Early Humans


Early Humans explores the origins of mankind. Students will learn about the characteristics of these archaic people and explain how they survived and spread throughout the world.

There are several suggestions in “Options for Lesson” section that you could take advantage of to enhance the lesson and students’ learning. One such idea is to obtain a variety of stones and have students try to change them into tools using chisels and hammers. Another idea is to assign students a specific early human group to research and later present to the class.

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What our Early Humans lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Early Humans introduces students to the earliest peoples. Students will learn all about the characteristics of these individuals. They will also discover how humankind survived through difficult situations and eventually spread throughout the world. This lesson is for students in 5th grade and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. For this lesson, you will need colored pencils or paints, and drawing paper.

Options for Lesson

You can check out the “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page for additional suggestions for ideas and activities to incorporate into the lesson. Students may work in pairs or in groups for the activity. Instead of drawing paper, obtain pieces of drywall or large rocks for the “Cave Paintings”. The class votes on best, most creative, realistic, etc., paintings. Assign groups of students one of the early human groups to research and then present further information to the class. Obtain a variety of stones for students to use and change into tools using chisels and hammers. Students create a poster depicting one group of early humans, tools associated with, artifacts, etc.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page provides an extra paragraph of information to help guide the lesson and remind you what to focus on. It emphasizes the goal for students to compare the life of early humans to present day. The blank lines on this page are available for you to write out thoughts and ideas you have as you prepare the lesson.


Introduction to Early Humans

The Early Humans lesson plan contains four content pages. There are over 7 billion humans on the face of the earth today, and the population continues to grow. Long ago, however, no humans existed on the face of the planet. Early modern humans did not begin to populate Earth until about 200,000 years ago. And the ancestors of modern humans may be a million years old.

The planet is about 4.5 billion years old, and 200,000 years may not sound like a long time. But if you compare it to the age of the United States, it is 1,000 times as long as the US has been a country. Your grandparents are just two generations from you. There are another 6,000 generations of your early ancestors that date back 200,000 years ago.

Before modern humans (homo sapiens), the closest early humans were a group of people called Neanderthals. They lived in Europe and parts of Asia between 200,000 and 30,000 years ago. They looked a lot like you, the modern human. They were shorter and had wider faces. They may have had some type of spoken language, but there is no way to be sure. Scientists believe that modern humans of today are not related to the Neanderthals.


Before the Neanderthals, one of the best-known early humans lived in eastern Africa between two and five million years ago. Scientists refer to them as the Australopithecus. Archaeologists, scientists who study early humans and civilizations, estimate the age of human history by studying fossils. Through their studies, they discovered that these early humans were less than five feet tall. They had brains the same size as people today, stood on two legs, and had hands useful for climbing trees.

One of the most famous Australopithecus fossils archaeologists found was of an ape-woman who they named Lucy. They found her skeleton in 1974 in Africa. She was about 20 years old at the time of her death about 3 million years ago and was about 4 feet tall and around 50 pounds.

Overall, most early human fossils have been found in Africa, but others have been discovered just about everywhere else in the world. Many human ancestors spread out from Africa to new areas of the world, but others stayed close to home.

Early Human Migration

Today, when people hear the word migration, they think of people moving from one area of the world to another, traveling by boat, plane, car, or even by foot. However, modern transportation was not available thousands of years ago. Early humans traveled by foot and canoe. They began their journey outside of Africa starting about 70,000 to 100,000 years ago.

They first began to migrate from Africa and populated parts of Europe and Asia. Scientists estimate that they reached the continent of Australia about 35,000 to 65,000 years ago. And about 13,000 years ago, a land bridge connecting Asia and North America (in Alaska) helped early humans populate North and South Americas. The movement also took place during the Ice Age, so humans could walk across areas that were once separated by water.

The migration of early humans was most likely due to the search for more resources, like food. You must remember, there was no such thing as trade, deliveries, or modern technology like today. Imagine yourself and your family living only on the land surrounding your home. Imagine it is the only source of food and supplies for survival. Once the food and land is gone, you would need to move elsewhere, especially if other humans were competing for the same resources.

In addition, the development of language about 50,000 years ago allowed early humans to make plans for traveling. They could also solve a variety of problems and organize their lives more efficiently and effectively. When humans migrated outside of Africa, they also had to adapt and change their lives to survive in the colder climates.

Early Human Life

During the Stone Age, which took place between 600,000 to 700,000 years ago, prehistoric humans were used tools. They used the materials available to them to make tools mostly from stone. Handy Man was one of the first early humans to use stone tools.

In addition, they were hunter-gatherers, which means they did not plant crops. Instead, they hunted animals and gathered wild fruits, berries, nuts, and other vegetables. They were not familiar with farming. “Handy Man” also did not walk upright like modern humans. They were much taller and smarter than the “Lucy” humans, but they still did not know how to make fire. The only fire available to them was natural, when they found something burning. Then they would try to save it for their needs. If it went out, they would need to wait again to find something else burning.

After many years had passed, a group of humans named “Upright Man” did learn how to make fire, and that changed many things. The people began to cook their food and there was less disease. And with language development, it was not unusual for people to gather around a fire to share stories. It was the beginning of a community.

This led to the use of the earth’s resources in new ways, such as the construction of permanent settlements. In turn, this lead to a less nomadic lifestyle. People would instead have fixed homes and use the surrounding natural resources. Eventually, this resulted in the development of agriculture or farming.

Tool-making improved, and weapons included stone axes and knives. They moved and traveled much more often and did not have to worry about getting cold. Instead, they learned how to make clothing out of animal skins.

Cro-Magnon Man

The changes and adaptations led to the migration outside of Africa. People began to populate the rest of the world. Another group of Stone Age people, called Cro-Magnon Man, learned how to prepare, store, and preserve food for the long winters. They began to use traps to catch food, and they made nets from vines and fish hooks to catch fish. They even built rafts and canoes to fish in deeper waters. They also made clothing and jewelry and invented the bow and arrow.

Cro-Magnon paintings have been found inside deep caves on the walls. The paintings included a variety of colors and depicted hunting using stick figures for the hunters and animals.

Modern humans have lived for nearly 200,000 years. Science refers to them as home sapiens, which includes you and everyone one else in the world. All homo sapiens evolved from Africa and gathered and hunted food. And they adapted to their environment and living conditions and still survive today.

Compared to earlier humans, homo sapiens have a lighter build of skeletons and very large brains. But they vary in size from population to population and between males and females. The skull is thin-walled and high-vaulted with a flat and near vertical forehead. This was much different from earlier humans. Our jaws are also less heavily developed, and we have smaller teeth.


The Early Humans lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each one will help students solidify their grasp of the material they learned throughout the lesson. You can refer to the classroom procedure guidelines to know when to hand out each worksheet.


For the activity, students will imagine that there is no technology, internet, or paper available. They will create cave paintings that depict their life today so that future humans would understand how people lived. The worksheet page provides a box for students to use to create a rough draft for their painting. You will provide students with the paper they need for the final copy.


The practice worksheets list 20 questions for students to answer based on the content pages. You can decide whether or not students are allowed to use the content pages for reference. If you want, you could make the practice worksheet a quiz.


There are two sections on the homework assignment. The first part requires students to mark whether each statement is true (T) or false (F). There are 10 sentences in this section. The other section requires them to answer five questions based on what they learned.

Worksheet Answer Keys

The Early Humans lesson plan worksheet provides answer keys for both the practice and homework worksheets. All the correct answers are in red to make it easy to compare them to students’ responses. Given the nature of the prompts on the second part of the homework assignment, these answers will vary. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


5th Grade, 6th Grade


Social Studies

State Educational Standards

NCSS.D2.Geo.8.3-5, NCSS.D2.2.3-5, NCSS.D2.Geo.1.6-8

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.

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Soji H.

Review of Early Humans Lesson

This lesson was good, although there appear to be some internal inconsistencies with dates, etc., and it could benefit from updating in relation to more recent information. Also, perhaps for teachers, the specific sources used for the document would be good to know to doublecheck accuracy.

Michele T.

Early people

Always amazing homeschooling resources