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New York through time

United States of America (USA) - New York through time

This lesson focuses on exploring the development of New York City through time, and the factors (and events in history) that has shaped the city we see today. This lesson is designed to include clear cross-curricular links with history.

Key questions

  • Where is New York City?
  • What happens in New York?
  • How has New York City changed over time?
  • What factors have affected the development of New York City?

Subject content areas

  • Locational knowledge: Understanding the location of New York City, recognising key features and characteristics of the city. 
  • Place knowledge: Investigation of the development of New York City, its functions and characteristics.
  • Physical geography: Understanding of how the location and features of this area of the country made it conducive for development.
  • Human Geography: Understanding how New York City as a settlement developed over time.
  • Geographical skills and fieldwork: Analysis of historical maps to examine urban change.



In class discussion ask pupils to think of people, places and space they associate with New York. How do they know this about the city? Perhaps they have visited, or recognise the city as it is represented on television, or in films. Put these answers on the whiteboard. This should help you to establish pupils existing knowledge of New York City.


Task one:  Watch this video which explores how New York has changed over time. Go to YouTube

As a class introduce the focus of this lesson as exploring how New York has changed through time and that pupils are going to complete ‘Now and Then’ worksheet.

Then, show pupils maps of New York through the ages. Introduce the idea of the grid system in Manhattan that shapes the city. Then, show pupils photographs of New York through the ages

Discuss the changes as a class and begin to question why and how these developments have taken place.

  • How are the pictures the same?
  • How are they different?

Discuss the ways places change over time

Task two: Move forward in time, go to NYC Grid website (this URL will take you to the ‘twenty best before and after’ entries of the website, so that pupils do not feel overwhelmed by choice)

These ‘before and after’ snapshots show how different areas of New York have changed through time in a specific location. It should show pupils how engaging with place at local level can show the changes that have been experienced at national and global level e.g. changes in technology, industry and subsequent social, economic and environmental impacts.

Extension: If time allows, pupils should choose one location that they have explored using the NYC Grid website. They should use computers to research more about that place, its history and its contemporary use: are there famous landmarks in the area? Is this place residential, or used for certain businesses, or trade? This activity allows pupils to investigate a time period, and place in more detail to explore why certain changes have happened.


New York Fact Tennis: in pairs pupils take it in turns to say, “Did you know that...” and then give one piece of information, one fact, or one place, or landmark discussed within the lesson. The Tennis Champion is the pupil who runs out of information last.

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