Teaching Students About the Second Great Awakening


The Second Great Awakening was a significant religious, social, and cultural upheaval in the United States spanning from the late 18th century into the early 19th century. It was characterized by a resurgence in religious fervor and an explosive growth of religious denominations. This period played a critical role in shaping American society and has an important place in any history curriculum. In this article, we will explore various approaches to teaching students about the Second Great Awakening to help them understand its impact and significance.

Background Information

It’s essential, to begin with, an overview of the Second Great Awakening for your students to provide them with proper context. Discuss the vital religious and philosophical movements that emerged during this time, such as revivalism and transcendentalism. Highlight influential preachers like Charles Finney, who advocated for religious conversions driven by emotion rather than reason. Emphasize the decentralization of American religion during this period—with the development of numerous independent churches—and how it contributed to a more inclusive and diverse religious landscape.

Primary Sources

Introduce your students to primary sources that reflect the attitudes, beliefs, and experiences during the Second Great Awakening. These may include sermons by prominent preachers, testimonials by ordinary people participating in revivals, or accounts from observers documenting these events. Encourage students to analyze these primary sources critically using close reading techniques to identify common themes and distinct perspectives on this period.

Group Activities

Assign group activities that allow students to dive deeper into specific aspects of the Second Great Awakening. For instance, you might have groups research different religious denominations that emerged or gained popularity during this time, such as Methodism, Baptists, or Mormons. Alternatively, ask groups to investigate key social reforms influenced by revivalist beliefs such as temperance movement, women’s rights advocacy, and abolitionism.

Historical Contexts

Help your students situate the Second Great Awakening within broader historical contexts, both within the United States and globally. Comparing this movement with the First Great Awakening or other religious revivals can provide valuable perspective on recurring themes. Additionally, exploring the broader socio-political climate of the United States at this time—the young nation’s westward expansion and the rise of a market economy—will help students understand how these factors influenced the widespread appeal of revivalism.

Visual Aids

Utilize visual aids, such as photographs, paintings, or maps, to support your instruction on the Second Great Awakening. For example, images of camp meetings and revivals can help students better visualize these events’ size and energy. Providing students with historical maps can also demonstrate how revival movements spread geographically across the United States.


Teaching students about the Second Great Awakening offers opportunities to engage with a dynamic period in American history that had far-reaching consequences for the nation’s religious, social, and cultural landscape. By providing context, primary sources, rich activities, historical comparisons, and visual aids, you will be equipping your students with a comprehensive understanding of this essential topic.

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