Teaching About the 13 English Colonies

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.


http://www.timemaps.com/history/north-america-1648ad It




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:





Colonies Web

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.




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 historyquesters@yahoo.com if you are interested. I have saved all of my best activities and strategies for it.

Inner/Outer Circle

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.

Reader’s Theatre

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.















Higher Order Thinking Skills: HOTS Daily Practice Activities









Analyzing primary sources and documents, making inferences, determining cause and effect, interpreting maps, charts, graphs, etc., making comparisons, drawing conclusions, critical thinking, decision-making, forming generalizations, supporting with details and fact, determining facts vs. opinion, summarization, research, organize knowledge…

 Higher Order Thinking Skills are the core of what Social Studies teachers teach. We do so much more than teach historical, geographic, political, or economic facts, don’t we? We teach our students how to think about their world. Our discipline is devoted to Blooms taxonomy. This also makes Social Studies and English/Language Arts natural allies in the battle for literacy. We share many curricular goals. Not to mention that the common core standards and most state standards focus on these skills- and state assessments increasingly test them.

It is essential that we emphasize these Higher Order Thinking Skills in our classrooms. In this blog I would like to share one of my favorite strategies for teaching them. I called it the HOTS Journal, but these daily warm-up activities, or bell-ringers could be done in a variety of formats and for different social studies subjects and grade levels.  The basic goal is to begin each class (or at least several times a week) with an activity relevant to the day’s learning goal, which practices one or more of the above skills. This activity can then be the starting point for the lesson of the day.

The activities generally featured a stimulus such as a portion of a primary source, document, map, cartoon, photograph, graphic organizer, etc. relevant to the lesson. I frequently used a stimulus from a released state test (such as Regents or TAKS). There are many sources for images on the internet (see my resource page) or even choose something from your textbook. I liked to create them on PowerPoint so that I could project them. This also allowed me to create some fancier things, such as conversation bubbles for photos, or allow students to resort pictures into correct column, or make an answer page showing answers placed one at a time on a graphic organizer.

 The students would respond to a series of questions about the graphic that would range from lower to higher levels of Bloom’s. Sometimes that might create a graphic organizer or some other product based on the stimulus. Sometimes they were brainstorm activities. Sometimes they filled-in-the-conversation-bubbles on a photo. Sometimes they answered personalized what-would-you-do questions. On some occasions they would work with a partner.


One key to success is to create questions that start as simple, fact-based, then move up the ladder to more analytical and evaluative questions that ask students to think about and make decisions about the facts. Another key is to use variety-in terms of the student product, the type of stimulus and the skill that is practiced.


In my class, we went over the HOTS activity each day to assure that the students learned and understood the concepts and skills. Frequently I had students model their thinking as they answered. My students kept their responses together in a section of their notebook that I called their HOTS Journal. I collected them periodically for a completion grade. This was an easy way to hold the students accountable, but the most important thing was the daily practice of skills.

 I saw my student’s scores skyrocket on standardized tests. This strategy was also very successful when, as District Social Studies Coordinator, I initiated it among the teachers of my district. It works well with grades 4 -12. For younger grades, I would encourage a modified version. Even the younger students need to be introduced to interpreting and analyzing graphics and primary sources, as well as the Higher Order Thinking Skills.

What strategies do you use to teach Higher Order Thinking?


First Day of School Lesson Ideas












The first day of school. Do you still get the tingles when you think of it? I bet your students do. You want to set just the right tone for the fresh new school year. You want to keep that excitement alive in your students. You want to let them know yours is a classroom that will be fun—but still values learning above all. So what do you plan? You probably want to start with an ice-breaker to get to know each other, then find an interactive way to get into the curriculum as soon as possible. In this post I will give some tried and tested ideas to do both in the first few days.


 Sponge Activities to Get to Know Each Other:

Most of the time you have a certain amount of administrivia to deal with that prevents you from spending the important first moments of class interacting directly with your new students. If this is the case, make sure you greet each one warmly at the door and then set up a sponge activity while you take care of the enrollment procedures. Join them as soon as possible.

 Partner interview: Find a fun way to pair students. For U.S. History, I use states and capitol cards that I make myself. Students have to find the person who has the capitol that matches his state. Have the pair interview each other and take notes. You may want to list a series of possible questions on the board for them to ask. Following the interview have each student introduce his partner to the class and tell some things about him. You might ask the partner to create a web about the person he interviewed or something else to show during his introduction.

Scavenger Hunt: Prepare BINGO-like cards with a description in each square. Include things like: has visited another country, hates their middle name, plays an instrument, etc. Give each student a card. They will mingle with each other and find people that match one of the descriptors. Once they find a match, they write the person’s name in the appropriate square and go on to find another match. They can write each person’s name only in one square. Play until they have a BINGO or black-out, depending on how much time you want to spend.

Concentric Conversation Circles: Have students form an inner and outer circle that faces each other. Explain that the outer circle will rotate around the inner circle at the signal. Demonstrate the half-time and time to move signal. Present a question that will be discussed by the two students facing each other. Allow 20 seconds or so for the first person to respond to it then sound the half-time signal indicating that it is the other person’s turn to answer. The half-time signal can be left out if you prefer a less formal conversation. After about 45 seconds sound the signal to move and have the outer circle rotate so they are talking with a different inner circle person. Provide a new question or discussion starter. Continue rotating as long as you wish.

Take Off/Touch Down: The teacher makes a statement such as, “I took a vacation this summer”. All students to whom the statement applies stand up (take off). Those to whom it does not apply remain seated (touch down). When teacher makes next statement, such as, “I love social studies” those to whom it applies take off and those to whom it doesn’t touch down. Hopefully no one will touch down for this question.

Learning Style Inventory: If students need to do something quietly at their desks a good first day activity is to have them take a learning style inventory. This can help you know how to better plan for them and help them gain insight into themselves. There are many available on line.

KWL About theTeacher or Class Chart: Another activity that works well while you are taking care of the administrivia is to have students complete a chart about what they already know about you or your class and what they would like to know. This can be a springboard for you to introduce yourself and your class to them.

Getting into the content:

If you are like me, you want to get into the content as soon as possible. We all know there is never enough time, so I like to introduce procedures with the content as much as possible. Here are some ideas to get started.

Group Brainstorm: You can introduce your group work procedure and have small groups work together to brainstorm answers to a series of introductory curriculum-based questions. Here are some that work well for upper grade history classes. What is history? What do we study when we study history? How do we find out about what happened in the past? What do you think were the 5 (or 10) most important events in U.S. (or world) history? Rank them in order of importance and discuss why you chose them. Who were the 5 (or 10) most important people in U.S. (or world) history? Why did you choose them? List as many reasons as you can think of as to why it is important to study history. You can make that last one a contest to see which group comes up with the most reasons. The debriefing for this activity provides a good springboard to introduce your course.

Seating Chart Map Grid: By the second day you probably have your seating chart made. Why not put it on a grid and make it like a map of the room? Tape off and label longitude and latitude lines on the floor. You can post the map, or hand it to the students when they arrive and have them find their own seats using the coordinates. Of course this only works as a review if students have been taught the grid in an earlier grade. If you want to wait until you have had a chance to teach it first, you can do this later in the year w,ith a new seating chart. Then you can do a lot more guided practice with directions and coordinates. Kids love maps that they can move into.

Class Preamble: My favorite way to introduce the class rules is to have the students write a Class Preamble. I begin with a short discussion on the purpose of a government and why society makes laws (rules). Then we read the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, clarifying the vocabulary and discussing its meaning. Next I explain that we will write our own Preamble for our Class Constitution. I then put students into groups to write a version. I provide the following template for them to complete in their own words:

We the students of Ms. Collett’s U.S. History Class, in order to__________________________________, establish________________________________, Insure_______________________________, Provide_________________________________, Promote_____________________________, and secure_______________________________,

Do ordain and establish this Constitution for the class in room 216.


You may also have them write class rules if you like. It is amazing how well they can do at that. After the groups have finished their versions, I have them write them on their Preamble on the board, or overhead. After the class has looked over each version, I allow them to vote on the one they prefer. If you have more than one class, simply write the version chosen by each class and then have an election among all your classes to choose the final version that will hang in your room. I write it in calligraphy on parchment colored paper in the shape of an old document.

If you have them also write rules, you can have them list their rules on the board, too. Many will be similar, so vote on the best wording, while erasing the rest. This activity opens the door for a quick discussion on democracy and representative government. Explain that you will have the final veto power over the rules, and that they are subject to being overturned by the school administration, thus introducing the 3 branches.

Thinking Like a Historian:

This activity comes from the Introductory Unit of the Reading like a Historian curriculum developed by the Stanford Education Group. I love this curriculum for U.S. History! It turns students into historical investigators and critical thinkers using primary source materials. Best of all it is free! There are 13 Units with several activities for each. This one is called Snapshot Autobiography. More details, worksheets and posters can be found at their website.

Students begin by creating a pamphlet about themselves. They write about 3 or 4 key events in their life and illustrate them. For homework, they choose one of their snapshot events and interview another person who was a witness to the event. The student takes notes of the interview and identifies similarities and discrepancies. Debrief the activity with a discussion of historical perspective.

What are your favorite first week activities? Please share in the comments section.






5E Model of Instruction to Teach Social Studies


As the school year begins, lesson planning is probably on your mind. Some teachers are given a standard format by their administration, while others are left to choose the style that works best for them and their students. Either way, I hope to share some advice that will help you plan active and engaging lessons. First I would like to share some general thoughts on social studies best practices. I like to use the FIRES acronym to describe the kind of lessons that work best in my experience.


 FIRES stands for:

Fun: enjoyable, active

Interactive: students actively communicating with each other and their teacher

Research-based: best educational practices supported by empirical research

Engaging: promotes student thinking at deeper level

Student-centered: relevant to the needs, interests, and learning styles of the student


 The Teacher’s Toolbox

There are many lesson plan models out there, ranging from the traditional teacher-centered lecture or the book-centered read-and-answer-the-questions-at-the-end-of-the-chapter to the extreme student centered models in which students direct every aspect of their own learning. While there may be a place for each of these as tools in the teacher’s toolbox, none of them alone are likely to yield ideal results.

Education research has recognized the need for a variety of tools to meet the needs of a variety of learning styles. These tools, or strategies, are useful for a specific part of the job, or portion of a lesson cycle. I like to think of lesson plan models as a toolbox, an organizational container for storing and organizing the tools of education.  Each strategy can be placed in a drawer based on the way it is employed.

While there are several good toolboxes, or lesson plan models, my favorite is the 5E model. It reminds me of what my objectives are as I plan each phase of instruction. This model was  based on the SCIS Model of Instruction created by researchers Atkins and Karplus in 1967. It was originally proposed by BSCS (Biological Science Curriculum Study) in the late 1980’s and first used in science classrooms. Its emphasis on active learning and engaging investigation make it an ideal model for use in the successful social studies classroom as well. Its components (or drawers, if we stick to the analogy) are labeled below.

The 5E Model

  •  Engage
  •  Explore
  •  Explain
  •  Elaborate
  •  Evaluate


The first goal in the lesson cycle is to engage the student. We all know that if we don’t have their attention (and I don’t mean just their passive attention while their thoughts are elsewhere) they are unlikely to learn much. At this first stage we want to capture their interest and stimulate their thinking. We should also access their prior knowledge about the subject as something to hang their new learning on. This will set the frame for learning. A bell-ringer, or warm-up might be used to do this. Brainstorming, KWL charts and graphics, are other tools that might be used. See the Teachers Toolbox page for a list of strategies that work well in the engage phase.


The explore portion of the lesson cycle gives students time to experience, think and investigate the subject or concept. An activity that encourages them to probe, inquire, and collect information will allow them to create initial understanding, establish relationships, and make preliminary decisions. This is an ideal time to use cooperative learning or manipulatives.  Analyzing a primary source, map or photo would also be an excellent strategy, as would a simulation or problem-solving activity. See the Teachers Toolbox page for a list of strategies that work well in the explore phase.


 The explain portion of the lesson is where students are introduced to new content or concepts. It is the phase where the most traditional social studies techniques are frequently utilized. It is where most of the direct teaching occurs. It is not, however, a teacher only activity as in the old sage-on-the-stage model, nor is it purely the responsibility of the textbook , video, powerpoint, or research sources; although all of these can be tools at this stage. The teacher’s responsibility goes beyond presenting new information. They must encourage students to explore and communicate new understandings, make connections, interpret, draw conclusions and support them with evidence. Questioning to build understanding and discussion are vital components of this phase. In upper grades I like to use a hybrid of all of this that I call the interactive lecture. I will describe this strategy in a future blog. The jigsaw technique is a good cooperative learning strategy for reading that works well as an explain activity. See the Teachers Toolbox page for a list of other strategies that work well in the explain phase.


 After students have learned some content knowledge, the next goal is to have them elaborate. Students’ thinking is expanded or solidified in this phase. It is their opportunity to apply their new learning to real world situations or extend the concepts and skills to new situations. Synthesis activities can be provided to bring chunks of learning together to create deeper understanding, form conclusions, or make decisions. This can also be an impetus to stimulate new learning and enrichment activities. Teachers serve primarily a consultant role. Typically students will produce a new product. I frequently used role-play activities or debates, but there are many other options. Variety keeps your class fresh and your students engaged.  See the Teachers Toolbox page for a list of strategies that work well in the elaborate phase.


The 5th E stands for evaluate. Notice that I didn’t say the final stage. All of the 5E’s do not have to be done in a fixed order. There may be times when you want to explain a little and then explore, for example. Evaluation is something you’ll want to do all through the lesson cycle. It is not limited to the big summative test at the end of the unit. There are formative evaluations along the way to help you make educational decisions. You will check for understanding frequently along the way and then reteach or clarify as needed.  You certainly want to catch incomplete or misunderstandings early—well before the big test. You will probably use both formal and informal evaluations throughout the lesson. Informal checks-for-understanding can be as simple as observation, thumbs up/down, pair/share, exit slips or open-ended questions. More formal evaluations can range from graded assignments to projects to tests. The key is to form student learning with a lot of opportunities for practice before their summative evaluation.



I have included a list of activities that might be used in each phase of the lesson cycle in a document called the Teacher’s Toolbox. I have collected them over the years from many sources, including other great teachers that I have worked with. Please forgive me for not properly attributing them—because at this point I have no idea who to attribute. But that’s what we teachers do isn’t it? We borrow good ideas so that our kids can benefit. That’s what I hope to do with this blog. Share ideas that I have developed—or collected—for the benefit of all of the kids we touch, hoping to make a difference and ignite that love for learning.


If you would be willing to share some of your favorite activities or strategies in the comments below, I would love to add them to the Teacher’s Toolbox and post them. Maybe they will inspire others.






Teaching the Age of Exploration

The Age of Exploration…oh such a big topic and so little time to teach. Most scope and sequences don’t provide for a lot of time-or a lot of depth on this subject in American history classes. Fortunately it is also taught in the World history curriculum so the burden is split. In this post I will share ideas that can be used in both courses at the middle grade and high school levels, and sprinkle in some tips and resources for elementary.

 Video Viewing Guide

One approach is to combine the study of Pre-Columbian America, 15th century Europe, and even Africa, in a unit entitled something like Three Worlds Meet, or the Old World Discovers the New World. In my AP classes which gave very little time for the period, I could do this fairly quickly with a DVD entitled Three Worlds Meet (Origins to 1620). This costs about $40 or can be purchased as a set, but I thought it worth the splurge of our limited social studies budget. In 35 minutes it provides a pretty good overview and background of the era. I created a fill-in-the-blank viewing guide that students would complete while viewing. Click here to find it. This served as the basis of their notes which they could augment during the follow-up discussion. In fact I made guides for most of the series. If you ask for one in the comments section, I will be happy to e-mail it to you.

 Model and Trace Explorer Routes

To teach about the explorer routes a good method is to have students trace them on their own map as part of an interactive lecture. This strategy works well for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. The teacher discusses the expedition and models the route on a smart board, overhead… while the student draws the route on his own map. You can use different colors for each nation and make a key. I would also have them color the areas controlled by each nation, as well. Besides having students label the routes, I would have them write the names of each explorer on the back along with basic info about their discovery.

 Interactive Explorer Maps

There are sites that offer interactive maps that show explorer routes. One good one is here.

 Newspaper Article on Discovery

A good strategy to use when teaching about specific explorers is to have students write a newspaper article about his discovery. While reading an article about the explorer, have students take who, what, when, where, why, how notes. Then they will use their summarization to write the news report about his discovery. You can have them add a quote from a primary source such as Columbus’ Journal or letter to Luis de Santangel (1493) as if it were from an interview. Have them draw a picture or add an image and format it like a newspaper with a headline. For older students you can assign different topics to different students and combine them to make a group or class newspaper of the era.

 Interview with Explorer

Assign a different explorer or other relevant person (such as Prince Henry, Queen Isabella…) to each pair of students. As they research or read their text, they will format questions that can be answered with their information. For their presentation one partner will role play the explorer and the other the reporter.

 The Spanish Legacy Debate

Divide students into two teams. Have one side argue from the perspective that Spanish colonization had a positive benefit while the other will argue the “Black Legend” perspective. They should prepare by researching internet sources including primary sources of Juan Gines de Sepulveda and Bartolome de Las Casas. Here is one abbreviated version.

They should include a discussion of Native American treatment, the Columbian Exchange, and the successes and failures of the Spanish Empire. Finish by making a chart of both the positives and negatives of the Spanish Legacy.

Explorer Skit or Readers Theatre:

You can have groups of students write their own script to perform for class about event of the era. There is one already written for young students called The Discovery of the Americas: A Play About Early Explorers

 Columbian Exchange

Assign half of the class to bring something to represent an item from the Old World list and the other half to bring something from the New World list. See the chart in the HOTS section below. Include foods, stuffed animals, or pictures. Have each student bring their item to the table and explain how that item helped (or in case of disease, changed) the other half of the world.

IPad game

European Exploration: The Age of Discovery By GAMeS Lab at RU  Explore the new world as a European power in the 15th Century by funding and sending expeditions out into the unknown. Hire captains, build ships and outfit expeditions…

 Age of Discovery Cause and Effect Manipulative

Teach students about the background of the Age of Discovery as a cause and effect exercise. Hand students one or two sentences from the list of causes shown below written on a sticky or strip of paper. Working alone, or in pairs have them add the word therefore or so and complete the sentence with what it led to. Do a round robin to discuss each. You can follow up by having students place sentences in categories as follows: Power, Knowledge, Religion, Trade, Wealth. Make it a manipulative by having students move the sticky not sentences or strips to the appropriate heading. Some can fit in more than one category, so this can lead to a discussion about why.

 Marco Polo’s tales of China created curiosity about the Orient.

During the Crusades many Europeans explored the east.

Europeans desired products from Asia, Africa, and the Indies.

The Commercial Revolution created a desire for international trade.

The Renaissance reawakened the desire to know about the world.

The invention of the printing press spread knowledge.

New navigation technology was invented.

Advances in ship design made them faster and safer.

Prince Henry of Portugal started a school for sailors.

Centralization of power and strong monarchs created more powerful European nations.

Overland trade routes across Asia were dangerous and expensive.

Columbus believed it was possible to reach the east by sailing west.

Italy had a monopoly of the Mediterranean Sea routes.

Portugal had a monopoly of sea routes around Africa.

Queen Isabella and other monarchs wanted to spread Christianity.

Conquistadors gained great wealth for Spain.

European powers wanted to maintain a balance of power.

The New World provided an abundance of natural resources.

England, France and the Netherlands wanted to find a Northwest Passage through the American continents.

 HOTS Daily Practice

If you have read my previous posts, you know that I like to start each day with a warm-up to practice social studies skills. Here are some samples for the Explorers Unit for various grade levels.

 1. Which 2 countries claimed modern Texas?

2. What 2 nations claimed modern Canada?

3. Which country claimed the area around the Mississippi and St. Lawrence Rivers?

4. What geographical barrier separated the English and the French claims?(the answer is not on the map)

5A. Which nation claimed the most territory?

  B. What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a large land claim?

6A. What nations might the English colonists have conflicts with?

   B. What might be the reasons for conflict?



Sunday   4 November

…   The Admiral showed cinnamon and pepper to a few of the Indians of that place…   and he says that they recognized it; and they said by signs that nearby to   the southeast there was a lot of it. He showed them gold and pearls, and   certain old men answered that in a place that they called Bohio there was a   vast amount and that they wore it on neck and in ears and on arms and legs;   and also pearls.

          – From the Journal of Christopher   Columbus

 1. The passage is from the journal of Christopher Columbus. A journal is called a ____________ source.

2. What are some other examples of this type of source?

3. Why do you think Columbus called the Native Americans “Indians” in his journal?

4. Why do you think Admiral Columbus showed the Indians cinnamon, pepper, gold and pearls?

5. How well does it appear that Columbus and the Natives got along, based on this journal entry?

Teaching About the Presidents and the Federalist Era

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With President’s day approaching many teachers are planning classroom activities to teach about the history and administrations of our presidents. In this post I will share some general interactive lesson activities that can be used to teach about all of the presidents I will also share some specific ideas to teach about George Washington and the Federalist Era as this is the era that will soon be taught in many U.S. history classes.

Presidential Press Conference Role Play

My students love role-play activities and so do I. They are fun, interactive and can be practice for many higher order thinking skills. One role-play activity that I liked to use when I got to the presidents in my scope and sequence was the press conference. There are several formats that could be used depending on how much time you wish to a lot, the depth of research you would like your students to do and their age.

 One way would be to divide your students into pairs or small groups. Assign each pair or group one of the presidents to research. One of the students in each pair would play the president and the other/s would take the role of the reporter/s. You could provide a list of specific topics to research or let the students determine them. It is easiest to choose the topics based on their textbook (often in the subtitles) to simplify their research. The students can formulate their questions and answers based on these. This format allows students to practice their questions and answers in advance before performing the press conference in front of the class.

For more advanced classes you could assign each student a presidential role. I also frequently add other important people such as Alexander Hamilton, etc. The student must then prepare to answer questions as they are posed. This, of course, would require a much deeper knowledge of the material. I would still suggest you still provide a list of specific topics in advance for each role. In this format, the rest of the class serves as reporters who formulate the questions from their reading based on the topics. Encourage students to write higher order and critical thinking questions and avoid one word and fact only based questions.

I typically spread out the press conference performances across the second semester as I teach Washington through Lincoln (or Grant- wherever you wish to end) I think it is a good way to either start or summarize the historical events of each administration. I assign all of the roles before we begin studying George Washington and provide an approximate date for each press conference. Students must be ready by their date. I usually give bonus points for volunteers who take the earlier presidents and encourage them that it is nice to get it over with as they can relax while their peers are later on stage.

Some Example Questions for George Washington:

  1.      What problems did the new nation face?
  2.      How did you organize the government?
  3.      How and why were you chosen as the first president?
  4.      How do you propose to deal with the national debt? (an obvious question for Hamilton if you have one)
  5.      Why did you make Jay’s Treaty?
  6.      What did you tell the nation in your farewell address and why?

Some Example Questions for John Adams:

  1.      What are your qualifications to be president?
  2.      What were the Alien and Sedition  Acts and why were they so controversial?
  3.     Tell us about the XYZ Affair. How did you handle the pressure to go to war?
  4.      What are some areas of disagreement between your Federalist Party and Jefferson’s? (could be another Hamilton question)
  5.      Tell us about the Election of 1800. Why did it go down in history as “the revolution of 1800?”

Some Example Questions for Thomas Jefferson:

  1.      Tell us a little about your political beliefs.
  2.      Which Federalist programs did you dismantle? Which did you keep?
  3.     How did Napoleon’s offer to sell the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. create a dilemma for you?
  4.     What was the impact of the Louisiana Purchase for our nation?
  5.     Tell us about the Lewis and Clark expedition.
  6.      How did you deal with the Barbary pirates?
  7.      Why did you pass the Embargo Act?


 President’s Facebook

If you want students to research a president or summarize the highlights of his term creating a facebook page for him is an activity that kids will enjoy. You can include his bio in the About Me section and a timeline of important events in his life or administration. To make it a little higher on Blooms you will want students to apply some of the info they have researched or learned. One way of doing this is for the student to write posts about his president’s thoughts about the events. It is also fun to add pictures or lists of the president’s friends. There are various templates available online. I have created my own Facebook Assignment template that you can download here. You can see the sample one I made for George Washington above. Read Write Think has a free template that your students can make online here 


Problem Solving

Of course every president has faced a myriad of challenges, but our first president, George Washington had a unique role in setting the precedents that would guide all others. Handed a rather short and unspecific document, the new U.S. Constitution, he had to create a working government and policies that would turn a divided and economically struggling fledgling nation into one that would be a strong player on the world stage. His administration offers us a nice opportunity to teach our students the social studies skill of problem solving.

I began the lesson with a brainstorming discussion where the students list the challenges our new nation faced. (debt, depression due to commerce problems, division among new political parties, no federal courts yet, no organized executive branch to enforce laws, no government revenues, no respect for authority of federal government, foreign problems ). I prompt them with a review of the five finger notes I used to teach the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and a brief discussion of foreign affairs and political divisions along the way. I organize them into categories (Organizational, political divisions, economic problems, and diplomacy) and list them.

Next I divide the class into small groups and assign a category of challenges to each. Students discuss the problems, create a plan to solve them and propose their solutions to the class as if they were advisors to President Washington.

I follow up with a discussion of what Washington actually did. I created this chart for students to complete during the discussion.




The First Political Parties Debate

Begin with a discussion of the formation of political parties during the Constitutional debate and during Washington’s Administration. You will probably want to have student to create a chart comparing the leaders and views of each. If you don’t want to have them use their textbook to make their own another fantastic resource is Adventure Tales of America, a free online textbook of American History in cartoon format. This chart is on page 212-213.

After students have a good understanding of the issues and positions, you can divide them into parties for the debate. I have more completely explained how I organize and grade debates in my post on the Declaration of Independence. 

 political parties




Teaching About U.S. Government and the Constitution



socialstudies-coach-head[1]In Texas, U.S. History courses in 5th and 8th grade include a unit on the U.S. Constitution. Since I began my teaching career teaching Government to High School seniors, I have a lot of ideas on this topic. It has been really fun for me to synthesize these complex principles into a format that is easily understandable and fun for younger students. In this post I will share a powerpoint and some strategies that I created for my districts’ 8th graders on the Articles of Confederation. I will also explain a very simple strategy using play dough for explaining the principles of the U.S. Constitution to younger students-even though  my AP High Schoolers thought it was fun,too.


Articles of Confederation

In our history course we explain that America’s first form of government after Independence was the Articles of Confederation. Whether your course goes into depth about it or not, we all generally emphasize its weaknesses and explain how it led to writing the U.S. Constitution. One of my favorite strategies for the Explain portion of the 5E Lesson Model (click here for my ideas on how to use the 5E model of instruction) is the interactive lecture. It is a combination of lecture, discussion, visuals and activities. As mentioned previously, I created a  powerpoint about the Articles of Confederation to use when teaching  the fundamentals of the Articles which you may download if you like. Lesson and activity notes are included in the notes section. There are some terrific graphic organizers and cartoons that do an awesome job of clarifying some of the principles, but I apologize because I have no idea where I collected them from over the years. Most came from old tranparencies. For this reason I cannot copy them here, but they are in the powerpoint. I did, however create the following activity myself, so I thought I would share it in this post.

5 finger notes


Five Finger Notes


I begin by explaining that the Articles of Confederation had 5 major weaknesses and that by the end of the class students will be able to easily list and explain them as they count them on their fingers. Then I have students trace their hand onto their paper. This can be the graphic organizer for their notes.

  Ask students to look at their pinkie finger. Ask what observation they can make about it in relation to their other fingers. Students will undoubtedly comment that it is the smallest or weakest. At that point you can explain that one of the biggest problems with the Articles was that they were too weak. Since the pinkie will represent the weakness of the Articles, have students write this on their copy of their pinkie. The new nation faced many challenges and this government was not given enough power to meet them. You may want to have students add these details to their notes or just explain them. You may also want to discuss the reasons why the Articles were created purposely weak.

  •  They could not tax and therefore had no money.
  •  They had a legislature to make laws, but no executive to enforce them


 Next have the students draw a ring on their copy of their ring finger. Explain that the ring finger usually wears the gold so it will represent economic problems. Here are some of the economic problems the new nation faced. You may have students add them if you like, or just explain them.

  • War debt of  $160 million (some to other countries, some to U.S. citizens through war bonds)
  •  Inflation (too much money was printed during war- now not valuable so it doesn’t buy much)
  • Every state printed its own money which made trade difficult.
  • Post war depression because  Britain was selling their products too cheaply ; competition hurt U.S. business (Robert Morris proposed an import tariff, but                  couldn’t get all 13 states to agree)


Kids love it when you get to the middle finger. Ask them to tell you, without using profanity, what it usually means when someone points the middle finger at someone else. Explain that yes, it represents that someone is angry. Who was angry?  Demonstrate that this middle finger is crowded between two other fingers which can represent other states. The middle finger can remind us of boundary disputes between the states.  The states argued over territory won from Britain (though this was finally somewhat resolved with the passage of the North West and Land Ordinances).


Next wag your index or pointer finger into a student’s face.  Ask students under what circumstances do people typically use this body language. They are likely to respond that people wag their finger at someone while they are arguing.  Explain that our index finger, or pointer, will represent Arguments between states over trade.  States were taxing each other’s products. The new U.S. government was not given the power to regulate trade between the states which hurt the economy even more.


The symbolism for the thumb is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me. Ask students if they ever played thumb war. You can even have a pair of students demonstrate for fun. What is the object of the game? Ultimately it is to show your power isn’t it? The U.S. was a brand new little nation, but if we looked too weak to other countries we would have no respect from them. Our thumb will represent lack of respect from other nations. Following are some examples:

  • Treaty violations- Britain gave us western territory in the Treaty of Paris, but their forts and soldiers remained, they stirred up Indians against frontier settlers.
  •  Spain was interfering with our right of deposit  (use of Miss. R. and port of New Orleans)
  •  Even our allies were becoming distrustful due to our poor credit since we couldn’t repay the war debt.
  •  Barbary pirates attacked our ships in Mediterranean

After you have recapped the 5 weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation by counting them off on your 5 fingers clench your fingers into a fist and explain that these problems came to a head during Shays Rebellion. The clenched fist represents the confrontation. You may want to explain about Shays Rebellion in more detail and have students add this to their notes. After Shay’s Rebellion our founding fathers realized that changes needed to be made so they held a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. They ended up writing a whole new Constitution.



 Teaching About the Constitutional Convention

Constitutional Convention Reader’s Theatre

My favorite way to teach about the Constitutional Convention is through performing a play or reader’s theatre that emphasizes the compromises that were made. I used a wonderful one called The U.S. Constitution: A Bundle of Compromises, in which the large vs. small states delegates debate the Great Compromise, and Northern vs. Southern state’s delegates debate the Three-fifths Compromise. I asked students to complete a chart showing each issue and compromise as the play progressed. The bad news is that I only have hard copies of this play and couldn’t find it on-line for you. The good news is that I found one that is very similar. You can find it here 




Teaching About the Principles of American Government


Using Play Dough to Teach the Principles of Government and the Constitution

play dough

Kids love manipulatives, and they are terrific teaching tools to make abstract ideas understandable for students, so why should they be limited to math and science classrooms? The principles of the U.S. Constitution are certainly essential abstract ideas that our students must understand, so why not teach them with manipulatives? And what is more manipulative than play dough? Below is a sample scriptdemonstrating how I do this. Of course you will want to add higher order questions along the way and modify it for your students level of understanding and how in-depth you wish to go.

Show students a ball of play dough or clay.The Constitution is basically a guide to how the U.S. distributes power so the ball of play dough represents power. Briefly discuss the purpose of government and the social contract theory. Hand each student a pinch of the play dough. Every individual has a certain amount of power. Some individuals had more power than others and were able to take advantage of those who were weaker, so for the good of society people willingly gave up a portion of their power to create government. Collect a portion of play dough from each individual.

Show the ball of “power” that you collected to represent the government. Compare it to the amount the individuals retain by smashing it onto the much smaller play dough ball held by a student. Unfortunately what often happened was that the government ended up with so much power that it became a dictatorship or absolute monarchy that abused the people who gave it to them. This was called tyranny. The patriots believed that Great Britain’s government did this to the colonies so they rebelled and were determined to create a limited government so that their government couldn’t become too powerful.

How would they do this? First they created the Articles of Confederation which was based on the principle of federalism. Instead of giving all of the power to a central government, the individuals gave their power to their state.  Since there were initially 13 states, the power was divided into 13 pieces. Divide the government ball of power into 13 pieces. You could hand a piece of the clay to 13 students to represent each state.Under the Articles, the states then gave a portion of their power to the central government. Receive a portion back from each “state” for the central government and show the new “power” ball. This cuts the power of government down considerably doesn’t it? But as we learned, that didn’t leave enough power for the central government to do what was necessary to solve the problems of the nation. So what did the people decide to do? They replaced the Articles of Confederation with the U.S. Constitution. Under the Constitution they kept the principal of Federalism but they re-divided the power. They gave more delegated powers to the central government, now called the federal government, but still reserved powers to the states. Re-divide the clay giving more to the federal government and put the state power away.

Many people were worried that the stronger federal government would become abusive like Great Britain, so they wanted to add more safeguards. They separated the federal government into three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. This principle is called separation of powers. Separate the Federal government’s power ball into three balls. And to make sure that none of the branches became too powerful, they set up a system of checks and balances so each branch can check up on and limit the power of the others. (Give examples, showing a graphic organizer if you wish.)

Another way America limits the power of government is by allowing citizens to vote on representatives to make and enforce laws. The right to vote is called popular sovereignty. This principle makes the U.S. a democracy. Choosing representatives makes ours a representative government- which is also called republicanism. Even with all of these safeguards, some people still wanted to add more protection of individual rights into the Constitution, so they added The Bill of Rights as the first 10 Amendments.

I usually have students complete a graphic organizer and/or define the terms during the discussion, or afterwards using their notes. These terms are also a good time to use the —strategy. See here for my teacher’s toolbox of strategies.


I would love to hear your favorite strategies for teaching about U.S. government and the Constitution if you would like to share with my readers. I would also love to hear back about how these strategies worked for you with your students if you would be willing to leave a comment below.


Teaching About the Road to the American Revolution

We are in the midst of one of my favorite seasons. Of course it’s the holidays, but it’s also time to teach one of my favorite topics in American History-the Road to Revolution. I love this era so much not only for its excitement and concentration of iconic historic figures and events, but also because it offers such a dynamic opportunity to demonstrate cause and effect, and perspectives in history. In this post I will share some activities and resources for teaching about the events leading to the Declaration of Independence. These and other activities will be included in the teacher’s guide for my next book in the History Quester’s series. For more information about my first novel, HISTORY QUESTERS Colonies Trek and the teaching activities for the colonial period click here.


Road to Revolution Chain of Events

We want our students to understand that there are often many causes of a historical event. The American Revolution is a prime example of the complexity of inter-related forces coming together to change history. Here is an activity that not only teaches how events are inter-related, but can also be very seasonal for the holidays. Students can make a chain of events depicting the events of the Revolution in cause and effect order that can also decorate the classroom.

Using their text book or following a lecture, have students match the cause events (events in red on the sample below) with the effect events (in blue on the sample below) and place them in order. This works well as a cooperative learning activity in which you cut the events into strips and give a set to each group to match. After they are checked you could let the students loop the strips and glue them into chains at this point or you can expand the activity before making the actual chains as suggested in the next paragraph. You may also decide to jigsaw the activity by giving different events to each group and then have them join their events with other groups as a whole class activity, or have each group put all of the events in order.

To expand the activity you can give each event to a different student to research, label and illustrate on their own strip of construction paper. After they have completed their event strip, have the student who illustrated the first event in the chain (The French and Indian War)  show and tell about his event. The student who thinks he has the next event in the chain should then stand and show and tell about his. This becomes similar to the “I have…Who has…” game. You will have to correct them if they get out of order, of course. As each student shares, they must explain how their event led to the next. They can then loop it together with the previous event and staple. When you are finished you have a chain of events garland to decorate your room. You could even do it in seaqsonal colors.

Road to Revolution Cause and Effects

1754: French & Indian War starts in Ohio Valley

Ø  Benjamin Franklin proposes Albany Plan of Union, the first attempt at uniting colonies (join or die cartoon)

Ø  Colonial militia resent inferior treatment by British (Yankee Doodle)

Ø  Colonists gain confidence

1763: Treaty of Paris ends French and Indian War

Ø  Daniel Boone and other colonists move into territory won from French

Ø  Native tribes united in Pontiac’s Rebellion to drive settlers out of Great Lakes Region

 1763: Proclamation of 1763 prohibits settlers west of line set at Appalachian Mountains because it is expensive to protect them

Ø  Colonists resent not being allowed the land they had fought for and many disregarded the proclamation.

1764: British pass the Sugar Act insisting that colonists must help pay for the war.

Ø  James Otis declared, “Taxation without representation is tyranny”

Ø  Britain repealed the tax on sugar

1765: The Stamp Act requires colonists to buy stamps for all official documents and publications

Ø  The Sons of Liberty start protests and riots against this tax calling it an internal tax that could only be levied by the colonies themselves

Ø  The Stamp Act Congress is formed by Colonial leaders and formally petitions the King

Ø  Colonists boycott British goods

Ø  Britain repeals the Stamp Act but passes the Declaratory Act asserting its right to tax Colonies

1767: Townshend Acts taxed imports such as glass, paper, paint, lead, and tea and provided for stricter enforcement of trade laws and create vice-admirality courts to crack down on smuggling.

Ø  John Dickinson writes, Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer asserting that an external tax was just as bad as an internal one if its purpose was to raise revenue

Ø  Sam Adams sent a circular Letter to raise protest throughout the colonies

Ø  Non-importation Agreements were signed by colonies to boycott the taxed British imports

Ø  All of the import duties were repealed except the tax on tea 

1765: The Quartering Act required Colonies to house British soldiers who have been sent to insure tax collection and protect the colonies

Ø  Colonists resented a standing army in peace time and having to pay for it.

1770: In the Boston Massacre British soldiers killed 5 colonists during a riot at the Massachusetts Customs House.

Ø  Paul Revere’s engraving of the scene is used as propaganda against the British

Ø  Committees of Correspondence were formed to unite Colonies in efforts against Britain

 1773: Tea Tax gave a monopoly to the British East India Company to sell taxed tea in the colonies.

Ø  In the Boston Tea Party, colonists disguised as Indians, dumped the taxed tea into Boston Harbor

1774: The Intolerable Acts punished Boston for the Tea Party by closing Boston’s Port, limiting their representative government, and sending more soldiers.

Ø  Colonists called for a Continental Congress to meet in Philadelphia

Ø  Colonists agreed to a colony-wide boycott and pledged to support Massachusetts if it were attacked

1775: Massachusetts militia began storing weapons for war.

Ø  British marched on Concord to capture weapons

Ø  Paul Revere and others warned that the British were coming

Ø  First shot of the American Revolution was fired at Lexington

1776: 13 Colonies signed the Declaration of Independence becoming the United States of America


Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party Role Play

The events leading to the Revolution offer some terrific opportunities for role play activities. Kids love the high action events. You could do this by assigning an event to each group to research, write a script and perform. If you chose this approach you would probably want to add some additional events. Paul Revere’s ride, Battle of Concord, Stamp Act riots would be other events that work well.

Another option is to role play in a less formal way by choosing kids to illustrate the events during a discussion or interactive lecture while you direct them and narrate in a seemingly impromptu manner. Kids love the snow ball throwing and “lobsterback” name calling of the Boston Massacre, the Indian whoops and tea dumping of the Boston Tea Party and the bright red coat target practice from behind stone walls of the Battle of Concord.


Patriot vs Loyalists Debate over Independence


The Revolution also offers such a wonderful opportunity to discuss historical perspectives. John Adams estimated that only about a third of Colonists supported Independence, while another 3rd were Loyalists and a third were undecided. What better way to look at their points of view than a debate?

To prepare for the classroom debate divide the class into Patriots and Loyalists. Give the patriots a copy of an abbreviated text of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (click here) to use to prepare their pro-independence position and the Loyalists a copy of Charles Inglis’ The True Interest of America Impartially Stated (click here)   to prepare their con-independence position. Ask each team to make a list of points to support their side. This could be done individually or in smaller groups if you wish.

Rules for the Debate

Begin the debate by asking a specific student to give an argument in support of their teams’ position. Then choose a student from the opposing team for a rebuttal. If you choose the students to initially speak you can insure that all participate. After one student on each team has been chosen to speak you may allow others who volunteer to make additional comments on the topic to back up the original arguement. I usually limit them to two additional comments per side. Make sure they stay on the initial topic.  After the debate of the first topic is complete, choose a student from the other side to make an argument for their position and continue as before. Continue until all arguments have been exhausted or time is up.

The debate can be graded based on individual participation, but I like to use it as extra credit points for the team that wins. I score each individual response based on the strength and logic of the argument on a scale of 1 to 5 points for the initial argument or rebuttal and 1 to 3 points for the follow ups.  Add up all of the points of each side to determine the winner.

For the debate on Independence, you will want to address such topics as trade, defense, best form of government, previous compromise attempts, allegiance to mother country, Britain’s past treatment of colonies and the cost of war.

HOTS Bell Ringers







1A. What do you think the snake represents?

   B. What evidence gives support to your answer?


2A. What do you think the N.E. on the snakes head stands for?

   B. Why do you think it is on the head?


3.What does the message in the cartoon mean?


4. What was Ben Franklin’s purpose for creating the cartoon?


5. To what extent do you think the cartoon was effective? Explain your answer.



Excerpts from Letters From a Pennsylvania Farmer by John Dickenson

What justice is there in making us pay for “defending, protecting and securing” THESE PLACES? What benefit can WE, or have WE ever derived from them? None of them was conquered for US; nor will “be defended, protected or secured” for US. Let these truths be indelibly impressed on our minds–that we cannot be happy without being free–that we cannot be free, without being secure in our property–that we cannot be secure in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take itawaythat taxes imposed on us by parliament, do thus take it away–that duties laid for thesole purpose of raising money, are taxes–that attempts to lay such duties should beInstantly and firmly opposed


  1.  What do you think the colonies were being asked to pay for?
  2.  Why did they object?
  3.  How was British Parliament taking away colonists property according to  Dickenson?
  4. What is the definition of a “duty” in this context?
  5. How do you think Dickenson wanted the colonists to oppose the taxes?


  Paul Revere’s Engraving of The Boston Massacre


 1. Describe the scene in the engraving above.

2. What historic event does it depict?

3. List at least 3 elements in the picture that make it look like a massacre?

4. Does the picture look like an accurate depiction of the event it represents? Explain why or why not.

5. What do you think was Paul Revere’s purpose for creating this engraving?

6. What effect do you think it had on the colonists?


My Newest and Best Resources for Teaching the Colonial Era



I didn’t post anything last week because I was rushing to get my new book, HISTORY QUESTERS Colonies Trek ready to distribute in time to be used for your Colonial Unit. I’m thrilled to announce that the e-version is now available at Amazon and Barns and Noble.

The Teacher’s Guide that accompanies HISTORY QUESTERS Colonies Trek is available here. Hard copies are still coming in the future, but I was eager to make the novel and teaching materials available for use by students this year—especially in light of the Common Core Standards creating an urgent need for more aligned resources. While I was writing my last post about teaching the Colonial Period, I kept thinking about all of my best strategies and activities that had to wait to be shared, so I decided to publish an e-book format first. In this post I will tell you a little about the book and the activities for teaching about the American Colonies that I developed to go with it. I will also share some reading and discussion strategies for any social studies or ELA class (scroll down).

About the Book

HISTORY QUESTERS Colonies Trek is about a group of kids who travel to the Colonial Period via a Q-Pad and get entangled in real historical events with real historical figures. Because many teachers are faced with diminishing time to teach Social Studies content as they prepare their students for standardized testing in Reading and Language Arts, I saw the need to provide a way to do both at the same time. Even classes that have the luxury of a whole period to teach Social Studies Content, the common core standards necessitate teaching literacy as well. To purchase the e-book for just $3.99 click here to go to my page on Amazon or here for Barns and Noble.

Besides having all of the Social Studies content most state standards require in the form of a sweeping saga of the Colonial Era, the novel tells a compelling coming of age story with all of the rich characters, complex plot and sensory imagery that an ELA teacher would want. It is appropriate for students in 5th-9thgrades and is versatile enough to be used as a supplementary extra credit reading assignment or independent study unit if there is no time in class, or as an entire curriculum unit. It will work well for both regular and homeschool  classrooms.

About the HISTORY QUESTERS Teachers Guide and Activity Book

The 90 page HISTORY QUESTERS Colonies Trek Teacher’s Guide includes over 30 interdisciplinary activities that can be used to enhance and enrich the reading experience. Many of them can be used alone, without reading the novel, but together the novel and the teacher’s guide form a complete unit with more than enough material to teach the Colonial Period.  A textbook would not even be needed. There are primary source documents, maps, timelines, graphic organizers, graphs, charts, art activities and cooperative learning activities.  Here is a copy of the table of contents.requirements of most states.

Look at the Table of Contents:

Lesson Ideas for History Questers’ Colonies Trek……………………………….…4-12

Learner Standards Correlations……………………………………………………..13-14

Background Activities

Time Quest: European Colonies in North America teacher key……………..…..15-16

Time Quest: European Colonies in North America student page…………….……..17

Motives for English Colonization Chart Teacher key…………………………………18

Motives for English Colonization Chart student page………………..……………….19

Push-Pull Factors Activity teacher key…………………………………………………20

Push-Pull Factors Activity student page………………………………………..………21

Strategies for Reading History Questers’ Colonies Quest

HISTORY QUESTERS Colonies Trek Discussion Questions……………..…….22-27

Readers’ Theatre: The Wampum Belt Cast of Characters………………….……28-29

Readers’ Theatre: The Wampum Belt………………………………………..…….30-36

Readers’ Theatre: The Wampum Belt Debriefing Questions student pages…..37-38

Readers’ Theatre: The Wampum Belt Debriefing Questions key……………….39-41

13 Colonies Chart key…………………………………………..……………….……….42

13 Colonies Chart student page….……………………………………….……………43

PEGS New England Colonies Chart key………………………………………………………..44

PEGS (Political, Economic, Geography, Social ) Middle Colonies Chart key……….45

PEGS  Southern Colonies Chart key…………………………………………………….….46

PEGS New England Colonies Chart student page……………………………………47

PEGS Middle Colonies Chart student page…………………………………………….48

PEGS Southern Colonies Chart student page……….…………………………………49

Terms and Vocabulary Activities

Colonies Terms Crossword Puzzle key…..…………………….………………………….……50

Colonies Terms Crossword Puzzle student page……………………………………..51

Each One Teach One: Colonial Terms……………………………………………….…52

Each One Teach One: Blank……………………………………………………………..53


Art-based Activities

Timeline Key ………………………………………………………………………..…54-55

Timeline student pages……………………..………………………………….…….56-57

Tree of Liberty Activity Bulletin Board Template……….……………………..……….58

Tree of Liberty Activity key…………………………………………….…….…………..59

Tree of Liberty Activity student page…………………………………………………60-61

Story Elements Cube……………………………………………………….…………….62


HOTS (Higher Order Thinking and Skills) Daily Activities

Foundations of Freedom: Analyzing Documents key……………..………….…….…63

  • Document A: Mayflower Compact…………………………………….…………..64
  • Document B: Rhode Island Charter………………………………………………65
  • Document C: English Bill of Rights………………………………………………..66

The First Thanksgiving True/ False and Evidence key…….…………………..…67-68

The First Thanksgiving Teaching Notes……………………………………….……….69

  • Document A: Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation………………….…….….…70
  • Document B: First Thanksgiving Painting………………………………….……..70
  • Document C: Journal of William Bradford…….………………………….……….71
  • Document D: National Thanksgiving Day Proclamation…..……….……………71

The First Thanksgiving True/ False and Evidence student page..………….……72-73

Colonial Economy Map key ………….………………………………………………..…74

Colonial Economy Map student page……………………………………………….75-76

Triangular Trade Map key……….………………………………………………………..77

Triangular Trade Map student page……………….……………………………………78

Colonial Ethnic Population Graph key…..………………………………………….…..79

Colonial Ethnic Population Graph student page……………………………….………80

Did Pocahontas Save John Smith? Analyzing the Evidence key…….……….…..…81

Did Pocahontas Save John Smith Teaching Notes.……………………………….…82

Background Reading on John Smith and Pocahontas by Dr. John Birchfield…83-88

  • Document A: John Smith’s A True Relation…………………..…….…….…….89
  • Document B: John Smith’s General History of Virginia………………….…….89

Did Pocahontas Save John Smith? Analyzing the Evidence student page…………90





Reading Strategies for Social Studies

I don’t want this blog to turn entirely into a sales pitch, because its true purpose is to share teaching ideas that can benefit all of our students. In celebration of the book’s release, I thought I would share some reading strategies today. I have used my book as the example, however. :)

There are many options for reading History Questers’ Colonies Quest, or any history-based book.  Using a variety of strategies will enhance the experience. It is best to break the reading into small chunks of a chapter or two.  Whichever reading strategies are used, they should be accompanied with pre-reading activities that access prior knowledge and give background; during reading activities that engage the student and make them think; and post-reading activities that reinforce learning, build new understandings and apply them to new connections.

Independent Reading

Students could read the book, or some chapters, for homework, or as summer reading. It could also be read as an extra credit assignment or as an enrichment assignment for GT students.

Teacher Read

 Teacher could read aloud some chapters. This might work best for the first few chapters to introduce the novel.


Pair or Group Read

 Form History Questers teams in your class. Let each team choose a name and work together for some of the reading and/or activities. They can read aloud to each other.

Reader’s Theatre

Some of the scenes could easily be acted out or read as a script. It would be engaging to assign groups to rewrite these scenes (or portion of scene) with a narrator and dialogue, and act them out for the class as you get to that part of the novel. One such scene has already been turned into a Reader’s Theatre as an example. The Wampum Belt is available as a free download for a limited time. It is also available in the Teacher’s Guide.

PEGS Chart

The History Questers kids in the novel are collecting political, economic, geographic, and social information during their quest. It would be logical for your students to collect it along with the characters. If they are working in teams you could assign each team member a different category to collect and share with group, or watch out for if reading aloud. Students can record their information on the charts provided for each region. The History Questers visit a representative colony of each region, but all colonies are discussed within those chapters.


HOTS Discussion Questions

 Discussion questions in sequential order are provided for each chapter, along with the chapter and scene where the answers are found. The questions range from fact-based to higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students could answer them independently, or during group reading. They could also be used solely as discussion questions after reading a chapter or chapters. Teachers can choose all or some of them. There are questions that meet English/Language Arts Literacy standards and questions that meet Social Studies Standards as indicated by the Common Core Literacy Standards and TEKS.

13 Colonies Chart

This chart lists the region, the date, and reason for establishment of each of the colonies and has spaces to fill in the colonies’ names. It could be used as a guided reading activity. It could also be used as a check for understanding, guided practice, or evaluation tool.   You could also change the chart so that it gives only the Colonies’ names and students fill in the other information as notes during a lecture/discussion or during reading. All of the information is in the novel.

Discussion Activities

HISTORY QUESTERS Colonies Trek or any book is best taught through a variety of educational experiences.  Reading and writting activities alone will not provide a rich, interactive educational experience.  At least some portions of the novel and the events it portrays should be discussed as a class and or in group settings. The activities provided in the teacher’s guide are designed to guide, facilitate, or stimulate discussion.

 Inner/Outer Circle

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.

  Placemat discussion

  A form of group discussion that is interactive, yet quiet is the placemat discussion. Begin by grouping students in threes or fours. Hand each group a discussion mat, which is a large piece of butcher paper divided into four sections. Write an open- ended question in each section. Explain to students that they will answer the question on their section by writing their comments on the butcher paper. After a minute or two have them turn the paper so that they are answering the next question. When each student has answered all four questions, turn the paper again and ask each student to comment on everyone else’s answers. Encourage them to ask new questions and make new observations. You may even want to turn it a third time. Have each student use a different color marker so that you can identify who made each comment. This also facilitates grading. This would work well as a chapter debrief or at the end of the book.

Here are some sample questions using Chapter 7 in HISTORY QUESTERS as an example.

  1. What is the young Scotsman’s attitude toward Native Americans? What caused him to feel that way?
  2. What was Braxton’s attitude toward Native Americans? What caused him to feel that way?
  3. Do you think William Penn followed through on his promise to make Pennsylvania a Holy Experiment? Explain.
  4. What do you think the team learned from hanging out with the Native American boys in Pennsylvania? Would you enjoy spending a day like this?






Download My Readers’ Theatre About the Colonies Free

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians.” Painting by Benjamin West, 1771-72. Public domain

My next post will be on teaching about the Era of Colonization. Right now I am working on a student and teacher’s manual to go along with my new novel, History Questers’ Colonies Trek, so I am fully immersed in the Colonial Period. I have created many engaging activities for teaching about the 13 English Colonies. I will save most for the manual, but I want to share a Readers’ Theatre that I wrote based on the novel. Information about it and how to download it for free will be further in this post.

History Questers’ Colonies Trek

First let me tell you a little about the book, History Questers’ Colonies Trek. Though the novel is an exciting story that kids will want to read, it is also designed for classroom use. I am passionate about creating literature that will engage students in history. As a Social Studies Instructional Coordinator for a Texas school district, I (and the teachers I worked with) were frustrated by the lack of time available to teach social studies. I became convinced that an interdisciplinary approach would be the most effective solution. The advent of the Common Core Literacy Standards just reinforced this resolution. So I began a series that includes all of the elements of literature, but also sneaks in all of the social studies content our state required at grade 5 and 8.

The book is still in manuscript form at this time, but I hope that it will be ready for students by next school year. You may read the first 3 chapters by clicking here. However these chapters just set up the story and introduce us to the main characters. I would love to have some pre-release reviews by real teachers, so if you would be willing, I would be happy to e-mail the manuscript. You may contact me at historyquesters@yahoo.com

The book is about a team of four kids who spiral back in time via a Q-pad app created by their teacher, Ms. McQuester who believes in hands-on history lessons. Braxton, the point of view character, is the shy new member of the team. His journey of self-discovery and growth parallels the story of the growth of the colonies. The other members of the team also have well-developed characters with whom kids will relate. There is a lot of team drama along with the drama of the historical events and people the kids interact with.

The kids are supposed to just witness the events, but end up getting quite involved. They visit Jamestown, Plymouth, Boston, Salem, and Philadelphia and have a lot of adventures along the way. Though the story is fiction, the history is authentic and is aligned with the Common Core Literacy Standards, The Texas 5th and 8th grade U.S. History TEKS (which are similar to most states) and the National Council for the Social Studies Curriculum Standards.


Reader’s Theatre

One of the themes of History Questers is the relations between Native-Americans and Colonists. I have condensed 5 scenes from the book and formatted them as a Reader’s Theatre Play that students can perform. It has characters from the book as well as real historical figures, but it can stand alone without reading the book. I have also created a number of higher order thinking discussion questions to go with each scene. The goal is to have students analyze colonial-Native relations from different perspectives. The Reader’s Theatre, which is called The Wampum Belt, is just one of the activities which will be in the Student and Teacher manual. It is copyrighted, but you may download the Readers Theatre , my discussion questions and the key now to use with your students. Please let me know what you think of it– and remember if you would like to preview the entire History Questers, email me at historyquesters@yahoo.com