Lesson 1: History of Law


Grade Level



1 period

Lesson Plan (PDF)


Common law (judge-made law) and statute law (government-made law) are the sources of all our law. Students will discover the origins our legal system and how the law of precedent developed. They will also learn how laws have changed throughout history.


By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Understand that people have struggled for 5000 years to develop a system to handle problems or disputes within their societies. Common human concerns have to be resolved; such as the problem of what to do about murder.
  • Understand that common law and statute law are the source of all our law.
  • Understand that being judged by a jury of your peers is not a recent development.
  • Learn that we still use some of the legal concepts that were developed in ancient times such as contracts.
  • Learn that the concept of "fairness" goes back to the beginning of society. The attempt to limit or eliminate the shortcomings of society is constant.
  • Learn that punishment was very harsh and severe in ancient times.
  • Understand that the laws and the court system that existed in ancient times is in a somewhat similar form to what we use today.
  • Understand that ownership of property has been an important concept throughout the centuries and is best illustrated by ownership of land.

Focus Questions

  1. What is the difference between common law and statute law?
  2. How did the law of precedent develop?
  3. How have the following changed throughout history:
    • The Jury System
    • Legal Contracts and Legal Entities
    • Fairness in Decision Making
    • Punishment
    • Laws and the Court System
    • Ownership of Property

Teaching Summary

Topic 1: Sources of Law Then and Now

Students will learn about how the common law and statute law developed from ancient times. They will also find out what the law of precedent is and how it came from similar decisions being made in similar types of cases. Laws have evolved and changed over time so the students will also look at those changes. They will read a handout and complete a series of questions.