The Age of Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution

Teacher Guide by John Gillis

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The Age of Enlightenment Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Enlightenment/Scientific Revolution Include:

The era between the 16th and the 18th centuries was tumultuous. Revolutions in thought provoked revolutions in action. The spread of new ideas became known as the Enlightenment. Systems of government that had existed for centuries in Europe came under increasing scrutiny. Eventually, the Enlightenment sparked revolutions on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Enlightenment/Scientific Revolution Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Philosophes Character Map

The Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution were driven by people who dared to think outside of the box and challenge what they had been taught.

Create a storyboard character map of the main thinkers of the Enlightenment.

The chart must include the following Enlightenment thinkers:

  • Voltaire
  • Baron de Montesquieu
  • Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Jean Jacques Rousseau
  • Bonesana Beccaria
  • Denis Diderot

Each cell must detail the thinker's background, beliefs/ideas, and the long-term impact of those ideas.

Name Background Beliefs/Ideals Long-Term Impact


  • French thinker and writer
  • Fought against intolerance
  • Jailed twice for criticizing the French government
  • "I do not agree with a word you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."
  • The ideas of free expression is guaranteed in the founding documents of many democracies e.g. the Bill of Rights, Declaration of the Rights of Man, and Citizen.


  • Swiss writer
  • Published 'The Social Contract' in 1762
  • Direct democracy is the ideal form of government.
  • All people are equal.
  • 'The Social Contract': give up some freedom in exchange for the "common good."
  • Rousseau's ideas inspired the political leaders of the French Revolution.


  • French philosophe and writer
  • Published the Encyclopedia in 1751
  • The ideas of the Enlightenment should be collected and widely distributed.
  • Diderot helped spread the ideas of the Enlightenment to middle-class Europe.


  • British writer
  • School administrator
  • Assistant publisher
  • Published 'A Vindication of the Rights of Women' in 1792
  • Women need to be educated alongside men.
  • Women should be trained for sophisticated jobs.
  • Wollstonecraft inspired women's rights groups all over Europe and the USA.
  • She also inspired women's suffrage movements.


  • French writer and thinker
  • Studied political systems
  • Wrote 'On the Spirit of Laws' in 1748
  • The best political systems have separate institutions that have specific powers.
  • Each section of the government 'checks' the powers of the other sections.
  • Most nations involved in the series of 'Atlantic Revolutions' adopt separation of powers in their constitutions.


  • Italian philosophe
  • Studied legal systems
  • Laws should not be used as a form of revenge.
  • Torture and capital punishment should never be used.
  • Trials should be fair and speedy.
  • The US Bill of Rights guarantees most of Becarria's ideas.
  • Torture is banned in both Europe and the Americas.

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John Lockes vs. Thomas Hobbes | Political Views Comparison

Many of the revolutionary political ideas of the Enlightenment developed out of a basic disagreement on how people should be governed. This disagreement is best illustrated by the divergent views of British political thinkers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.

In this activity, students will analyze the differences between the political views of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Students should address the following questions in their storyboard:

  1. What are natural rights?
  2. What is the social contract?
  3. What is the preferred government of Locke and of Hobbes? How is the government based on each thinker’s view of human nature?


Locke’s Natural Rights

According to Locke, people are reasonable. They are born with the natural rights of life, liberty, and property. Governments must protect those rights...or be overthrown.

The best kind of government is democracy.

Government by popular consent was the motivation for the Atlantic Revolutions and the foundation of modern democracies.


Hobbes’ Leviathan

According to Hobbes, people are not reasonable. They are born with selfish, nasty inclinations. Governments exist to keep human beings from killing each other.

The best kind of government is absolute monarchy.

Hobbes' view that the only way to maintain order was through absolute rule also persists. Many 21st century authoritarian governments justify their action with Hobbesian arguments.

Extended Activity

Students could extend this activity by finding modern examples of governments that reflect either a Lockean approach or a Hobbesian approach to ruling. These examples could be displayed in an additional two cells at the bottom of this storyboard.

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Before and After: Scientific Revolution Changed Views

The Scientific Revolution offered society a number of alternative theories to some big questions. These theories of the tackled questions ranging from, ”How does the universe work?” and “What is the essential material that all things are made of?” to “How does the human body function?”

Students will organize the concepts of the Scientific Revolution into three categories on the grid layout: Universe, Body, and Material World. The storyboard should answer these questions:

  1. What new theories were developed regarding the functioning of the human body?
  2. What new theories were developed regarding man’s place in the universe?
  3. What new theories were developed regarding the functioning of the natural world?


In his book, Starry Messenger, Galileo Galilei write about his observations using a telescope. He claimed that Jupiter had four moons and confirmed Copernicus’ theory of a heliocentric universe.

Isaac Newton theorized that the universe worked because of a power called gravity. This force affected everything in the universe and maintained order.

Natural World

Evangelista Toricelli created the first barometer. He used it to show that changes in atmospheric pressure could predict weather.

Janssen and
Dutch eyeglass maker Zacharias Janssen invented the telescope. Anton von Leeuwenhoek used the invention to see cells and bacteria.

Human Body

Flemish doctor Andreas Vesalius dissected corpses and discovered a far more sophisticated human physiology that previously believed.

British doctor, Edward Jenner, created the world’s first vaccine. He gave people small amounts of cowpox, which gave them immunity to smallpox.

Extended Activity

Students could choose which innovation they feel had the biggest long-term impact. They could then defend this choice using a smaller storyboard that illustrated the long-term impact.

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Enlightenment Changed Thinking: Comparison Activity

The link between the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment is important to understand. It is clear evidence that a way or method of thinking can have an impact on a wide variety of social issues. In this case, embracing logic and reason in science inspired a whole new way to look at government. Have students create a T-Chart storyboard that gives example of how old ways of thinking about science were transformed by reason and logic. The storyboard must have:

  • Two columns: One labeled “Old Thinking” the other labeled “New Thinking”
  • Three examples of old Scientific approaches that changed during the Scientific Revolution
  • A fourth example that shows how applied logic and reasoning transformed government

How did the Scientific Revolution inspire the Enlightenment?

Old Thinking New Thinking

Earth-Centered Universe

The idea of an earth-centered universe started with Aristotle, was expanded on by Ptolemy, and was supported by the Christian Church.

Copernicus: Heliocentric Universe

Nicholaus Copernicus was a cleric from Poland and an amateur astronomer. His long study of planetary motion inspired the idea that the sun was at the center of the solar system.

The Ancient Scholars are Right!

The conclusions of the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as the Church, were accepted as truth.

Francis Bacon: Understanding Through Experience

Bacon urged scientists to adopt an empirical approach. He believed they must do the work themselves and stop depending on ancient texts for answers.

Aristotle: The Four Elements

Aristotle believed that all terrestrial matter was composed of some combination of the four elements: water, fire , air, and earth.

Robert Boyle: Advances in Chemistry

Boyle made many contributions to modern science. One of his main arguments was that the material world was made up of tiny elements - what we call atoms today.

Divine Right Monarchy

Monarchs claimed that they received their right to rule from God.

Government by Popular Consent

People began to challenge traditional forms of government. These challenges were based on logic and reason, the essential ingredients in the Scientific Revolution.

Extended Activity

Students could create additional examples of political changes that happened as a result of reason. Students should also address the following question: "Why was the application of reason and logic to scientific problems easier than applying the same concepts to political and social problems?”

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Reactions to the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution

Both the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution provoked strong reactions from citizens and institutions. It is essential to understand the scope of these reactions, as they are clear evidence of just how powerful and revolutionary these new political and scientific ideas were.

Have students create a T-Chart storyboard that explains the reactions that individual and institutions had to the Enlightenment and new scientific thought. The storyboard should explain the ideas in one column and the reactions in the second column. Here are some examples to consider:

  • Galileo’s interaction with the Church
  • Rousseau’s ideas on Religion
  • Voltaire and the Enlightened Despots

Scientific Revolution Reactions

Innovation Reaction

Galileo Galilei

Galileo spent years perfecting his telescopes and making detailed observations of heavenly bodies and their movements.

Trouble with the Church

Church leaders were alarmed at Galileo's findings, because they contradicted what the church taught. Galileo was summoned before the Pope in 1633 and forced to claim that his conclusions were false.


The influence of Voltaire and other Enlightenment philosophies was widespread.

The Enlightened Despots

The philosophes influenced a group of "Enlightened Despots". They were absolute monarchs who were interested in using Enlightenment thinking in their policies.


Rousseau argued that all religions were aimed at the same goal: creating virtuous people. Therefore they have equal value.

Trouble with the Church

This opinion got Rousseau in hot water with religious leaders in Paris. His books were burned, and he fled Paris to avoid arrest.

Extended Activity

An easy extension of this activity would be to ask students, “What recent political, social, or scientific ideas have provoked strong reactions in the past ten years?” This could be a prompt for a discussion, a written assignment, or another storyboard!

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Science evolved dramatically during this time period. Old scientific ideas of the Greeks and Romans were replaced with new concepts based on an empirical approach. The reason and logic of the scientific revolution was adopted by a number of enlightenment thinkers or "Philosophes". Innovative ideas impacted politics, science, and social issues of this era.

Students will analyze both the long and short-term ramifications of these “revolutionary” ideas. Students can demonstrate an in-depth understanding of both the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. Students understand the links between history and our world today.

Essential Questions for The Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution

  1. What were the causes of the Scientific Revolution? How did the Scientific Revolution inspire the Enlightenment?
  2. How did society respond to the ideas of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution?
  3. What was the fundamental disagreement between John Locke and Thomas Hobbes?
  4. What were the social and political changes caused by the Enlightenment?
  5. How did the Scientific Revolution change people’s ideas about the material world, the universe, and human anatomy?
  6. What specific ideas did Voltaire, Rousseau, Beccaria, Wollstonecraft, Diderot, and Montesquieu develop during the Enlightenment?

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•   (English) The Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution   •   (Español) La Ilustración y Revolución Científica   •   (Français) Les Lumières et la Révolution Scientifique   •   (Deutsch) Die Aufklärung und die Wissenschaftliche Revolution   •   (Italiana) L'Illuminismo e la Rivoluzione Scientifica   •   (Nederlands) De Verlichting en de Wetenschappelijke Revolutie   •   (Português) O Iluminismo ea Revolução Científica   •   (עברית) ההשכלה המדעית המהפכה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) ثورة التنوير والعلم   •   (हिन्दी) प्रबुद्धता और वैज्ञानिक क्रांति   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Просвещение и Научная Революция   •   (Dansk) Oplysningstiden og Videnskabelige Revolution   •   (Svenska) Upplysningen och Vetenskapliga Revolutionen   •   (Suomi) Valistuksen ja Tieteellinen Vallankumous   •   (Norsk) Opplysningstiden og Vitenskapelige Revolusjonen   •   (Türkçe) Aydınlanma ve Bilim Devrimi   •   (Polski) Oświecenie i Rewolucja Naukowa   •   (Româna) Revoluția Luminilor și Științific   •   (Ceština) Osvícenství a Vědecké Revoluce   •   (Slovenský) Osvietenie a Vedecká Revolúcia   •   (Magyar) A Felvilágosodás és a Tudományos Forradalom   •   (Hrvatski) Prosvjetiteljska i Znanstvena Revolucija   •   (български) Просвещението и Научната Революция   •   (Lietuvos) Apšvieta ir Mokslinė Revoliucija   •   (Slovenščina) Razsvetljenstvo in Znanstvena Revolucija   •   (Latvijas) Apgaismība un Zinātnes Revolūcija   •   (eesti) Valgustusajastu ja Teaduslik Revolutsioon