrates. 

  6. Engage the class in a discussion using the following prompts:

    1. Share with the class how the world was different in your historical figure’s absence.
    2. Why do you feel your historical figure chose to get involved, instead of taking the path of apathy, or by-standing?
    3. When your history is viewed, what character trait of yours will have an impact? What legacy do you hope to have
    4. What influence has one of these historical figures had on your choice of character?

Use the rubric and provide students their grades based upon their insightfulness and work ethic.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give examples from history of how intolerance of ideas, religion, and minorities contributed to social disintegration.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Describe how women and minority groups have used the civil society sector as an alternative power structure.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give an example of individual philanthropic action that influenced national or world history.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.