Here is a list of activities and resources we are using for an American Revolution unit I am teaching to a group of nine homeschoolers, ages seven through ten. The class is a twenty-week unit that traces the causes, battles and results of the American Revolution. Unlike other units, which I’ve broken down by disciplines, I describe this curriculum week-by-week, as I will teach it.
We are using the PBS mini-series Liberty’s Kids as the unifying framework for the class, but we are reading broadly as well. The class is a field trip heavy, and we will become Junior Rangers at both Minute Man and Independence Hall National Parks. We are going to cook colonial food, dance a minuet, learn a bit about portraiture, and write with quill pens. We’ll read the Stamp Act, and Declaration of Independence. We’ll memorize the preamble to the Constitution and Phillis Wheatly poetry. We’ll learn about the roles of slaves, free blacks, Native Americans, Jews, and women in the revolution. And, because I’m the teacher, we’ll play a lot of charades.
Throughout the course, I will focus on cultivating the following habits of mind:
- Exploring historical events from multiple perspectives, and understanding how perspective effects interpretation.
- Using primary sources when available, and understanding the benefits of primary resources.
- Exploring art as a unique expression of the culture and sentiments of a historical era (by looking at poetry, portraits, and political cartoons).
- Understanding the importance of preserving historical sites and documents, and committing to do so (through the National Parks Junior Ranger program).
Too much fun!
Week 1: French and Indian War Through Boston Massacre
Before class, students were instructed to watch Liberty Kids Episodes 1 & 2, and the first episode of the John Adams miniseries on HBO. They had to read the Stamp Act; You Wouldn’t Want to be at the Boston Tea Party (page 5-21); and To His Excellency George Washington by Phillis Wheatley.
Activity 1: History Pocket
As students walked in, they found a spot around the table and began to work on their portfolios, folders with projects that I copies from History Pockets: American Revolution. I attached copies of the pages we used, but you should buy the book. We sorted soldiers from the two sides into Loyalists and Rebels, and analyzed the most famous political cartoon of the era.
Activity 2: Get To Know You
Each student had to choose between 1 and 4 M&Ms. After each student chose their candy pieces, I told them the rules. Depending on how many candies they had chosen, they had to do the following:
- 1 candy: tell us your name and something you like about homeschooling
- 2 candies: tell us your name and something you like about homeschooling; share something you interesting about yourself
- 3 candies: tell us your name and something you like about homeschooling; share something you interesting about yourself; tell us one great thing about your mom
- 4 candies: tell us your name and something you like about homeschooling; share something you interesting about yourself; tell us one great thing about your mom; do 10 push-ups
Activity 3: Timeline
Using a piece of newsprint, we created a timeline from 1763 to to 1774. We included: French and Indian War (or Seven Years War), Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Stamp Act Congress, Quartering Act, Boston Massacre, Tea Act, Tea Party, and Intolerable Acts. At each stop along the timeline, kids told me what they knew about each event, and I filled in as needed. Throughout the discussion, I kept pushing them to think about how this event looked from England’s point of view. This was the hardest part of the exercise.
Activity 4: Tax Time
We simulated colonial reaction to a series of tax acts passed by Parliament to raise money to pay for the Seven Years War and to pay England for the protection of the colonies. Students pulled cards from a bowl to take on one of the following roles: King/Queen (1); Parliament (2); Tax Collector (1); Colonists (everyone else). I handed out cups of 10 pennies to each participant, sat the Queen in a tall chair, positioned Parliament just below her and explained that Parliament would draw new laws from a bowl and, when applicable, the tax collector would collect taxes, sell stamps, etc. I also explained that if you ran out of money and could not pay your tax, you would be sent to debtor’s prison and could only get out if someone else chose to pay your debt (and the daily 1 pence fee for keeping you in prison). The laws were:
- Any subject wearing denim of any sort shall pay the crown a tax of 2 pence.
- Any subject possessing a political cartoon of any sort must affix the proper stamp to said cartoon. The stamp shall cost 3 pence. (I had Air Mail stamps in the house and used those, but any stamp would do.)
- Any subject who wishes to use the bathroom shall pay a toilet tax of 2 pence.
- Any subject wearing a t-shirt must pay a cotton tax of 3 pence.
- Any subject who traveled to the homeschool meeting hall by any form of transportation involving wheels shall pay a roadway fee of 2 pence.
Homework: Color the British and American flags on the cover of your portfolio. Memorize a stanza from the Wheatley poem. Write what they think the ‘Join or Die’ cartoon means in their own words. Read George versus George (pages 8-26) and write a letter from one George to the other about any shared interest (sports, farming, politics, etc.).
Week 2: Tea Party Museum Field Trip
The museum is opening an hour early to give our class the run of the place. Here’s a description of what we’ll do there, from the museum’s website:
This floating museum is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Live actors, high-tech, interactive exhibits, authentically restored tea ships and the stirring, multi-sensory documentary “Let it Begin Here,” are just a taste of what you’ll see, hear and feel. You will meet the colonists, explore the ships and dump tea overboard just as the Sons of Liberty did on that fateful night of December 16, 1773. Finally, you will stop in at Abigail’s Tea Room for teatime.
Homework: Start reading Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, which tells the story of one slave’s experience of the beginning of the Revolution. Watch: Episodes 3 & 4 of Liberty Kids.
Week 3: “No More Kings”
Activity 1: Oral Presentations
Students will take turns reading aloud the letters they wrote from George to George. They’ll also recite the stanza they memorized from To His Excellency George Washington by Phillis Wheatley.
Activity 2: “No More Kings”
Every child will fold their paper in half lengthwise. On the left, they’ll write “Accurate,” and on the right “Inaccurate.” I’ll ask them to watch “No More Kings” from Shoolhouse Rock, looking for accurate and inaccurate depictions in the video. After watching it once, I’ll give them a few minutes to fill in their papers. Then we’ll watch it again, looking for accuracies and inaccuracies. Next, I’ll have them get with a partner to make a joint list. Finally, we’ll make a giant list on newsprint, with one point for each answer they come up with. If they get more than 10 points, I’ll let them have a two-minute dance party.
Activity 3: Bowl Game
I fill a bowl with 20 slips of paper. Each kid pulls out a slip and gives as many verbal clues as needed for the other kids to guess the person or event on the slip. Next, we put all of the slips back in the bowl. In round two, when they pull out a slip, they have to act it out with no words. The people and events on the slips: John Adams, Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Join Or Die, Phillis Wheatley, Boston Massacre, Tea Party, Stamp Act, Quartering Act, French and Indian War, King George, Lord North, Sam Adams, General Gage, “Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny,” Governor Hutchinson, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Crispus Attucks, Sons of Liberty.
Note: When I taught this, the day fell on Martin Luther King day. I incorporated some of these activities in to the day.
Homework: Finish reading Chains and complete the graphic organizer to analyze one character’s development. (Click here for a copy of the organizer: Graphic Organizer – Chains. I had students do the alternate assignment.)
Week 4: Chains
Activity 1: Character Clues
Students will exchange organizers (that they did for homework) with one another, and try to guess the characters using the picture and clue.
We own the game Hedbanz, and have enough bands for each child. I’ll make character cards (each card has the name of a character from the book) and place them in a pile. All student put on a head band and place a card in it without looking. The first child begins by asking YES/NO questions in attempt to guess their character before the timer runs out. If they do so, they get a token for their team (boys versus girls). If there is still time, they can take another card and ask questions until the time runs out. If time runs out before the player guesses their character, the card remains in the band until Round 2. After every player has a turn, round 1 is over. Play for two rounds and count up the points.
Activity 3: Dice Game
I prepared six categories of questions, and laid them out on the table under colored index cards, labeled: 1) True/False, 2) Fill In The Blank, 3) Book Review, 4) More Book Review, 5) Book-to-Book, and 6) Book-to-Life. Book Review questions ask them to analyze the writing, make predictions, and focus on what makes a book work or not work. Book-to-Book questions ask them to make connections between the book and other books they’ve read. And Book-to-Life questions ask them to make connections between the book and their life. Click here for a list of questions. To play, a student rolls the dice to see which type of question to answer. They can decide whether to answer the question themselves or ask everyone else to answer. Again, making it a game somehow makes it fun to have a relatively advanced discussion of literature.
Homework: Choose one of the Book-to-Book or Book-to-Life Questions from the Dice Game, and write a 5-paragraph answer to the question.
Week 5: Freedom Trail Field Trip
We’ll take a walking tour of the Freedom Trail led by an 18th century costumed guide. Students listen to the speeches of the Sons of Liberty in the places where they actually occurred and hear reenactments of the events that sparked the War for Independence. These 90 minute tours are outside and cover 11 sites from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall. Students will all bring cameras and will take pictures of the different sites.
Homework: Print pictures from tour. Watch: Liberty Kids Episodes 5 & 6. Read: George versus George (pages 28-35). Read Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Memorize any stanza from poem.
Week 6: “The Shot Heard Round the World”
Activity 1: Scrapbook Page
I’ll have a ton of scrapbooking materials available, and students can take their pictures and make one or two scrapbook pages. I’ll encourage them to write descriptive captions.
Activity 2: Paul Revere’s Ride
Students will recite the stanzas they memorized, and we’ll discuss what we like about the poem and what was misleading. Each student will then make an interactive 3-D map. You can find the lesson plan (which is excellent) and all of the materials to print in the book Interactive 3-D Maps: American Revolution. The map allows you to teach about Paul Revere’s life, as well as the ride. The front cover of the book states the projects are “maps that students make and manipulate to learn key facts and concepts – in a kinesthetic way!” My kids love them.
Activity 3: “The Shot Heard Round the World”
We’ll watch “Shot Heard ‘Round The World.” After watching it we’ll discuss why people call the battles at Lexinton and Concord the shot heard ’round the world. I’ll read them the beginning of the Emerson poem “Concord Hymn,” which is the origin of the phrase. We’ll talk about why no one could have used that phrase until decades later.
Homework: Complete the following activities in the Minute Man National Historical Park Junior Ranger Guide: A Call To Arms; Paul Revere Capture Site (Crossword and Extra Activity); Freedom, Liberty and Citizen Responsibility
Week 7: Minute Man National Park Field Trip
We’ll visit the park, see the orientation film and then complete the following activities in the Junior Ranger Guide: Minute Man Visitor Center Questions and Mural Extra Activity; Brooks HIll; The North Bridge (Doodle Like Doolittle and Reading the Landscape). When they are done, we’ll return to the visitor’s center so that kids can take their oath and receive their badge.
Homework: Read Johnny Tremaine by Esther Forbes.
Week 8: Minute Men in Action Field Trip
One of the mothers has arranged for the students to meet with Minute Men re-enactors. Among a bunch of cool activities, they will learn how to load and fire a musket and cannon.
Homework: Draw one scene from Johnny Tremaine.
Week 9: Johnny Tremaine
Activity 1: A Soldier’s Life
As students walk in, they find a spot around the table and begin to work on their portfolios, folders with projects that I copies from History Pockets: American Revolution. From Pocket Number 4: A Soldier’s Life, they will do the following: Highlight interesting facts from the background information on page 42; glue the fast facts from page 41 to a piece of construction paper, complete the Uniforms activity from pages 43-45; complete the Powder Horn activity on pages 46-48; complete the Women in the War activity form pages 52-54.
Activity 3: Dice Game
I prepared six categories of questions, and laid them out on the table under colored index cards, labeled: 1) True/False, 2) Fill In The Blank, 3) Book Review, 4) Literary Elements, 5) Book-to-Book, and 6) Book-to-Life. Book Review questions ask them to analyze the writing, make predictions, and focus on what makes a book work or not work. Book-to-Book questions ask them to make connections between the book and other books they’ve read. And Book-to-Life questions ask them to make connections between the book and their life. Click here for a list of questions. To play, a student rolls the dice to see which type of question to answer. They can decide whether to answer the question themselves or ask everyone else to answer. Again, making it a game somehow makes it fun to have a relatively advanced discussion of literature.
Homework: Watch: Episodes 7, 8, 9. Read: 1776, chapter 1 & 2.
Week 10: Bunker Hill & Breed’s Hill
Activity 1: Battles
As students walk in, they find a spot around the table and begin to work on their portfolios, folders with projects that I copies from History Pockets: American Revolution. From Pocket Number 5: Battles, they will do the following: Highlight interesting facts from the background information on page 57; glue the fast facts from page 56 to a piece of construction paper, complete the Battle of Bunker Hill activity from pages 58-60.
Activity 2: British Victory at Bunker Hill We’ll watch a short clip of the Battle of Bunker Hill from the History Channel. Students will break up into two groups to come up with arguments to support one of two positions, either that the colonists or the British won the battle.
Activity 3: Timeline Game I will fill two trash cans with 20 inflated balloons in each. 10 of the balloons will have events written on slips of paper and taped to the balloons. Students will form two teams. When I say go, the first person from each team will run to the trash can, pull out a balloon and bring it back to their team. When they tag the next person, that person will go to the can and pull out a balloon. This continues until they find all ten balloons with slips of paper. While the team is getting balloons, members who are not running can pull off the slips of paper, and arrange the events in order. They will tape the events on a poster board, and write the year of the event next to it. The first team to correctly complete their timeline wins. Events: The End of French and Indian War, Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Stamp Act Congress, Quartering Act, Boston Massacre, Tea Act, Tea Party, Intolerable Acts, Battle at Lexington and Concord, General Washington takes over command of the Continental Army, 1st Continental Congress, Phillis Wheatley writes “To His Excellency George Washington,” Battles of Bunker Hill and Breeds Hill.
Homework: Read: 1776, chapters 3 & 4; Complete the Patriots of Color Packet (reading and crossword).
Week 11: Bunker Hill Field Trip
Patriots of Color Program: Although they did not enjoy the rights of their fellow colonists, over 100 African and Native Americans fought alongside their white neighbors at the Battle of Bunker Hill in defense of liberty. Using a tour, primary documents, paintings, and hands-on activities, students will learn about twelve Native and African Americans who fought at the battle.
Mapping the Battle Program: Students will use a large canvas map to learn about mapreading skills, geography, and the importance of topography. Through several interactive activities, students will gain a better understanding of the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, and the important role that geography has played in shaping our history.
Homework: Watch: Episodes 10-12; Read: Common Sense; Independent Dames; Prepare a 3-minute oral report on an innovation of Ben Franklin’s (Students can find information on the internet, or they can read What’s the Big Idea Ben Franklin?)
Week 12: Tea Time (2.5 Hours, instead of 2 hours)
Activity 1: Understanding Common Sense (25 minutes)
We will read aloud an abridged interpretation of Common Sense. Students will work in pairs to answer questions about the document. Click here for the worksheet.
Activity 2: Oral Reports (35 minutes)
Each student will give his or her report.
Activity 3: Tea Party (1.5 hours)
Families will bring colonial treats and tea. Students will come dressed for a colonial tea. The first two activities will take place on another floor of the house, so that the parents can set the tables for a tea and can set up a dance area on the first floor. During the tea, we will teach the kids how to dance a minuet and a jig.
Homework: Watch: Episode 13 (Declaration of Independence), and Episode 2 of John Adams on HBO. Read: Declaration of Independence. Memorize: Introduction to Declaration
Week 13: Declaration of Independence
Activity 1: Jefferson’s Declaration
As students walk in, they’ll find a spot around the table and begin to work on their portfolios, folders with projects that I copies from History Pockets: American Revolution. From Pocket Number 3, they will work on Jefferson’s Declaration. They’ll highlight interesting facts from the background information on page 32. Then we’ll discuss key vocabulary: self-evident, endowed, unalienable. We’ll read the introductory statement on page 33, and students will copy the statement on the bottom of the page.
Activity 2: “Fireworks”
Watch Schoolhouse Rock “Fireworks.” We’ll watch it a couple of times and have the kids sing along and recite the introduction to the Declaration.
Activity 3: T-shirts
Give students white t-shirts and fabric markers. Have them design a t-shirt to take home. It should have one of the slogans we have learned in the class, or a phrase from the Declaration. (Examples: Give me liberty or give me death. Taxation without representation is tyranny. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Join or Die.) The shirts should also have a symbol/picture that illustrates or amplifies the phrase.
Homework: Watch: Episodes 14-19 and Episode of 2 of John Adams; Read pages 36-49 in George versus George Week 13B:
Museum of Fine Arts Field Trip
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston offers these great classes for kids, Artful Adventures. Our class is going for three-week unit on colonial and early American portraits. Each week, will spend a thirty minutes in the galleries, learning about the portraits, and then an hour in the studio working on painting a portrait.
Week 14: Crossing the Delaware
Activity 1: 3-D Map
Each student will make an interactive 3-D map. You can find the lesson plan (which is excellent) and all of the materials to print in the book Interactive 3-D Maps: American Revolution. The map allows you to teach about Washington crossing the Delaware. The front cover of the book states the projects are “maps that students make and manipulate to learn key facts and concepts – in a kinesthetic way!” My kids love them.
Activity 2: The Painting
We’ll look at the famous painting, seen at the right, and analyze what was accurate and inaccurate. This website does a great job discussing the painting. We’ll also look closely at who was in the boat with Washington. (See page for a description of who was in the boat.)
Activity 3: Writing Skits
Students will get in groups of three or four, each one taking on a character from the boat. They will write a quick character description with a bit of history (where are they from, how did they end up in the boat, etc). Then they will come up with a skit, showing the three or four characters in one fictional scene that took place sometime before the night crossing of the river.
Homework: Watch: Episodes 20-24
Week 15: Valley Forge
Activity 1: Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior
Choose 5 that you believe are important and then rewrite them in your own words. The rules can be found here.
Activity 2: Yankee Doodle Dandee
Learn song’s original meaning and write new lyrics based on two event we have studied. For background knowledge and lyrics, read pages 4-8 of this lesson plan, from the Education Department of the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.
Activity 3: Battles of the Revolution Board Game
Ask, “What tasks did the Patriots have to complete to become a free nation? (Be sure to include both military and civilian tasks.)” Make a list as a class. Working together, students will make a Candyland-like board game with tasks to be completed on the way to British Surrender at Yorktown. Break them into pairs. One pair will have to draw a game board, with blank squares and designated squares for tasks. They should also draw a picture of Yorktown at the end. One group will have to make four figures to compete to be the first to Yorktown. One pair should make playing cards without task pictures on them. (They can do colors, like Candyland, or numbers.) The remaining pairs will them draw task pictures on the board game and the playing cards. (You’ll need to have cardboard, markers, cut up index cards, and materials for the figures available for the students to work with.)
With remaining time, students can play the game they designed.
Homework: Read Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson; Rewrite 10 more of Washington’s Rules in your own words.
Week 15B: Museum of Fine Arts Field Trip
This is the second of a three-week unit on colonial and early American portraits.
Week 16: African American Patriots On The Freedom Trail Field Trip
The Freedom Trail in Boston offers a tour focused on the role of African American patriots. The website describes the tour: We take visitors through historic events of the American Revolution and the contributions of African-Americans such as Crispus Attucks and others who played a significant role in the country’s formation. Tales of intrigue and bravery, poetry and defiance by Black Boston townspeople in the 18th century will unfold during this unique 90 minute tour of the Freedom Trail. See the Revolution through the eyes of these sailors and soldiers, writers and craftsmen, men and women of the day.
Week 16B: Museum of Fine Arts Field Trip
This is the third of a three-week unit on colonial and early American portraits.
Week 17: Forge
Activity 1: Quill Pen
Activity 2: Colonial Money
Activity 3: Cup of Doom
Find an old soccer ball and in each hexagon, write a discussion question with a permanent marker. Have students sit in a circle and tell them that you are going to throw the ball to someone. You will say his or her name before you throw the ball. When the student catches it, he or she has to read and answer whatever question is under the left thumb. After answer the question, students say the name of another student and throw them the ball. Eventually, you can click here to see the questions I wrote on the soccer ball. If students don’t answer a question correctly or well, they have to draw a popsicle stick from the Cup of Doom. Each stick has a different ‘punishment,’ like doing 10 pushups or dancing like a chicken for 30 seconds. (Be prepared for kids to throw the question so that they can pick from the Cup of Doom. They love it!)
Homework: Watch: Episodes 31-36, and Episode 4 of John Adams. Answer one of the two questions in response to Forge.
Week 18: Yorktown
Activity 1: History Pocket
As students walk in, they’ll find a spot around the table and begin to work on their portfolios, folders with projects that I copies from History Pockets: American Revolution. From Pocket Number 6, they will highlight interesting facts from page 69; learn about secret codes and crack one of Benedict Arnold’s most important messages to the British Army; and construct a Cardan mask, a special paper cutout used to reveal secret messages and place the mask over a historical letter to reveal the letter’s true content.
Activity 2: “Bingo”
I created Bingo-type cards, with the names of: Slogans; Patriots; British and Traitors; Battles; Authors & Novels. I put clues on slips of paper, and pulled them out of a bowl. Students used highlighters to fill in their cards. We played until someone had a bingo. Eventually, you can click here to see the cards and clues.
Activity 3: Yorktown We’ll watch a History Channel video of Yorktown and discuss.
Homework: Watch: Episodes 37-40, and Episode 5 of John Adams. Read: Preamble to Constitution
Week 19: Birth of a Nation
Activity 1: History Pocket
As students walk in, they’ll find a spot around the table and begin to work on their portfolios, folders with projects that I copies from History Pockets: American Revolution. From Pocket Number 7, they will highlight interesting facts from page 81; rewrite 10 articles from the Treaty of Paris in their own words; color in the Great Seal and learn the meaning behind its symbols; and rewrite the Preamble to the Constitution.
Activity 2: “Three Ring Government” & “Preamble”
Activity 3: Electing the 1st President
The election of the first President was by appointed electors, not by a general election. All states that had approved the Constitution by the first Wednesday in January 1789 would appoint electors on that day. Those electors would assemble on the first Wednesday in February 1789 and vote for a President, and the business of running the government under the new constitution would begin a month later. Using a copy of the Senate journal, from April 6, 1789, students will work in pairs to make a bar graph of the electoral votes for the 1st president. We’ll discuss which states had the largest and smallest populations, and what might have changed the election’s outcome.
Week 20: Independence Hall National Historical Park Field Trip
We’ll visit the park (Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Ben Franklin’s Print Shop, etc). We’ll complete the following activities in the Junior Ranger Guide: 1-Liberty Bell Center; 2-Independence Hall; 6-Congress Hall; 9-Printing Office. When they are done, we’ll return to the visitor’s center so that kids can take their oath and receive their badge. We’re driving down the night before and getting a hotel. Of course, staying in a hotel and swimming in the hotel pool will be every child’s favorite memory of the class. Which makes me question the gazillion hours I just spent working on this curriculum.
Because the boys and I love unit studies, we are doing a bit more with the Revolution than we can fit into the 20-week class we are doing with other homeschoolers. Here are a few more ideas and resources:
- See Time Fly - This series of books provide a timeline of the history of Western Civilization. The purpose is twofold: (1) to develop concept imagery for language comprehension and critical thinking, and (2) to teach an imaged timeline of history. Each “flight,” or section, provides high-imagery paragraphs and beautiful artwork to help students visualize important events, periods, or people who changed history. We used the book for our Ancient China unit, and we all love it. For this unit, we are reading the sections on Ancient Greece and Rome and Scandanavia.
- Timelines – I am a kind of obsessed with making sure that the kids have something I never did, a sense of how all of the history I learned fits together, in other words an imaged timeline. In addition to the See Time Fly series, we have a giant timeline around the ceiling of the boys’ room, from which we hang picture of things we are studying. And then we enter those dates into our Wonders of Old books, which they can keep throughout high school, building an ever more elaborate internal timeline.
- A Wall Map of the United States – By now, our wall maps are tattered and smudged with peanut butter. But the boys still love maps, and as we study more parts of the world, the connections they make continue to grow.
- Trips to Mount Vernon and Monticello, the homes of Washington and Jefferson. We visit Virginia often, so they are easy trips. We’ve already been to Mount Vernon and loved it so much we became members.
- A Trip to the National Archive to see the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights.
If you want to read more about some of the ideas on this page, you may want to read these posts: