The Revolutionary War and Children's Literature

This is the first section of a sample chapter from In Times Past: An Encyclopedia for Integrating US History with Literature in Grades 3-8 by Carol Otis Hurst and Rebecca Otis (Order from SRA/McGraw-Hill, 1993. ISBN 0-7829-0155-7)

Section 1: Activities

* In order to understand some of the feelings the American Colonists might have had in the time preceding the Revolution, ask another group of students (preferably a distant one that knows nothing about your situation) to make up rules by which your classroom must operate. For the first two days, make sure they consult with you about the effect of their laws and take your suggestions as, apparently, Britain did with the Colonists. For the next two days, have the other classroom act arbitrarily and without concern for the effect on your classroom, which is what the Colonists experienced just before the Revolution.

To contrast this experience, ask the students who were in your classroom last year to make up rules by which your students must operate for the next few days.

During both periods, ask your students to record their feelings and frustrations. After the experience, discuss the contrasting situations and compare them with the feelings of the real Colonists.

* Make a chart such as the one following to show the actions and reactions of the British government and Colonists during the period just prior to the war. Discuss what either side might have done at any point to alter the next event.


* Develop a token system of rewards for work or good behavior. Tell students that they can use the tokens to buy items during a classroom auction. When most students have a few tokens, begin taxing them to use the bathroom, drinking fountain, paper, and so on. Compare their feelings to those of Colonists.

* Find out what happened at the Boston Massacre. Tell it from the point of view of a British soldier, a Colonist, and an uninvolved third party.

* Re-enact the Boston Massacre or the Tea Party.

* Find out what important people of the times thought or did about the Boston Tea Party.

* Cover one of the events of the Revolution as a reporter who writes for people in the other colonies.

* Talk to people in your area who are upset by current taxation. What are they doing about it? What can they do?

* What taxes do you pay? List all the things that you buy or that someone buys for you in the next week. Record and total the taxes. Who gets the tax money?

* Hold a peace negotiation conference between the Patriots and the British parliament with the assistance of mediators. First, divide the group into three teams. One team will research the Revolution, looking for the viewpoints of parliament and Loyalists. Another team will look for the viewpoints of the Patriots. A third section will research basic mediation approaches and techniques. (See pages 55-56 of the print version of In Times Past for books offering mediation techniques.) After the initial research, discuss different viewpoints with assistance from the mediators. Then continue investigating and begin thinking about solutions. Come together again for final problem solving. Evaluate the process. What might have made it more effective?

* Contrast the casualties in the Revolution to those in the Civil War. What are some possible explanations for the differences? Can you find any information about this?

* Create a three-dimensional map showing Boston as it was during the siege of Boston. Show British ships in the harbor and the position of American troops in Cambridge. Trace Henry Knox's trip to Boston from Fort Ticonderoga to break the siege. Compare the ease with which the British isolated Boston to the problems of more current sieges such as those of Iraq or Syria.

* After reading or hearing some selections from Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," write your own "Common Sense" about something that concerns you. Decide whether you will write about just one side in order to make a point or whether you will explore diverse aspects of the issue. How does this reflect your reason for writing?

* Who determines the rules of your classroom? Would it be better if the students made the rules? What about a balance between matters the teacher resolves and those students resolve? Did you consider the possibility of deciding together? Draw up one or more proposals about changes you would like to see.

* Share descriptions of different types of leaders you discovered in your reading and research. How did others view these people's leadership qualities? How do you view them? Compile an anthology of leadership portraits in which you address leadership qualities directly.

* Pretend that you are one of the Colonists. Write a letter explaining your point of view to imaginary relatives who are still in England. Can you do this while also being sensitive to the fact that your relatives might view things differently? What do you think they will find most difficult to understand?

* Write a diary as if you were living at the time of the Revolutionary War. Begin your diary before the war and show how events shape your feelings and opinions.

* Create a time line across one wall of your classroom. As you research, post significant events and facts to create a picture of the many aspects of the conflict. The Revolutionary War: A Sourcebook on Colonial America (page 74 of the print version of In Times Past) contains a good time line of events of the war itself and The Explorers and Settlers (see page 171 also of the print version of In Times Past) from the same series has a good time line of the period just before the war.

* Compare the way the Revolution was viewed by the Patriots, the Loyalists, the middle-of-the-road Colonists, the French, the British, the Germans, the slaves, the poor people, the various Indian tribes, the Canadians, and so on.

* Make a map of Eastern North America indicating the cultural groups present at the time. Code areas of conflict. Make a similar map for a later period.

* Chart the factors that might have affected the viewpoint of the cultural groups present at the time. In addition to their ethnicity, consider the length of time they had been in the country, their reasons for being in America, and their economic classes.

* Put Benedict Arnold on trial for treason. Have a judge, jury, witnesses, and lawyers for both sides, and, of course, someone to play the role of Arnold.

* Rewrite one of the books or stories that you have read that takes the Patriots' side. This time take the side of the Loyalists. Remember that many believed the king was appointed by God. Many of the British and Loyalists thought it was hypocritical for Patriots to ally themselves with France because it was also a monarchy and perhaps a worse one. Some believe, in hindsight, that the upper classes and intellectual elite liked the idea of becoming independent because they thought they would be more powerful in the new government and that the Revolution would sidetrack the political unrest that was occurring among the poor and the slaves.


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