Friday, September 19, 2014

Lesson Ideas for the American Revolution

A few key things for students to understand about the Revolution:
  1. It was NOT inevitable--is anything? Check out this webpage from the BBC.
  2. It did not happen overnight--remember, it happened after “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations.” (Declaration of Independence).
  3. Not all colonists supported it. (See myth #2 in this article.)

Common Core Materials
So if you’re looking for a way to help students understand points 1 and 2 above, and go deeper than the textbook, check out the materials below. This assignment is, I think, a very simple, but good example of using the Common Core standards (especially CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10 which is for grade 9-10, but equivalents exist for grades 6-8 and grades 11-12.

Here is a link to some primary sources (which includes other links) that can be used in conjunction with this worksheet. Yes, I know--we are supposed to shudder at the thought of students filling out worksheets. But “worksheet” doesn’t always mean “bad.” What we should avoid are bad worksheets. I like this one because it helps guide students through a series of primary sources that show how the colonists moved from merely resisting British rule to actually declaring their independence from British rule. It provides enough guidance to allow many students to work independently on their own or in groups. Of course, you could also do this as a whole class activity. And, depending on the abilities of your students and their grade, you will likely need to provide more guidance or at least a glossary to help them with the primary sources.

Students will also need additional materials to help answer the final question about the colonists being “reluctant revolutionaries.”  Any decent U.S. history textbook will likely do, but I urge you to check out this amazing website from the University of Houston: Digital History.  It is organized both by era and topics and is not just for the American Revolution, but the whole website is geared toward K-12 teachers of U.S. history. It really is incredible...I’m kicking myself that I didn’t find it earlier.

Debating the Revolution
Interested in having students do a debate? I've always loved doing debates in class, but had a hard time figuring out how to arrange them so that everyone in a class of 30 has something to do. With help from a colleague, I came up with an idea to have students debate from the position of a loyalist or colonist as to whether or not the Revolution was justified. And then, to solve the 30 student problem, I simply eliminated it. I chose six students, 3 per side. That's it. Everyone else wrote a paper, due after the debate which gave them incentive to pay attention to the debate and take notes. But everyone had to do research in the library beforehand, which the non-debaters still needed to do in order to write their papers. And the debaters were excused from writing the paper. How to solve the problem of fairness? Have more debates later in the year, choosing different students to debate. (e.g. debate the Compromise of 1850, should Andrew Johnson be impeached? Should the U.S annex the Phillippines? Go to war in WWI,II or Vietnam?)

A few other random links:
And here is a lesson on Thomas Paine's Common Sense that might be useful.
If you are a new-ish U.S. history teacher and need a recommendation for a great, simple book on the Revolution, check out the classic Birth of the Republic by Edmund S. Morgan. Now in it's 4th edition, there's a thoughtful recent review of it here.

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