Monday, December 6, 2010

Recommended Children's and Pedagogy Literature: Colonial America and Classroom Simulations

I recommend the following books for use when teaching the colonial era to students in intermediate-level grades:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Recommended Resources: Colonial America

In addition to the resources listed elsewhere in this blog, I recommend the following resources for studying the Colonial American era with intermediate level learners:
  • Mayflower History: This site is dedicated to teaching about the Mayflower using primary sources. There are links to the sources (mainly letters) linked from the site.
  • Colonial Williamsburg Email List: This newsletter appears in email boxes once per month and includes information about given colonial era topics, links to primary sources addressing those topics, teaching suggestions related to the issue topic, and resources available from Colonial Williamsburg. Note: The emil is a means of commercially seeking buyers, but the content is still worthwhile.
  • Colonial Williamsburg Summer Teacher Institutes: These one-week institutes engage teachers in the colonial era through lecture as well as simulated experience. They occur on-site and include room and board. The cost for the week is $1,900, but scholarships are available.
  • Reader's Theater Resources: Several companies offer reader's theater scripts relating to Colonial America. I recommend both Teacher Created Materials and Houghton-Milton (for slower readers) scripts.
  • Chautauqua Presentations: For a fee of $50, Nevada Humanities will underwrite the expenses of having a Chautauqua presenter come to your school for a performance. Annually, the Boulder City Chautauqua Performers (including Young Chautauquans) present. See schedule for times and dates.
  • The Lesson of 1623—Yours, Mine, and Ours: This is a free video available from izzit. It uses resources from Colonial Williamsburg to tell about the era. By joining izzit, teachers are given one free video from their collection each year. Note that each video also includes a teacher's guide.
  • One of Virginia's Teaching American History Grant projects produced some amazing unit plans relating to the colonial era. You may access them here.
These books are useful for pedagogical purposes, especially when using simulation strategies to teach about Colonial and Revolutionary periods of U.S. history.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Session II Class Slides

Click here for the session slides.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lesson Plan: Colonial Era Simulations

The below lesson plan (also available for download in PDF) introduces students to activities common in daily life during colonial times.

Daily Life in Colonial America: Simulations
Prepared by Christy G. Keeler, Ph.D.

Intended Grade Level(s): 2-12

Lesson Overview: Students will simulate daily activities common during the colonial America era. Through the process, they will learn the history of daily life in the colonies and will gain comparative perspective between lives of the colonists and their own lives. Teachers may deliver subsections of this lesson in a rotating learning center format or as whole class simulations.

• Students will identify common chores and other daily activities during the American colonial era.
• Students will differentiate between daily activities today and those of the colonial era.


Anticipatory Set: As students enter the classroom, have them respond to the following question: “What types of chores and other activities did children in colonial America do on a daily basis?”

Reading Prompt: Read the book Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl by Kate Waters aloud to the class. After the story, work as a class to complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting “Daily Life” of colonial children and children today. Next, have students postulate reasons for the differences (e.g., technological change, trade partnerships, cultural differences).
Explain that students will have the opportunity to experience several colonial American activities. As they experience the activities, they should ponder how their lives would have been different if they had been born in the 1600s as opposed to the 21st century.


Teachers may organize these activities in a variety of ways and may choose to use one, some, or all of the activities. One method is to designate one location for each activity and have students rotate, in groups of approximately three to four students, between activity centers. This would work well on a day designated as “Colonial American Day.” For younger children, parent volunteers may chaperone each learning center to assist and guarantee student safety. Teachers may choose to require students keep a travel log for each activity they complete. To “pass” the activity, each child would need to provide a 3-sentence description of the activity experienced in the center.
Another model may involve having students work as an entire class completing a single activity. Teachers could organize their colonial American unit to include a different activity each day. Students could keep daily journals about their travels through colonial America, describing their impressions each day of the journey.

Candle Making
This method of candle making allows students to create one candle at a time. During colonial times, many candles were made at once.
Needed Materials: 8 metal cans (e.g., soup cans), cold water, string, 4 pencils, 1 pair of scissors, melted paraffin wax (keep the wax as cool as possible without allowing it to harden), newspaper
Procedures: Cover the table with newspaper so any dripped wax can be easily disposed. Fill four metal cans will cold water and four with melted wax. Have students cut off an approximately one-foot length of string and tie one end of the string to the center of the pencil so that the length of string hanging down is about the height of the can. First, they will dip the tips of their fingers in the wax and run their fingers along the string. This will give the string some weight and shape. Next, they will dip their string into the wax. After waiting a few seconds, they will remove the string by lifting the pencil and will dip the string into the cold water. This will cool and harden the wax. Students will then alternately dip the growing candle in the wax and water until it is as thick as the student prefers.
Making Butter
Rural colonists tended to make their own butter, but those in towns had less land for cattle so sometimes purchases butter from household microbusinesses. Most butter was produced using a butter churn. It took about three hours to produce one pound of butter.
Needed Materials: heavy whipping cream at room temperature (take it out about 1 hour before use), salt, cup, small spatula, jar with a tight-fitting lid, strainer, small bowl, popsicle sticks
Procedures: Fill the jar half-way with cream and tightly attach the lid. Shake the jar until the whey (liquid) and curd (solid) separate. Pour the whey into a cup. Students may drink this liquid—it’s buttermilk. Pour the curd into a strainer and let it drain until all liquid is gone. Rinse the curd and place it in a bowl. Stir in salt to taste. Students may scoop a small piece of butter onto their popsicle sticks to taste their creation.
Cooking: Shrewsbury Cakes
Shrewsbury cakes first appeared in cookbooks during the 16th century. By American standards, the “cake” would be considered a cookie and is similar to shortbread with the added ingredient of an egg.
**Have students wash their hands and review kitchen safety rules before engaging in this exercise
Teacher Resource: For more information, see
Needed Materials: mixing bowl, oven, bar pan, wooden spoon, pot holder, measuring cups and spoons, 1/2 c butter (softened), 1/2 c sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 c flour, 1/2 t nutmeg, spatula
Procedures: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease the bar pan. Mix all ingredients until batter becomes smooth and place the batter into the pan. Bake cookies ten minutes or until they appear brown. Cut the cake into squares before it hardens in the pan.
Cornhusk Dolls
Native Americans originally made cornhusk dolls and taught colonial Americans the craft. The dolls usually appeared in the fall after husking time.
Needed Materials: dried cornhusks placed in a large tub of water, scissors, string or rubberbands
Procedures: Have students follow instructions for making a cornhusk doll found at You may substitute rubber bands for the string.
Colonial Williamsburg Computer Simulations
Colonial Williamsburg offers a rich collection of resources for teachers and learners.
Needed Materials: computer with internet connection, computer projector
Procedures: Have students experience tools and events of colonial Americans
by playing “Tool Trouble” (, “18th Century Paper Doll Game” (, “Brickmaker Build-Up” (, “Heads Up for the Colonists” (, and “Pardon or Pillory” (
Clothes Washing
Students will simulate clothes washing in this exercise using a method still common around the world today.
Needed Materials: Rags, water, soap (see and Cooking Up U.S. History by Suzanne Barchers and Patricia Marden), two large tubs, a washing board, a wringing wheel (if possible), a location for drying towels
Procedures: Have students place “dirty” rags into a large tub of water. Using soap and the washing board, have them scrub the rags and then place them into a tub of rinsing water. After rinsing, have students wring the rags with the wringing wheel (if available) and hang them to dry. The next group of students can take the “clean” rags and re-wash them.
Sewing a Pocket
During colonial times, pockets were not sewn into clothes. Instead, they were worn as a separate piece of clothing inside other clothing layers. The pocket included a ribbon that could be tied around the waist to hold it into place.
Needed Materials: pieces of felt (each should be approximately 8” X 10”)—two pieces per student, a spool of thread, a pincushion, about ten needles (in case some become broken), scissors (one per participant), ribbon (optional)
Procedures: Have each student take two pieces of felt and a pair of scissors. They will cut both pieces together so the pieces are in a pocket shape (rounded corners and a smaller top than bottom—see diagram). Next, they will fold one of the pieces of felt in half “hamburger style” and cut a slit that will become the pocket opening. Students will cut one long piece of thread and thread it into a needle. Finally, they will sew both pieces of the felt together, leaving no openings except the slit in the center of the front pocket. If desired, students may cut a waist-length piece of ribbon and sew it onto their pockets so they can wear them around their waists.
Quill Writing
Until the invention of the steel nib in the 19th century, quills were the primary tools used for writing in the American colonies. The best quills were commonly made from goose, swan, or turkey feathers taken from the primary flight feathers of living birds. Feathers from the left wing were favored for right-handed writers.
Teacher Resource: For more information about quill pens and ink, review the “Educational Focus” on Colleen Wilson’s lesson on “Signing George Washington’s Birthday Card” available at
Needed Materials: blank sheets of white paper, approximately twenty feathers (use tail features suitable for use as quills or order them from Americana Souvenirs and Gifts), hand wipes, four bottles of ink, newspaper, calligraphy lettering chart (see
Note: Before students participate in this lesson, prepare the pens by dipping them in hot water to soften the tip. Cut the tip at a slant and add a slit to the middle. Cover the workspace with newspaper so the ink does not stain the table.
Procedures: Students will dip their quills into the ink, shake off excess ink, and practice writing their names on the provided paper. Encourage them to write lightly (this provides a nicer end product and contributes to the life of the feather).
Students must keep their papers on newspaper to limit the mess and they should clean their hands with hand wipes following the activity.
Children’s Games
“Colonial children didn't have much free time, but when they did, there were lots of ways to have fun. They played such games as tag, marbles, hopscotch, leapfrog, hide-and-seek, blindman's buff, hoop races, and quoits.” (Education World— Games teach about the colonial era while engaging kinesthetic learners and providing nice segues for transition times (e.g., just before lunch, end of the school day).
Teacher Resource: For more information, see
Procedures: Have students play the game “Deer and Hunter.” “The players, or ‘hunters,’ stand in a circle holding hands. The ‘deer’ weaves in and out of the circle, under the hands of the players. When the deer taps one of the hunters, the hunter must follow the deer and imitate its movements exactly. If the hunter catches the deer before it has gone around the circle once, the deer goes into the middle of the circle. If the hunter doesn't catch the deer or doesn't imitate its movements exactly, the hunter goes into the middle of the circle. The game continues until the players on the outside of the circle can't encircle the players inside the circle.” (Education World—
Have students congregate together and discuss their experiences during the simulation exercises. Draw a T-chart on the board and have students brainstorm the lives of children “Then” and “Now.”
Have students read the book Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy by Kate Water and list all the ways their lives are similar to and different from Samuel’s life. They will then create two stories they will display side-by-side in a foldable. Both stories will tell about the child author’s own life. In the story on the right, the child will write a non-fiction story about his/her own life—telling about only one day. On the left, the child will re-write his/her own daily story as if s/he were born in the 1600s.

Colonial American Days

To design a Colonial American Day program, I recommend offering six stations with one or more adult volunteers manning each station. Each station would have a different theme and each activity at that station should take 15-20 minutes to complete. Teachers at Hayes Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada, led by Shauna Harris, designed a program to match this description. You can view their 90-minute rotation plan here and the accompanying Pilgrim's Passport (a sheet for student reflection on at each station) here. Alternatively, teachers may choose to dedicate one day to an individual station's theme, doing all the activities from that station in a whole class or small group setting throughout a single day.

Station possibilities include art, cornhusk dolls, science, games, cooking, and household chores/trades. Examples of centers for each of these stations appear below and are also available as a downloadable document. The downloadable document is editable and includes needed materials for 72 participants (12 per station at one time). Pictures of these activities taken on September 16, 2009 at Green Valley High School as part of the Clark County School District Teaching American History Grant appear below.

Cornhusk Dolls
  • Place a tarp on the floor and place a large tub of water in the middle to pre-soak cornhusks.
  • Materials: Version: Corn husks (enough for each participant to have about 10 husks), Ball of string or twine, Scissors, Large tub filled with water (place corn husks in water before class), Rubberband ball, Tarp
  • Use the instructions available at
Here is a video of third graders in Ms. Graham's classroom at Staton Elementary School making cornhusk dolls.


Measuring Tree Height
Making Compasses
Candle Making
  • Place melted paraffin into clean cans placed on beverage warmers (to keep wax melted). Have students wrap the end of an approximately 12" string to one end of a pencil or popsicle stick and wet the string to give it some weight. Have students dip their string into the wax and then immediately into the water. Repeat this process until the candle forms to a reasonable size. Use hands to massage the candle into the proper shape.
  • Materials: Ball of white string, Popsicle sticks, Household paraffin wax, Scissors, Beverage warmers, Cans (fill half with water), Aluminum foil (to cover beverage warmers to keep them clean)
Here is a video of third graders in Ms. Graham's classroom at Staton Elementary School making candles.


Hoop Roll
Stick Toss

Household Chores/Trades

Sewing a Pocket
Sailor Stitches
Rag Rug
Fishnet Making

Quill Writing
Here is a video of third graders in Ms. Graham's classroom at Staton Elementary School writing with quill pens.

Stenciled Notecards
Paper Quilling
Stitch a Sampler
Knit a Patch

  • Use instructions from Carlson, L. (1997). Colonial Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in the New World (A Kid's Guide series). Chicago Review Press, page 41.
  • Materials: Parchment paper, Brown sugar, Butter, Eggs, Molasses, Ground cloves, Flour, Sugar, Baking soda, Wipes, Wooden spoon, Toaster oven, Oven mitts, Hot pad, Spatula, Plates, Mixing bowl, Cookie sheets (small for toaster oven), Measuring cup, Teaspoon, Cinnamon, Ground ginger, Knife, Paper towels
Here is a video of third graders in Ms. Graham's classroom at Staton Elementary School making butter.

Berry Red Ink

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Assessing Student Knowledge of Colonial Content

Below are some suggestions for assessing students during or after a unit on Colonial America.
  • Have students fill a manila envelope with primary source collectibles (e.g., text, pictures, artifacts) or other items relating to a specific topic from the colonial era. Along with each artifact, have students attach a notecard explaining why they believe that artifact belongs in the "research bag." On the front of the envelope, have students glue a one-page typewritten report on the front of their envelope.
  • Have students actively create an interactive bulletin board throughout the course of the unit. Some example bulletin boards may include:
  • Have students place primary source artifacts on the board as they learn about them. The board could be sectioned so there are places for information about travel, daily chores, food, etc. Students would label each artifact when adding it to the board. At the end, groups of students could use the board as a prompt for presenting oral reports.
    • Have students create a giant crossword puzzle. Save one section of the board for clues to the answers, and the rest for the crossword puzzle. Start with COLONIALAMERICA in the middle, placing each letter in a one-inch square. Label the first square "1." In the clue section, add a section for "Across" and "Down." Under the "Across" section, write "1. The period of time between 1607 and 1783." Have students add to the puzzle by writing their own clues (be sure to keep an answer sheet!) and drawing one-inch squares for each of the letters in their answer.
  • Fold two paper bags together "hamburger style" and staple the ends to make an opened book. As students complete lessons during the colonial era unit, have them write information about the content from each lesson on a page (or page spread) in their "book." They can glue on primary source artifacts or add self-drawn graphics about the content of the page and they can add cut-out artifacts in the pockets. You may also "file tabs" that fit in each of the paper bag pockets by cutting construction paper into a file shape that would fit inside the pocket (the tab facing out of the pocket). The pages may contain the following (suggested during a Colonial Williamsburg conference presentation):
    • Page 1: Write "A Day in the Life of a Colonist" and glue on or draw a relevant picture.
    • Tab: On the tabbed file inside the first pocket, have students write related vocabulary words. Use glue to add pictures to describe each word.
    • Page 2 and 3: Create a table with the words "Clothes," "Education," and "Housing" on the y-axis and "Gentry," "Midding," and "Slaves" on the x-axis. As students learn about each theme for each social level, have them fill-in the boxes. They may add pictures to support what they write.
    • Page 4: Have students write "Tools" along the side of the page and find tools from the era. They should cut-out and paste each tool on the page and label it with its name and one use. [Note: Students can learn about tools by clicking on "Trades."
    • Page 5: Create a T-table with "Master" on one side and "Apprentice" on the other. Have students contrast the two roles.
    • Second Pocket: Add one or more related primary sources (e.g., a document used to indenture one individual to another).
    • Page 6: Write "My Life" at the top and prepare 3-4 short biographies of different colonists, including adding their pictures.
The design for the booklet described above was introduced by Tab Broyles during her presentation at the National Council for Social Studies Annual Conference in 2008. Below are pictures of the resulting booklet made during her presentation.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Electronic Simulations for Teaching the Colonial Era

I recommend the following simulations relating to Colonial America.
I recommend the following links for colonial era learning activities:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Where to Build a Colony" Lesson Plan

Where to Build a Colony Lesson Plan

In the lesson plan "Where to Build a Colony", developed by Linda Reeves of Pat Nixon Elementary School, students experience compromises needed to determine where to place the Jamestown Colony on a map of the region where the settlers landed. Students each simulate different professions of those reaching the American shores in 1606 and each must advocate for his position (e.g., the fisherman must advocate for being in the vicinity of a good fishing location whereas the entrepreneur must advocate for a location that might maximize gold prospects).

This lesson would fit well in a unit on Jamestown. Consider using "Jamestown Spies," a unit plan geared toward intermediate-level learners. Richards Maxwell developed it as part of a Virginia Teaching American History Grant. The unit includes several lessons, relying on numerous primary sources. Students work with bar graphs of supply lists, create charades to reinforce difficulties of the settlers and their interactions with Native Peoples, practice literacy skills while interpreting an etching by Theodore de Bry, and consider geography as they map John Smith's explorations of Virginia.


I highly recommend the Heelotia simulation marketed by Stanford's Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education. Through the simulation, students experience what it may be like to experience a different culture for the first time. They do so by learning a fictitious culture, acting it out, and sending ambassadors between the two cultures. The two fictitious cultures are called Hellotians and Hokies.

The simulation cost in $12.95. Additional materials you may wish to use with the simulation include the Heelot and Hokie name tags (using Avery #5160 address labels) and smaller tokens.

"Crossing the Atlantic" Simulation

The "Crossing the Atlantic" simulation was originally conceived by Dr. Jennifer Ponder. Using her work, Dr. Christy Keeler prepared the lesson plan and slides available at The online lesson plan and that delivered in class vary slightly. The in-class version is set in 1620; the online lesson is set in 1890.

Below, you will find links to the slideshow and related videos used in this module. Download each of the files and place them in a single folder to assist in aligning the resources into a single slideshow.

Session I Class Slides (Including Mayflower Videos)

Class Session I Slides

Click here for the session slides. Additionally, download the supporting videos for the "Crossing the Atlantic—Mayflower Version" activity (see below).

Ocean Sounds compiled by Heather Rampton
Plymouth compiled by Christy Keeler, Ph.D.

Colonial Era Recommended Booklist—Intermediate Grades

Module Booklist: Recommended Children's Books for Colonial America Teaching Units (Grades 3-5)

Book Review II: Assignment Expectations

Module Book Review II: Assignment Expectations

Book Review I: Assignment Expectations

Module Book Review I: Assignment Expectations

Module Syllabus

Click here for the module syllabus.