Teaching with Primary Resources

Grade Level:

Middle school and up


A primary source is a piece of history; not an interpretation of history. Discovering America’s past should be exciting, and it can be when you give students historical documents to study. With these documents it becomes the students’ job to put the pieces together and decide what happened.

This lesson should be used as the opening to American colonization. Split the students into groups and give them an envelope filled with pieces of documents from Jamestown citizens and facts about the colony. They must then piece together what was happening in Jamestown. After each group has decided what they believed happened they present to the rest of the class their views and show the pieces of evidence they used to form theses views.

Jamestown is formed in 1607 in Virginia by the Virginia company of London, a.k.a. London Company. The first permanent English settlement.

What really happened in the Boston Massacre?

General questions students should be able to answer concerning British colonization when done with this unit:

  • Why did so many people want to leave England?
  • What is an indentured servant?
  • Why did the London Company impose the Head Right System?
  • What is the Head right system?
  • Who was John Smith and John Rolfe?
  • What was the “House of Burgess” and why was it important?
  • Why did Jamestown become a royal colony?
  • What is significant about Calvert’s Religious Toleration Act?

Students will explore the trial of Captain Thomas Preston. They will read witness statements and decide what really happened in the Boston Massacre. Before this lesson students should be able to understand some of the reasons that the colonies broke away from Britain.

  • John Locke’s social contract
  • 600-1760 British to busy with imperialism and neglect the colonies.
  • Proclamation act of 1763
  • currency act of 1764
  • custom reform American revenue act of 1764
  • Sugar act 1764
  • George Grenville’s Stamp act
  • Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty
  • no taxation with out representation
  • Making own goods instead of importing them
  • “Intolerable acts”: Quartering act, Port act, Government act, and Justice act
  • 1768 British troops come to Boston
  • Gaspee Incident
  • Tea act of 1773- Boston Tea Party
  • Quebec act of 1774
  • First continental congress
  • Minute Men
  • American Prohibitory act 1775
  • Thomas Paine’s Common Sense
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