Teaching the American Revolution
When I was teaching, I struggled to find time to prepare engaging lessons. Between correcting work and attending meetings, there was never enough time to get everything done. This can be especially stressful when you’re preparing to teach a new history topic like the American Revolution. There’s so much to know that it can be overwhelming!
In this blog post, I will outline the most important things you need to know about teaching the American Revolution. This guide will cover the events which led to the Declaration of Independence (1765 – 1776).
American Revolution Overview
How did it begin?
The American Revolution was an insurrection that occurred in British North America between 1765 and 1783. This blog post will focus specifically on teaching the events that led to when the United States of America declared independence from Great Britain (1765 to 1776).
Before the American Revolution, Great Britain defended its American colonies during the French and Indian War (1756-1763). The war resulted in both a British victory and significant war debt. In order to pay off the debt, the Crown imposed new taxes on its American colonies.
Painting of George Washington during the French and Indian War; Public Domain, Link
Taxation without Representation
The first new tax was called the Stamp Act (1765). This law, which taxed printed documents, made many colonists unhappy. They felt it was unfair for Great Britain to tax them when they did not have representatives in the British Parliament. They protested by saying, “No Taxation without Representation!”
In October of 1765, delegates from nine colonies met together in New York City to form the Stamp Act Congress. At this congress, they sent a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” to the King arguing that the Stamp Act was unfair. Great Britain responded by repealing (cancelling) the Stamp Act.
Although the Stamp Act was repealed, Britain continued to pass new tax laws. Notably, the Townshend Acts of 1767 required colonists to pay taxes on several imported goods like paper, glass, and tea. Some American colonists felt these taxes were unfair and responded by boycotting, or refusing to buy, British goods.
Stamp required by The Stamp Act, Public Domain, Link
Protests steadily escalated to the Boston Massacre. On March 5, 1770, a large crowd of colonists gathered around a group of British soldiers. The crowd taunted the soldiers and threw snowballs and rocks at them until the soldiers fired into the crowd. As a result, 11 people were shot and 5 civilians died. News of this event turned more colonists against Great Britain.
Boston Tea Party
Unrest continued when Great Britain passed the Tea Act in 1773. This led to the Boston Tea Party in 1774, during which a group of American patriots protested by dumping thousands of pounds of British tea into the Boston harbor.
1846 Lithograph of the Boston Tea Party, Public Domain, Link
The Intolerable Acts
To punish colonists for the Boston Tea Party, Great Britain passed another series of taxes in 1774. The American colonists disliked these new taxes so much, they called them “The Intolerable Acts.”
Violence broke out on April 19, 1775, at Lexington and Concord. These battles were the first military engagements of the American Revolution.
The Declaration of Independence
On July 4, 1776, the 13 Colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, a document that declared that the colonies were an independent country. Fighting between the United States and Great Britain continued until the end of the Revolutionary War.
Declaration of Independence painting by John Trumbull, Public Domain, Link
American Revolution Timeline
When teaching the American Revolution, or any historical period, it can be helpful for students to have a general timeline of important events and when they occurred.
Here are some of the most important events to know when teaching the American Revolution:
- 1765 — Great Britain passes the Stamp Act (a tax on printed documents) to pay debts from the French and Indian War
- 1765 — Colonists hold the Stamp Act Congress to organize resistance to the act
- 1766 — The Stamp Act is repealed
- 1767 — Great Britain passes the Townshend Acts, which taxes imported goods
- 1770 — Violence erupts between British soldiers and colonists in a conflict called the Boston Massacre
- 1773 — Great Britain passes the Tea Act, which limits who may sell tea in the colonies
- 1773 — To protest the Tea Act, Patriots throw tea into the Boston Harbor (Boston Tea Party)
- 1774 — Great Britain passes the Intolerable Acts to punish colonists for the Boston Tea Party
- 1774 — Delegates from the colonies gather at the First Continental Congress to organize resistance to the Intolerable Acts
- 1775 — Colonists hold the Second Continental Congress, considered America’s first attempt at self-governance
- 1775 — The first military battles of the Revolutionary War occur at Lexington and Concord
- 1776 — Representatives from all 13 Colonies sign the Declaration of Independence
I recommend displaying a timeline like this in your classroom. Even better, have students help you create the timeline as you go through the unit! Click here to get my free Declaration of Independence timeline lesson.
Teacher Resources for Learning about the American Revolution
Now that you know the basics, here are a few excellent resources to help you learn more. These resources will help you better understand the American Revolution!
- Taxes & Smuggling – Prelude to Revolution: Crash Course US History – John Green’s fast-paced and informative video teaches about the roots of the American Revolution.
- Tea, Taxes, and The American Revolution: Crash Course World History – This follow-up video goes into greater detail about American Revolution events.
- Free Online US History Textbook – Chapters 5 and 6 of this online textbook discuss the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence.
- Britannica Online – Britannica’s American Colonies article is full of key dates and events of the American Revolution.
American Revolution Pacing Guide
American Revolution Tax Simulation
Have you ever considered bringing the American Revolution to life with a simulation? Here’s what I did with my students:
I assigned each student a colonist identity which lasted throughout the unit. They received a colonial name, job, salary, and a political faction to belong to (patriot, loyalist, or neutralist). I passed out fake class money each day based on their “salary.”
Then, in order to feel the stress of taxation without representation, students experienced classroom taxes. So, for the Stamp Act, students were required to put an “official stamp” on all their assignments in order for them to be graded.
As the unit progressed, “King George” piled on the taxes. For example, to simulate the Intolerable Acts (laws created to punish the Boston colonists for the Boston Tea Party) students with a Massachusetts colonial identity had to give up all their class money! Ouch! The students were so mad.
I also gave the students chances to hold three meetings (The Stamp Act Congress, the First Continental Congress, and the Second Continental Congress). At each congress, they acted as delegates and decided how to respond to Great Britain’s infuriating taxes. It was so fun!
In the end, the students decided if they would declare independence or not.
If you are interested in doing something similar, here is the pacing guide I used:
3-Week Pacing Guide
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5|
|Choose Your Destiny||Patriots vs Loyalists|
Begin Stamp Act Simulation
|Prepare for the Stamp Act Congress||Stamp Act Congress||Begin Townshend Acts Simulation
|Day 6||Day 7||Day 8||Day 9||Day 10|
|Begin Tea Act Simulation|
The Boston Tea Party
|Begin Intolerable Acts Simulation|
All About the Intolerable Acts
|Prepare for the First Continental Congress||First Continental Congress||Lexington, Concord, & Thomas Paine|
|Day 11||Day 12||Day 13||Day 14||Day 15|
|Prepare for the Second Continental Congress||Second Continental Congress||Stop All Tax Simulations!|
Analyze the Declaration of Independence
|Key Ideas in the Declaration of Independence||Write Your Own the Declaration of Independence|
Note: Each lesson is around 45 minutes long.
If creating your own American Revolution simulation sounds overwhelming to you, check out my Declaration of Independence Unit.
This unit includes step-by-step lesson plans, engaging simulations, ready-to-print student worksheets, and an editable study guide and assessment to check student knowledge.
I know lots of teachers are teaching remotely, so I’ve added Google slides to all the lessons. I want to make teaching the American Revolution enjoyable for you and your students no matter how you’re teaching!
Free American Revolution Lessons
To get you started, check out my free American Revolution lessons!
In this free lesson, students learn about Patrick Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death!” speech. They will then create their own opinion writing piece in the same style (ex: Give Me Minecraft, or Give Me Death!). This lesson is a fun way to integrate social studies and creative writing. I’ve included everything you’ll need, as well as resources for extending and customizing the lesson for your students.
This lesson can be printed or assigned via Google Classroom!
In this free lesson, students learn about 8 key events leading to the Declaration of Independence by reading task cards and answering prompts on a timeline. This lesson can be printed or assigned via Google Classroom!
Here are the events on the timeline:
- The Stamp Act
- The Boston Massacre
- The Boston Tea Party
- The Intolerable Acts
- The First Continental Congress
- Lexington and Concord
- The Second Continental Congress
- The Declaration of Independence
After that, students complete a reflection where they answer the following questions:
- If you lived in the 1700s, would you have declared independence from Great Britain?
- Do you think that the colonists ever overreacted to one of the British laws or actions?
Enter your email below to grab your free Declaration of Independence timeline lesson!
American Revolution Primary Sources
Primary sources are one of the most valuable resources when teaching history. Primary sources show multiple points of view and spark curiosity about the past. However, I’ve found that many teachers don’t know where to find good primary sources. There are a lot of primary sources available, so it can be difficult to find age-appropriate ones for your students and create a plan to use them.
To help you utilize primary sources in your classroom, I’ve compiled a list of Declaration of Independence Primary Sources.
One of my favorite American Revolution primary sources is the Yankee Doodle Song (Mid 1700s). Your students will probably be familiar with this song, but they won’t know it’s origins or significance. This is a fun way to supplement to your study of the American Revolution.
Description of Primary Source:
British soldiers originally sang this song during the French and Indian War, and it mocked American colonists for their dress and manners. During the American Revolution, British soldiers continued to sing it to make fun of the “Yankees”. Here is a pro-British verse:
Yankee Doodle came to town,
For to buy a firelock,
We will tar and feather him,
And so we will John Hancock
However, the colonists turned Yankee Doodle into a song of defiance and national pride. What is a Yankee Doodle? Why do we sing about macaroni? You can read about what the lyrics mean here. You can also read more about the song on the Library of Congress’s website.
Class Discussion Questions:
- When have you heard this song before?
- What is the song about?
- Who do you think sang this song?
- What is a Yankee Doodle?
- In the song, what does “Macaroni” mean?
- What is the main idea of this song? List two lyrics that support the main idea.
Resources for this Primary Source:
- Download the sheet music (Library of Congress)
- Sound recordings of Yankee Doodle (two recordings are found on this Wikipedia page)
- Recording Analysis sheet (National Archives)
American Revolution Videos
Another great way to engage students is through high-quality history videos. Videos can teach a lot of information in a short period of time. They are also engaging and fun!
However, most teachers know that not all history videos are created equal. It’s hard to find accurate, appropriate videos from reliable sources. To help provide you with awesome, informative videos, I’ve created this list of 5 Powerful Declaration of Independence Videos for Kids.
When I was teaching I loved using videos to make less fun activities more engaging. For example, the Declaration of Independence (as read by Max MacLean) is a great way for struggling readers to read the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence (as read by Max MacLean)
The Declaration of Independence read by a professional actor. Also includes music in the background.
My Rating: age 10+
Notes: Students could follow along with the video as they read a transcript of the Declaration of Independence. The narrator does a nice job of conveying the emotions behind the words.
American Revolution Picture Books
The last resource I want to share with you is picture books about the American Revolution. Picture books are a great way to get students engaged in history. In addition, picture books help students see historical events from multiple perspectives.
One great book to use while you’re teaching the American Revolution is Colonial Voices: Hear them Speak.
Hours before the Boston Tea Party, an errand boy named Ethan delivers messages for the Sons of Liberty about a secret meeting. As he delivers the messages, he talks to different people living in Boston. Each page of this book is from a different person’s perspective: a printer, a baker, a Native American trader, an enslaved person, and more. Each person shares their thoughts on King George’s tea tax.
The Bostonians views vary. For example, some are Patriots while others are Loyalists or Neutralists.
Each person tells about his or her work and daily life. This paints a picture of what life was like during Colonial Times.
This book is appropriate for ages 8 and up.
Ideas for Using this Book:
This book would be a great way to show that colonists had varying beliefs about the American Revolution.
You could also use this book to learn about Colonial Trades. Several are listed in this book: from wigmaker to milliner. Ask students which jobs they would like to do if they lived in 1776. Which jobs would they not like?
Activity idea: List all the people in the book and then sort them by their political views (Loyalist, Patriot, or Neutralist).
American Revolution Unit
I hope that these resources help you teach about the the American Revolution. If you need more help, consider checking out my 3-week Declaration of Independence Unit.
Declaration of Independence Interactive Lesson Plans
How would it feel to have your Declaration of Independence unit completely planned out for the next 3 weeks? I’m talking 15 lessons, worksheets, and answer keys completely ready to go.
I’m a former 5th grade teacher myself. Back then I struggled to find effective social studies resources for my students.
Because of this, I started creating my own units and sharing them online. Now I work full-time creating curriculum to help busy teachers like you. I create these units because I want to help you fall in love with teaching history.
My unit of Declaration of Independence lesson plans has been used by thousands of 5th-8th-grade teachers.
So keep reading to find out why this unit will ENRAGE your students (in a good way).
15 complete lesson plans (3 bonus lessons)
15 days of activities
70+ pages with a variety of activities such as simulations, writing activities, student booklets, and more
Table of Contents for Declaration of Independence Unit
- Day 1: Choose Your Destiny—activity where students adopt a colonial identity that will last throughout the unit (they love this part!). Then they receive a colonial name, job and salary, and a political faction to belong to (patriot, loyalist, or neutralist)
- Day 2: Patriots vs. Loyalists—sorting cards with Patriot, Neutralist, and Loyalist arguments, booklet, & primary source worksheet
- Day 3: Stamp Act Simulation & Prepare for the Stamp Act Congress—In order to feel the stress of taxation without representation, students take part in simulated classroom taxes. Students also have to put an “official stamp” on all of their assignments in order for them to be graded.
- Day 4: Stamp Act Congress—simulated congress, article about what really happened, & reflection
- Day 5: Townshend Acts Simulation & Boston Massacre Lesson—classroom tax simulation, analyze eyewitness accounts of the Boston Massacre and explain each speaker’s point of view
- Day 6: Tea Act Simulation & The Boston Tea Party—classroom tax simulation, informative article, draw a political cartoon of the Boston Tea Party
- Day 7: Intolerable Acts Simulation & Lesson—classroom tax simulation, task cards about the Intolerable Acts, & student worksheet
- Day 8: Prepare for the First Continental Congress—learn about proposals and come up with speeches for the congress
- Day 9: First Continental Congress—simulated congress, article about what really happened, & reflection
- Day 10: Lexington, Concord, & Thomas Paine—article & student worksheets about Lexington and Concord, translating quotes from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense
- Day 11: Prepare for the Second Continental Congress—research proposals and come up with speeches for the congress
- Day 12: Second Continental Congress—simulated congress, article about what really happened, & reflection
- Day 13: Analyze the Declaration of Independence—compare the Declaration to a break-up letter & organize it into sections
- Day 14: Key Ideas in the Declaration of Independence—task cards & student worksheets
- Day 15: Write Your Own Declaration of Independence—use the Declaration as a model text for a writing piece
Here’s what teachers are saying about this Declaration of Independence Unit
“Love this resource! The simulations rock and the students totally engage when they experience what the colonists did during that era. Thank you!”
“Why can’t I give this an A+?!?! This resource was AMAZING. I taught about the events that led up to the Revolution and the kids were totally invested in this! They took sides and argued at the Constitutional Convention. [The students] became sick with rage when the “Town Crier” came through with yet another “ACT” was posted on the classroom door, as it meant less money for them. They learned sooo much!”
“The best Social Studies resource I have found [and] the kids absolutely love the lessons and activities! It makes the history real to them!”
For an engaging, time-saving solution, check out my 3-week Declaration of Independence Unit.