Everyday Life in the 1950s


Lesson Overview                                                                                                            

This lesson serves as an introduction to primary source documents in preparation for research middle school students will do for National History Day.


Lesson Author


Beth Miller


Williams Intermediate School, Davenport, Iowa


Lesson Audience

Grade Level


# of Class Periods



Language Arts

Length of Period

45 minutes


Objectives                                                                                                               Back to Navigation Bar

Student will:

1.      identify aspects of family life, transportation, fashion, and communication of the 1950s

2.      compare these aspects to our present day aspects,

3.      analyze and answer questions related to primary source documents.




Materials                                                                                                                 Back to Navigation Bar

Online Resources (hyperlink)

  1. Television and TV Dinners: http://www.mortaljourney.com/2010/11/1950-trends/tv-dinners
  2. Chevrolet: http://oldcarandtruckads.com/Chevrolet/
  3. 1950s Birthday Party: http://www.lustronconnection.org/html/interiors/davenport_IA.html

4.     Duck and Cover: http://www1.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=195777&title=Atomic_Bomb_1950_s_PSA&vpkey=334059453d

5.     Woman’s Place is in the Home: http://faculty.tnstate.edu/tcorse/h2020/ladies_home_journal.htm



1.     Primary Source Analysis 1950s (doc)

2.     Photos for Source Analysis 1950s (doc)





Classroom Procedures                                                                 Back to Navigation Bar

Prior Learning (background information, vocabulary)

The student will need to know:

  1. The differences between primary and secondary source documents
  2. Where and how to find primary source documents
  3. How to determine if a resource is reliable


Day 1:

  1. Introduce students to primary resources by showing physical examples of photos and documents or share examples that can be found online.
  2. Discuss differences between primary and secondary resources.
  3. Assign students to complete the Document Analysis Sheet for two of the resources in this lesson.

Day 2:

  1. Continue assignment to study two primary source documents from this less and complete Data Analysis Sheet.
  2. Complete the same exercise with the lesson on the 1920s (need hyperlink to the 1920s lesson).



Extension                                                                                    Back to Navigation Bar

Assign students to choose another decade of the 20th century, find primary source documents, and create poster, booklet, PowerPoint or Prezi presentation that includes aspects of family life, transportation, technology/communication, fads/fashions, and major events with at least one document and an explanation of why it was important to that time period.



Evaluation                                                                                                              Back to Navigation Bar



The rubric below may be used to…..





More Effort Needed


10 pts

8-9 pts

7 pts


Bull’s Eye

Good Hit

Slightly off the Target


10 pts

8-9 pts

7 pts


Great account of document. Used solid detail

Good account. Used some solid detail

Ideas not fully developed; lacking sufficient detail to understand the thoughts behind the words


10 pts

8-9 pts

7 pts


Great relationship to inference

Good relationship to inference

Weak relationship to inference


10 pts

8-9 pts

7 pts


No errors. Use of complete sentences in answer

A few errors. Use of complete sentences in answer

A few errors. One fragment or incomplete sentence


Appendix                                                                                     Back to Navigation Bar


3.     Handouts: Primary Source Analysis 1950s (doc)

4.     Photos for Source Analysis 1950s (doc)



1.     TV dinners were invented during the 1950s, changing the way families gathered to share meal times.

2.     Many 1950s families owned Chevrolet cars called “Chevy.” They were affordable, and the ads were targeted toward middle class families interested in “Seeing the USA in a Chevrolet.”


3.     Kids dressed up to go to birthday parties like this one in 1956. Otherwise, they were simply affairs held in the birthday boy or girl’s home. Kids played games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Musical Chairs or board games. Of course, there was always ice cream and cake which was baked by the birthday child’s mother.