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What in the World? November History Lessons You Can Teach at Home (Part 2)

by David Engle | Nov 10, 2020 | 11 min read

This is a fascinating world we live in. When you step back and look at it, something historic has happened literally every single day. Sure, some events are bigger and more important than others, but think about it…history is made every day.

In this new, regular blog series, we’re going to look at world history by month, with two blog posts each month that list momentous events in the history of the world–and inspiration for lessons that you can teach your children at home!

We already took a look at the first half of November, so let’s finish up the month!

November 17, 1869: The Suez Canal formally opens. Prior to the building of the Suez Canal, ships carrying cargo had to navigate around the entire continent of Africa when traveling from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean (via the Red Sea), or vice versa. As Africa is a rather large continent, this wasn’t the ideal route for ships to take, which led to the decision to build the Suez Canal. It took 10 years, approximately 1.5 million workers, and $100 million (twice the forecasted budget) to complete, but once opened in 1869, the Suez Canal made travel much easier–and faster–as the 120-mile canal stretches from the Egyptian Port Said at the Mediterranean Sea south through Egypt into the Gulf of Suez, thus creating a shorter and more direct route to the Indian Ocean. The Suez Canal has seen quite a bit in its 151-year history:

  • World War I: The British defended the Suez Canal from the Ottoman Empire in 1915.
  • World War II: Italy and Germany attempted to capture the canal, but Axis ships were not permitted to access it for most of the war.
  • Transfer of power: Once the British withdrew its troops from the Suez Canal in 1956, the Egyptian government took ownership before transferring it to the Suez Canal Authority. This infuriated the British and the United States, who countered by withdrawing financial support for canal improvements. Adding fuel to the fire, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, which links Israel to the Red Sea, to Israeli ships. This did not sit well with the British, US, and many other European powers. This led to…
  • The Suez Crisis: This saw Britain, France, and Israel threaten to invade Egypt. Any further crisis was averted by a United Nations peacekeeping force.
  • The Arab-Israeli War: At the beginning of the Six-Day War of 1967, President Nasser forced those UN peacekeeping forces out of the Sinai Peninsula. Israel responded by sending troops to the region and taking control of the east bank of the Suez Canal.

Today, around 50 ships pass through the Suez Canal each day (or approximately 18,000 ships per year), carrying a total of 300 million tons of goods each year. As recently as 2014, the Suez Canal was widened to 21 miles, which allows ships going each direction to pass simultaneously. This provides the opportunity to discuss other man-made canals (like the Panama Canal), Israeli-Egyptian relations, and the export of goods from one country to another.

November 19, 1863: President Abraham Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address. Abraham Lincoln probably didn’t realize that on this day in 1863 he’d be delivering one of the most important and famous speeches in history, but his Gettysburg Address came to symbolize the definition of democracy. Honest Abe spoke during the ceremonies that dedicated the Gettysburg battlefield as a National Cemetery, and while his speech has been studied and revered for more than 150 years, it lasted less than two minutes. By comparison, orator Edward Everett spoke ahead of Lincoln…for two hours. But it wasn’t the length of the speech that placed it in the pantheon of oratories, it was the content. Lincoln played down the importance of his words, even claiming that the world would not remember his speech. Quite to the contrary, Senator Charles Sumner of Boston summed up President Lincoln’s address quite beautifully in 1865: “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.” Not only can you dive into the content and meaning of Lincoln’s words, but you can also discuss the Civil War as well as President Lincoln’s career and legacy.

November 19, 1978: The Jonestown Massacre occurs in Guyana. If you’ve ever used or heard the phrase, “drink the Kool-Aid,” its origins can be traced back to this tragic day in 1978. The Reverend Jim Jones, leader of the “People’s Temple” cult, built a compound in the remote jungle of Guyana, naming it Jonestown. More than 900 of his followers joined Jones into the jungle to work and live. Rumblings of wrongdoing and improprieties involving Jonestown made their way back to the United States in the form of complaints from a former member who was trying to extract her son from Jonestown. Congressman Leo Ryan from California and a television crew took a trip to Jonestown to investigate; while there, he asked whether anyone wanted to join him on the trip back to America.

A small group of followers left the compound with Congressman Ryan, thinking freedom was on the horizon. However, they weren’t aware that Jones had sent armed followers to the airstrip with the mission of intercepting the defectors–which is what they did, shooting and killing Leo Ryan, an NBC correspondent and cameraman, another journalist, and one of the defectors. The following day, Jim Jones ordered his entire congregation to drink a fruit-flavored punch laced with cyanide; those who refused were forcibly injected with the drink. Predictably, they “drank the Kool-Aid” (though the grape-flavored drink wasn’t actually Kool-Aid); within minutes, more than 900 were dead, including nearly 300 children. After watching his entire following die, Jim Jones either committed suicide or was shot at his request. This is obviously subject matter for older students, but it can lead to a discussion about cults throughout history and the dangers they pose.

November 20, 1925: Robert F. Kennedy is born. Many people remember Robert F. Kennedy as the brother of President John F. Kennedy, but RFK accomplished quite a lot during his 42 years. After graduating from Harvard University and then the University of Virginia Law School, Robert Kennedy began his political career by managing the Senate campaign of his brother John in 1952. RFK eventually worked as the chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee, where he rose to prominence by exposing the criminal activity and corruption of trade unions and their leaders, most notably Teamsters’ Union leader Jimmy Hoffa. In 1960, he took charge of JFK’s presidential campaign; upon his brother’s election, Bobby Kennedy was appointed Attorney General of the United States. During his time as Attorney General, he fought successfully against organized crime while fighting for the civil rights of African Americans. He also advised JFK on many important issues during his presidency, including helping guide the administration through the Cuban Missile Crisis and avoiding nuclear war in 1962. Robert resigned from his position after the tragic death of President Kennedy and ran a victorious campaign to become a senator in New York in 1964. Riding his successful career in the Senate, Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States in March of 1968 and was gaining plenty of momentum to become the Democratic nominee. However, on June 5, 1968, Mr. Kennedy was tragically assassinated in Los Angeles after winning the California presidential primary. He was 42 years old and had a bright political future ahead. Another lesson more suitable for older kids, the assassination of RFK can lead to lessons about the Kennedy political dynasty, his work for civil rights and against organized crime, and other high-profile political assassinations.

November 22, 1718: Blackbeard is killed off the coast of North Carolina.
When someone mentions the word “pirate,” the first name that probably comes to mind is Blackbeard. Or maybe Johnny Depp’s famous Captain Jack Sparrow, but…he’s not real. Blackbeard was, and he was vicious, even though his pirating career wasn’t extensive. Known as a hot-tempered, incredibly strong, and somewhat crazy human being, Blackbeard (born Edward Teach) began pirating in 1713, quickly developing his menacing reputation–based in part on his long black hair and beard. What would later become North Carolina was a hotspot for pirating after Blackbeard bribed colonial governor Charles Eden to ignore criminal activity. The rampant pirating and terror lasted approximately a year and a half before angry citizens and sailors convinced colonial Virginia’s governor Alexander Spotswood to intervene. Spotswood did just that, quietly arranging a bounty on Blackbeard, which was taken on by Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

On November 22, Maynard tracked Blackbeard to Ocracoke Inlet, where Blackbeard fired upon Maynard’s two ships. One ship was badly damaged, and when the other suffered damage, Maynard ordered his troops below deck to make it appear as if his crew had abandoned the ship. Blackbeard fell for the ruse, boarding the ship with his men, only to be ambushed by Maynard’s skilled soldiers. During the brief battle, Blackbeard was stabbed approximately 25 times and shot five times, eventually dying from the injuries. To signal the end of piracy along the Atlantic Coast, Maynard had Blackbeard decapitated and hung his head on the ship’s bowsprit. Use the legendary Blackbeard as a jumping-off point to discuss the act of pirating as well as other famous pirates.

November 22, 1890: President Charles de Gaulle of France is born. Charles de Gaulle first established himself as a soldier during World War I, rising to captain before eventually being captured and held as a prisoner before being released at the end of the war. Fast forward to World War II, where de Gaulle led a tank brigade against the Germans. The French government, under the leadership of Phillipe Petain, surrendered to Nazi Germany, something de Gaulle could not abide by. He fled to England, where he became a leader of the Free French Forces movement, which was supported by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. On June 18, 1940, he famously broadcasted to French soldiers from London, urging them to resist the surrender and continue the fight against the Nazis. He eventually returned to France and worked in politics before being elected the president of France in 1958. One of his earliest challenges as president was the bloody Algerian War, followed by withdrawal from the integrated military command of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), cooperation with Iron Curtain countries, the attempted withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, and political and economic crises in France; his presidency ended in 1969.

De Gaulle was a polarizing figure to some, based on views that included his neutrality on Vietnam, his advocacy of French Canadian separatism, and his seemingly pro-Arab sentiment during the Arab-Israeli War. Charles de Gaulle’s political career offers an opportunity to further discuss France’s government, World Wars I and II, the Algerian War, and the countries that comprised the Iron Curtain.

November 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. This is one of the darkest days in American history. This is one of those events seared into the minds of every single citizen who lived through it, the moment where everyone can remember in crystal clarity exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas as his motorcade made its way through the city. It’s an event that has spawned countless conspiracy theories, documentaries, movies, and books. The actual circumstances surrounding the JFK assassination are still inconclusive to this day. Was Lee Harvey Oswald JFK’s actual killer? How did Jack Ruby gain such easy access to Oswald before he shot and killed him? How many shooters were there? This tragic day made household names and terms out of Zapruder, the grassy knoll, the “magic bullet”, the Warren Commission, the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza, and so many more. Within a span of just over two hours, President Kennedy was shot, taken to the hospital, died, and a new president (Lyndon B. Johnson) was sworn in on Air Force One. Two hours! This is a difficult topic to discuss, not only because of the violent manner in which President Kennedy died, but because there are so many different explanations and theories as to what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. But it’s one of the most important events in American history and can lead to other lessons such as President Kennedy’s accomplishments while in office, other presidential assassinations, and the Kennedy family.

November 28, 1520: Ferdinand Magellan becomes the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean. In 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his five ships set out from Spain in search of a western route to the Spice Islands. What he found literally changed people’s view of the world. Magellan sought a western route to the islands to collect spices, rather than using the eastern route that all others took to reach their destination. So, in September of 1519, Magellan and his crew of 270 set sail across the Atlantic Ocean, reaching South America a month later. During that month, however, some of his crew mutinied and one of his ships was wrecked in a storm. Dangerous storms delayed the voyage in Port San Julian, where the crew waited until the storms subsided. It wasn’t until October 21, 1521 that Magellan found the route he had been searching for, a strait that connected the Atlantic Ocean to another body of water–one that had been unknown to Europeans. The strait came to be known as the Strait of Magellan, and the body of water was the Pacific Ocean. It took a full month for Magellan and his crew to make their way through the strait, however. The waters were cold and dangerous, and by the time they made it through the strait, only three of the five ships remained. Still, upon laying eyes on the Pacific Ocean for the first time on November 28, 1520, Magellan wept tears of joy.

Not quite realizing the vastness of the Pacific, the trek across the ocean took three months, when in March of 1521, Magellan reached the island of Guam. The Spice Islands were close at hand–but Magellan would never make it there. During a stop at the island of Cebu, Magellan was killed by a poison arrow on April 27, 1521. Only one of Magellan’s ships would make it back home to Seville, Spain. Magellan wouldn’t ever understand the impact of his journey–not only did he essentially discover (and name) the Pacific Ocean, but his voyage illustrated just how large the world was and also put to rest any theories that the Earth was flat. Use this lesson to further discuss famous explorers and their missions as well as other important discoveries similar to that of the Strait of Magellan and the Pacific Ocean.

November 30, 1835: Author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is born in Florida, Missouri. Samuel Clemens, better known by his pseudonym Mark Twain, grew up in Missouri, spending much time with his father’s and uncle’s slaves in their living quarters, listening to them tell fascinating tales. At age 18, he headed east to New York City and Philadelphia to work for a few newspapers before heading back west to the Nevada territory by stagecoach in 1861. His career as a silver prospector didn’t go according to plan, so he took up work as a writer for a local newspaper, where he first used his famous pen name, Mark Twain. But he longed for something different, so he traveled north to San Francisco in 1864. Twain experienced his first taste of success in 1865 with his short story “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” being published in papers across the country. He published his first book, The Innocents Abroad, in 1869–which is also when he met his future wife, Olivia.

In 1871, the family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Twain published his frontier tales in a book titled Roughing It. But it was here in Hartford where his most famous work would be written over the next 17 years. Between 1876 and 1889, Twain would write and publish well-known books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, The Prince and the Pauper, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. His works led to much acclaim and success; however, Mark Twain did not invest his earnings wisely and fell into financial ruin by 1891. By 1900, his worldview had changed; he became fiercely anti-imperialist and his writings took a dark turn, focusing on human greed and questioning the existence of the human race. These writings threatened his livelihood again, as he was deemed a traitor by some, and many of his works went unpublished. Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, would pass in 1910. His novels are excellent choices for students to read and discuss; they bring to the surface the topics of slavery, government, oppression, and life along the Mississippi River.

November 30, 1874: Winston Churchill is born in Oxfordshire, England. Known as one of the most effective wartime leaders in world history, Winston Churchill served as England’s Prime Minister on two separate occasions. As great a leader as Churchill proved to be, his military career got off to quite an inauspicious start during World War I when, as the First Lord of the British Admiralty, he led a disastrous naval campaign at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. The Allied forces eventually evacuated, but not after losing 46,000 soldiers among the 250,000 casualties. Sir Churchill recovered, however, and was named Britain’s Prime Minister in 1940.

During this time, Winston Churchill was instrumental in collaborating with the United States and the Soviet Union to defeat the Axis powers in World War II. His fierce hatred toward the Nazi Party kept Churchill determined to put an end to their evil, which he ultimately witnessed upon Germany’s surrender. He, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin worked together to set the stage for postwar peace, centered around the United Nations. Sir Churchill served as PM until 1945, at which time he returned to delivering stirring public speeches, such as the one he gave in the US in 1946, warning of imminent Soviet dominance and an “Iron Curtain” across Eastern Europe. Winston Churchill was elected in 1951 for a second stint as Prime Minister. 1953 proved to be a big year for Mr. Churchill, as he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1963, he was made an honorary American citizen by President John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, a long bout of poor health proved too much to overcome, and Winston Churchill passed away on January 24, 1965 at the age of 90. In 2002, Sir Churchill earned the honor of the greatest Briton of all time by a BBC poll. He’s also been the subject of countless books, TV shows, and films. Study his legacy as well as his involvement in both World Wars and even his time as a writer and painter.

That does it for historical figures and events for November! I hope you had fun teaching (and learning about) all these timely topics. Stay tuned for December’s events and lesson topics, coming soon! In the meantime, check out our partner site,, for more fun and factual lessons!


David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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