Lesson Plan: UNESCO — Preserving Heritage and Cultural Identities

By: Sara Wheaton

Sara Wheaton

Education Collaborator

Sara Wheaton is a certified geography and history teacher in Ontario. For the past decade she has been working as the Manager of Education Programs for The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, designing engaging and inclusive programs for Canadian Teachers. She is also an occasional teacher for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. She resides in Ottawa on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation.

Note: This lesson plan is designed to be used as a substitute for the UNESCO: Preserving Heritage and Cultural Identities StoryMap when teachers do not have access to the technology required to bring the StoryMap into their classrooms. This lesson can also be used to supplement and support the use of the StoryMap.

Suggested Subject Areas

Social Studies

Grade Level

Grades 5-12


This lesson plan will introduce the concept of heritage and cultural identities, and how geographic location can play a role in shaping them. It will explore UNESCO and its World Heritage Sites in Canada and address how preserving cultural and natural heritage is a global responsibility.


Guiding Questions

Learning Goals

In this lesson, students will:

Lesson Outline

Lesson Overview

Minds on: Students will discuss the meaning of “heritage,” reflect on their own cultural heritage, and create a class definition.

Action: Students are introduced to UNESCO and its World Heritage Sites. Students will use an activity sheet to learn about Canada’s 20 sites. 

Conclusion: Students will discuss threats to heritage sites and how these threats can be mitigated or avoided.

Minds On

Write the word “heritage” on the board and ask students to reflect on what this word means. In their notebooks, or on post-it notes or scrap paper, ask students to write down how they would define this term. What are its possible meanings? In what contexts might this term be used? Allow time for students to share their definitions with the class and/or examples of what heritage means to them. 

Share the following sentence provided by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.

Ask students to reflect on this quote and to think about how their own heritage plays a role in their day-to-day lives. What cultural learnings, traditions, expressions have been passed down? What elements of heritage are a part of their daily lives? Are there important elements of that heritage that you’d like to pass on to future generations within your family or beyond?

Extend the conversation to your local community. What does heritage look like in this context: are there any legacies, traditions, or sites that are important to the history and heritage of your community? 

Next, expand this discussion on heritage to the larger community of the land we call Canada. Prompt students to think specifically about physical sites of importance. Why are they important? In what ways do the places that come to mind contribute to a sense of building cultural identities within Canada, either at smaller-scale levels (the province or territory, the region) or more widescale (the country)?

If you anticipate that your students might struggle to think of examples across Canada, or if you notice that this is a challenge from them in real time, prompt them with examples of popular heritage sites that they might know about but may not realize qualify as such. You could also prompt them by asking if they’ve visited heritage sites or sites of significance in other countries, either while travelling or if they’re originally from other places in the world or have family in other places in the world.

Before you move on to the next part of the lesson, be sure to summarize and/or clarify a working definition of the term “heritage” so that your class has a shared understanding before diving deeper. It is important to emphasize that heritage can mean different things to different people in different places.


Ask students whether anyone is familiar with UNESCO. Has anyone heard of it? Does anyone want to take a guess at what it is? Its context? What the acronym stands for?

What is UNESCO?

Confirm and/or explain that UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is a specialized intergovernmental agency of the United Nations. Established in 1945 after the Second World War, UNESCO was created based on the belief that political and economic agreements are not enough to build lasting peace— peace must also be established through international cooperation in education, sciences, cultural, communication and information.

The World Heritage Convention

Explain, too, that the World Heritage Convention is an international treaty with the purpose of identifying and protecting the world’s natural and cultural heritage. It was created with the idea that some places are so important that their protection is a global responsibility.  This document established the World Heritage List and also guides the work of the World Heritage Committee, the organization responsible for selecting the World Heritage Sites and determining which are in danger.

Ask students if they’ve ever visited a World Heritage Site or know someone who has. Do they know how such World Heritage Sites are chosen? What might make something a good candidate to make the list?

Next, watch this video (2 minutes):

World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Sites are exceptional places around the world that are considered to have “Outstanding Universal Value.” They are so important that it is not just the country in which they’re located that is responsible for them, but the global community.

There are 3 types of sites: 

Currently, there are 20 sites located in Canada: 9 are cultural, 10 natural and 1 mixed. Each site is chosen because it contributes to Canada’s rich cultural and natural history. 


Indigenous Land and Treaties

Before beginning the activity, emphasize to students that the land we now call Canada has been known as Turtle Island to Indigenous Peoples for tens of thousands of years, and the 20 World Heritage Sites they are about to explore are located on a variety of Indigenous territories across many Indigenous nations.

Canada’s World Heritage Sites

Then, using the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada Handout (provided below), review the names and locations of Canada’s 20 sites and determine which of the sites are cultural, natural, and mixed. Consider why they would be classified as that.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada Handout


Next, read the descriptions of each site on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Descriptions Handout (provided below). Using these descriptions, try to locate which site they’re describing on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Canada Handout. Indicate the correct description for each by writing in the corresponding letter in the space provided next to “Description: “. Teachers can display the images from the handout using a projector or place students in groups, providing each group with a printed copy. Use the Teacher Answer Sheet (provided below) to take up the answers with the class.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites Descriptions Handout


Teacher Answer Sheet


Optional Extension: As you are reviewing the 20 sites and taking up the answers, use a classroom map of Canada to create a map of where all 20 sites are located. Use some post-it notes to locate where they are. Which sites are closest to your community? Have the students visited any, perhaps not having realized they were World Heritage Sites at the beginning of this lesson? This is also an opportunity to research the Indigenous territories and treaties for each location—visit for support with this conversation.

Conclusion and Consolidation

Protecting and Preserving

Explain to students that both the protection and proper management of natural and cultural sites are important for many reasons.

Have students select 1 natural and 1 cultural or mixed site from their activity sheet to examine further. Ask students to think about the types of threats their selected sites would face and to write their ideas down in their notebooks or on their activity sheet where there is space. Invite students to think about whether local Indigenous nations, territories, and/or treaties are acknowledged by the sites, and to consider ideas for how these sites might work with local Indigenous communities to build in Indigenous recognition and to collaborate in planning for the protection of these sites in ways that support Indigenous ways of knowing and being on the land as well.

Close with a class discussion allowing students to share their ideas. What sites did they choose? What kind of threats might those sites face?* What kinds of ideas might they have for collaboration with local Indigenous communities? What suggestions do they have for protection and management, if any?

*Some ideas might include: natural events (weather, erosion, natural disasters), human-caused events (vandalism, war, urban development, etc), pollution, damage by animals, tourism pressures.

Sources and Additional Resources

Image credits for UNESCO World Heritage Sites Handout

  • L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (Michel Rathwell from Cornwall, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Nahanni National Park (Fort Simpson Chamber of Commerce via Flickr)
  • Dinosaur Provincial Park (Nancymcmillan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek (Pix4free)
  • Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump (XeresNelro, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • SGang Gwaay (By Yvrsigmatech,, PDM-owner)
  • Wood Buffalo National Park (By Ansgar Walk – photo taken by Ansgar Walk, CC BY-SA 2.5,
  • Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (Bitan Banerjee, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Historic District of Old Quebec (By Wilfredo Rafael Rodriguez Hernandez – Own work, CC0,
  • Gros Morne National Park (Mario Garcia, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Old Town Lunenburg (Taxiarchos228, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Miguasha National Park (Neumeier, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Rideau Canal (Bobak Ha’Eri, CC BY-SA 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Joggins Fossil Cliffs (Cornellier, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • The Landscape of Grand-Pré (Mykola Swarnyk, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (Zorion, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Mistaken Point (Alicejmichel, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Pimachiowin Aki (Kate Ming-Sun, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons(
  • Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi (By Matthias Süßen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,