Lesson Plans: Living without lights

Page 1 of 7
Lesson plans for teachers, grade 2-5, discussing with students how everyday life was very different in Evanston in the past. Click to view the lesson plan and photographs. Downloadable PDF and images also available.

This lesson plan focuses on what it was like to live without electricity. Meets District 65 Standard: Show awareness of the common needs of all people for food, shelter, and clothing.



Grades 2-5

Author: Dr. Jenny Thompson

Director of Education, Evanston History Center



Lesson: Living without lights



  • Photos of stereoscope



  • Explain to students that everyday life was very different in Evanston in the past. One big difference between Evanstonians today and Evanstonians 150 years ago is that many residents then did not have electricity. Ask students to name all the devices around the house that require electricity.
  • Ask students, “What would you do for cooking and cleaning if you did not have electricity to power your oven, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, refrigerator, etc?”
  • Ask students if they already know any tools or objects that they know people in the past used in place of our modern objects.
  • Hold up a photo of the stereoscope and ask students if they can guess what it was used for.
    • Point out clues to them:
      • What is it made out of?
      • Do you think it was used to clean, to entertain, to make something?
      • Who do you think used it?
      • What do you think it was used for? (Teachers might want to hold the stereoscope up so that students can come up, one by one, and look at the picture. The two images, seen together through the stereoscope, give an image that looks alive and “three-dimensional.”)
      • Do we still use this? If so, what has changed? If not, what do we use instead? (to see pictures that look “alive” we use TV or movies.)
  • When students have correctly guessed what the object is, discuss how life has changed today with the modern replacement. 
  • Continue the guessing game with some or all of the other recommended images.
    • Mason jar for storing preserved fruits and vegetables instead of a refrigerator
    • Milk would be delivered daily instead of refrigerators in stores
    • Rug beater instead of a vacuum
    • Washboard instead of a washing machine
    • Curling iron without a cord that is heated on a stove instead of an electric curling iron



  • Talk about changes in values and beliefs that have resulted from new technology today. We expect our clothes to be cleaner and our rugs less dusty.