The Colonial Era is one of my favorite periods to teach. It is so dynamic, with so many forces at play. It formed the foundation on which all of the United States’ history and future is built. It is very important for us to help our students make these connections. In this post I will share some ideas for teaching about this exciting era when all was new in America.
European Colonies in America Time Quest
I think it is important for students to have some context about the competition for American colonies among the other European powers. You probably laid this foundation in your explorer unit, but I wanted to share a new resource that I have found that might be a good introduction and transition from the Age of Exploration into the Colonial Era. It is free online series of interactive maps that span world history called Time Maps. To get a snapshot of Colonial America, I suggest what I call a “Time Quest” activity using the 1648 map of North America. You can give students questions that must answer or a chart to complete as they explore. For example, you might begin by having them click on the New France button. This will take them to a new map with a few paragraphs about what is going on in the French Colonies. Ask them to find out things like where the French settlements clustered; what advantages the rivers and lakes offered, what occupations the settlers took up, etc. Spiral your questions so they include both fact-based and higher order thinking. They can explore Spanish, Dutch, Swedish and English colonies to compare. There is also brief information on what is happening with Native American peoples as they encounter Europeans. A great way to transition to the English colonies is to click on Europe and then England to see what is happening back in Europe.
Motives for Colonization
Early in your colonies unit you will probably want to address the motives of England for establishing colonies and the motives of settlers for joining them. I like to begin with a HOTS daily practice on push and pull factors. (See the example later in the post) Then I turn to one of my favorite free online resources, Adventure Tales of American History. It explains in cartoon format the motives of various stakeholders and explains related economic, social, and political conditions in England. I have students work in pairs to complete a chart using this resource. Something like:
Of course you will want to teach the origins of each colony. There are many ways, but I like to direct teach this in what I call an interactive lecture. This technique combines direct teach with questioning, discussion and sometimes other short interactive interludes. Your students will need to have a way to record the information as you discuss it. I think a web works well for the colonies. If you have a smart board you can make one for it. Otherwise a powerpoint, or even an overhead projector works too. Just make it so that each bullet must be clicked before it shows, or cover them up before discussing each. Here is an example I made using smart shapes in Microsoft word.
PEGS or PERSIA Chart
At some point you will want your students to compare the colonies by region. A very effective way is to have students create either a PEGS (Political, Economics, Geography, and Social) or PERSIA (Political, Economic, Religious, Social, Intellectual and Artistic) chart. For this activity the PEGS works best because you will want to make the point that geography influences lifestyle. This will also lay an early foundation for the sectionalism that leads to the Civil War. There are many resources that students can use to find the information. My novel, History Questers’ Colonies Trek is a fun one that is aligned with the Common Core Literacy Standards. Students can complete the chart while reading an adventure story. All of the historically accurate info is woven in. A PEGS chart will be among the student activities in the Teacher/Student Guide that I am creating to go with the book. I am still looking for a few teachers to “test drive” the book and activities in a pre-publication pilot. Email me at email@example.com if you are interested. I have saved all of my best activities and strategies for it.
Once students are familiar with the origins of the colonies and the geographic regions, you may want to go a bit deeper. One way that you can get to the analysis and evaluation level of Blooms is to have an Inner/Outer Circle discussion—especially with older students. Assign 1/3 of your class to become experts on the New England Colonies, 1/3 on the Middle Colonies and 1/3 on the Southern Colonies. (or add a separate group for Chesapeake, if you wish.) These will become the inner circle and will answer the questions and elaborate during the discussion of their region. There are several options for the Outer Circle. You can have them pre-write and ask the questions, or ask for elaboration during the discussion, or just take notes and listen. Even younger ones can do this if you adjust the level of the questions. Even younger students can do this if you ask the questions and make them simpler.
You may still down load the Reader’s Theatre and discussion questions that I created to go with the HISTORY QUESTERS Teaching Guide for free. This is an engaging way to teach about colonial-native relationships
HOTS Daily Practice
Here are a few Higher Order Thinking and Skills activities you may want to use to start your class.
Colonial Products Map- see top of page
Push Pull Factors of Colonization
City Upon a Hill Quote
Please share your favorite ideas for teaching about the colonies.