Nobel Prize Lesson Plans

Nobel Prize lesson plans can give students a way to learn about the people, and achievements that are influencing society.

By Cathy Neushul


Nobel Prize Lesson Plans

If you're like me, you casually list the Nobel Prize as one of those things you'd like to have in your cache of accomplishments. This may not actually happen; there are fewer than 1,000 Nobel Laureates. This isn't really the point, however. It's all about imagining the courage of working toward an achievement, such as this one.

Since 1901, the year the prizes were first awarded, the Nobel organization has given out more than 800 prizes. If you take a look at a list of Nobel Laureates, you may be surprised by the names you would recognize, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Marie Curie, and Mother Theresa.

Nobel prizes are given out in six areas: medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics. So far, this year's recipients include: 

  • Medicine or physiology: Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak for their work with chromosomes and a connection to aging and cancer,  
  • Physics: Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle, and George E. Smith for work in fiber optics and digital imaging.
  • Chemistry: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Steitz, and Ada E. Yonath for determining the structure of the ribosome which has implications for antibiotic development.
  • Literature: Herta Muller for her books about her life in Romania under a dictatorship.
  • Peace: United States President Barack Obama.

There are many interesting ways you can teach students about the Nobel Prize, and its influence on society. The first thing you might want to do is teach students about Alfred Nobel, and how he came to bequeath his fortune to form the Nobel Foundation. He was an interesting man, with a passion for science. He spent years perfecting a way to use nitroglycerine to make dynamite. Students may be interested in learning about the chemistry behind this research, and the trial and error process that led to his ultimate success.

Students may also be interested in learning about the more than 35 woman who have become Nobel Laureates. The women honored received awards for accomplishments in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace, but not economics. Maybe this year. 

English and language arts teachers might want to have students read selections from the  more than 100 Nobel Laureates in Literature. Even though many of the authors may not be on required reading lists, you could use the works of these writers as a way to assign independent activities, and provide fodder for classroom discussions. Students may be intrigued by books by such writers as Toni Morrison or Octavio Paz.

You could also focus on Nobel Peace Prize Lesson Plans, which could include information about the most recent recipient President Barack Obama. You could teach lessons about the job of the president, and the work of other Nobel Peace Prize honorees, including Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and Nelson Mandela. 

Each of this year's award recipients provide a perfect way to begin a discussion in their area of expertise. You could do a lesson about chromosomes, digital imaging, fiber optics and its use with the Internet, ribosomes, dictatorships, and peace efforts . Any of these topics could liven up th school day, and reinforce your daily objectives. For more ideas see the Nobel Prize Lesson Plans below.

Nobel Prize Lesson Plans:

The Nobel Prize

This lesson provides a great way for students to learn about the Nobel Prize. There are links to information about the prize itself, recipients, and the most recent Nobel Prize news. Students are expected to do research on a Nobel Laureate. I would have them write a report, and present this information to the class.

Let There Be Peace

In this lesson students learn about the Nobel Peace Prize and the recipients of this honor. In particular, they talk about former president Jimmy Carter. Students then write a documentary about the Nobel Laureates they learned about in class.

Nobel Prize Winner - Jose Saramago

Students read the works of Jose Saramago, and discuss why he won the Nobel Prize. They use compare and contrast, and other techniques to analyze this author's literature.

Peace and Tools of Destruction

In this lesson students learn about the Nobel Prize. They focus on one of the winners, Joseph Rotblat. They are divided into groups representing the press and the Nobel Prize Committee. They write a script and videotape a mock press conference.

Projecting the Image - What Can One Person Do?

Students learn about Nobel Prize recipients, and their accomplishments. They analyze how these recipients contributed to society.

Writing Guide

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Cathy Neushul