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Wisconsin Firsts

This teacher-submitted, secondary lesson plan appeared in the Badger History Bulletin. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs.

Author: Joni Shahrani, Sennett Middle School, Madison


Students will investigate the meaning of "change" in our society and grasp the way Wisconsin's progressive traditions have affected changes in many aspects of life. They will make the connection between Wisconsin as a progressive leader, and the inventions and legislative acts that are documented on the Wisconsin Firsts poster. Then students will choose one of the items listed on the poster to research and report on in class. This lesson plan requires two to three class periods.


  • Students will gain a greater understanding of how change can be viewed in society.
  • Students will think critically and make intelligent inferences.
  • Students will be able to distinguish between industrial and legislative firsts.
  • Students will analyze and draw conclusions about how these "firsts" reflect the Wisconsin people who made and used them.


The Wisconsin Firsts Poster has been created by The Office of School Services for students of all ages. The following lesson idea can motivate middle-level students to discuss and research the great state of Wisconsin.


  1. Begin the lesson by asking students these questions:
    • What is change?
    • Why is there change?
  2. Lead students to the idea that change can be anything new and innovative.
  3. Once students understand a good working definition of change, ask them if change will happen more easily if it benefits an individual or a large number of people? Why?
    • Help students to see that change is much easier on a society if many people benefit as opposed to a few.
  4. Now have students also generate a working definition for the word "progressive."
  5. At this point, ask students to draw parallels between their working definitions of "change" and "progressive."
  6. Enable students to understand that the state of Wisconsin is seen as a progressive state in many areas.
  7. Display the Wisconsin Firsts poster to show the many Wisconsin Firsts. These "firsts" exhibit why Wisconsin is considered a progressive state.
  8. Now ask students to brainstorm categories of "firsts" from the poster. Two categories that work well are "Inventions" and "Legislative Firsts." There will be a few "firsts" that will not fit into these two categories.
  9. Direct individual or pairs of students to research the "first" of their choice. Their research should explain what the innovation was and its impact on industry and human rights, or laws.
  10. The information from these reports can be related to middle school history curriculum such as Industrialism and Reforms in the United States.
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