Every day in America, classrooms watch and discuss Ken Burns's documentaries. The Civil War has been one of the most-used history films in American schools since its broadcast in 1990. 

For the past twenty-five years, the Ken Burns name has symbolized a trusted resource for classroom use. The films are memorable, spark dialog, and provide an engaging way to understand history. Educational materials and activities created in conjunction with the films offer themes for discussion and use a storytelling approach to engage students in multimedia classroom projects. Now, with the wealth of new media opportunities available, Ken, his team at Florentine Films, and PBS are developing even more ways to deliver the films’ content, encourage civil discourse, and address the knowledge gaps in American schools.

Ken Burns is redefining education. You get an emotional connection to history through his films that you don’t get out of a textbook.
— Lynda Resnick, Better Angel

Educator Page Views

From January 2013 to March 2016, the collective Ken Burns sites received over two million educator page views. More than 250,000 teachers have accessed lessons on Ken Burns sites in 2015. 

When asked which films teachers used, the top response was:

Classroom Engagement

70% of teachers surveyed found the lesson plans on Ken Burns’s sites “excellent” or “very good,” 75% found them easy to use, and 72.9% said they were appropriate for the intended grade levels.

The educational materials for Ken Burns’s documentaries challenge students to go beyond each film’s specific topic and explore the themes that are central to who we are as a nation. Developed around key curriculum subjects, including social studies, history, civics, and geography, they support critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. They are also closely aligned with content-based and common core standards.

Classroom activities include carefully selected video segments that take advantage of Burns’s extraordinary ability to bring history alive through storytelling. By stimulating discussions and civic engagement, the materials give teachers powerful tools for demonstrating how history is urgently relevant for their lives now, and in the future. 

The Ken Burns Virtual Classroom, will be designed, created and marketed expressly to teachers and will combine standards based lesson plans with video clips, infographics, quizzes and polls animated videos, viewing questions, quizzes, trivia games and other interactive media teachers are relying on more and more. These features engage users and further their experience and garner great feedback from teachers and students as well as recognition from top education organizations.

The VIRTUAL CLASSROOM will not only increase engagement of 21st century learners through compelling content and inspiring lessons but also allow teachers to immerse their students in valuable, real-world learning that aligns with core teaching standards.


Lesson plans are created to accompany each film. Here are some examples:

Jackie Robinson Lesson Plan
The Roosevelts Lesson Plan
Learn the Address


History Happens – An animated series with Ken Burns (in partnership with PBS Kids)
Targeted to elementary school students, History Happens will be an animated tour through American History lead by Ken Burns. A series of dynamic video shorts will explore the rich tapestry of America, presenting history in an engaging, educational and inspired way, asking the question each of Ken’s films explores: “who are we?”.

The series will feature clips from Burns’s iconic works highlighting landmark events (the Gettysburg Address, D-Day, the passage of the 19th amendment), locations (the Statue of Liberty, Pearl Harbor, the Lewis and Clark Trail) and important figures (Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jackie Robinson, FDR), woven with animated footage of Burns giving context to these important American moments.   

Lewis & Clark Screenshot Education Page.jpg