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Causes of the American Revolution

Lesson Plan PDF

Essential Question:

How did the ideals of natural rights and justice inspire a revolution for independence in the colonies?

Guiding Questions:

  • What did colonists think about British rule?
  • How does the Declaration of Independence show the American ideals of justice and natural rights?

Learning Objectives

  • I complete a word study to investigate key vocabulary.
  • I can gather and organize information about historical figures.
  • I can use a guide to construct debate outlines and paragraphs.
  • I can investigate primary sources using excerpts.
  • I can use presentation skills to state my ideas in a debate format.

Content Objectives

  • I can identify important events and other factors that led to increased tension between the colonies and Great Britain.
  • I can compare and contrast the viewpoints of colonists leading up the American Revolution.
  • I can identify the natural rights claimed by American colonists.
  • I can explain the purpose and importance of the Declaration of Independence.


Vocabulary Word Study

To anticipate the lesson, invite students to conduct a word study to understand the civic virtue focus of the lesson: justice, and the principle focus of the lesson: natural rights.

  • Glossary term(s): term(s) that can be used during this part of the lesson for pre-teach opportunities:
    • Justice
    • Natural Rights

To begin, provide each student with a copy of Handout A pencils, coloring utensils, and dictionaries or devices for research. Then provide students with an adequate time to complete, approximately 5-10 minutes, or assign for homework.

When time has elapsed or students have completed the Virtue Vocabulary handout, review with students by asking 1-3 students to share their writing for each section of the organizer.

Optional: When students complete the organizer, review the definitions and illustrations from the Vocabulary Cards

Finally, lead a whole group discussion inviting students to answer the discussion questions aloud.

  • What are some examples of natural rights?
  • What examples of justice have you experienced?
  • How might justice and natural rights help everyone get along or be treated fairly?
  • How are justice and natural rights related?
  • What are some examples of ways you can respect the natural rights of others at home or at school?

Before moving on to the next part of the lesson, tell students: “We will be thinking a lot about natural rights and justice in this lesson. At the end of the lesson, you will be participating in a role play debate where you will use need to understand and be able to use these words. Be sure to keep these ideas in mind as we move through the lesson and ask any questions you have along the way.”

Optional: If students have already completed the Virtue Vocabulary for these words in another unit or need an extension activity, try another vocabulary work activity:

  • Word Game- Students create a game to use their virtue vocabulary including instructions and materials. Then students play each other’s games. (E.g. Word search, matching cards, or variations on other games students know and love.)
  • Word Search- look for the virtue vocabulary in books. Write down the title of the book, page number, and sentence where you found the word. It is helpful to take 5 minutes the day before to identify books the students can look through.
  • Vocabulary Quiz- Create a vocabulary quiz for your classmates using multiple choice, true and false, or matching questions. Include at least 5 questions and an answer key.
  • Vocabulary Story- Write a story using the virtue vocabulary words, then read the story aloud to a student in a younger grade. See if the younger student understands the virtue vocabulary after hearing your story.


How do you Disagree?

In this Engage Activity, students participate in a teacher-led envisioning activity to aid students in identifying how they handle disagreements. Then, the teacher introduces the concept of active listening as a method of resolving disagreements.

  • Glossary term(s): term(s) that can be used during this part of the lesson for pre-teach opportunities:
    • Active Listening

Teacher Note: If active listening and classroom norms have already been established or if your school character education program identifies active listening as a skill, amplify your time by including your school’s character education language as needed to fit this activity to your school and classroom.

To begin, equip each student with a piece of unlined paper, and drawing/coloring tools for this activity. They will also need a close neighbor or two to discuss with.

Ask students to imagine that they are on the playground. They are playing with a group of classmates, friends and acquaintances and everyone is having a fun time. It is their turn to go down the slide or shoot the basketball (use an example that is popular in your classroom at recess or physical education classes), but then someone cuts in front of them and takes their turn.

Discussion Prompts:

  • How would you feel in this scenario?
  • How do you handle this tough situation?
  • Would you talk to the person who cut in line. What would you say?
  • How do you express your anger or frustration? If you feel angry or upset, what are some good ways to show your feelings without being mean or hurting others?
  • Would you wait for your next turn, tell a teacher, or something else?
  • Share with a partner, what would you do?

Teacher note: Another variation of this activity would be to have students act out their response in a quick skit.

Allow students to talk to their neighbors for a moment. Then, ask students to draw a quick stick-figure sketch and/or write a sentence explaining how they would disagree with this classmate who took their turn. When students have finished their sketch and/or sentence, select 3-5 students to share aloud with the group, or with a student seated close to them think-pair-share style.

  • If time allows, ask students to repeat the activity showing how they would disagree with a sibling or family member.

If any students share that they would listen to the other party explain why they cut them in line, you can build off of that. If not, ask the students if it matters why the other student cut them in line and allow them to think about their answer for a moment.

Tell students, the reason why the other student cut you in line was because they know they are getting picked up early, and they didn’t want to miss their turn before they go home.

Ask students if they would react differently knowing the reasons and emotions behind the other student’s choice. Highlight that they still may not agree, but they can understand and come to a resolution without fighting or even involving a teacher.

Discussion Prompts:

  • How does knowing the reason change how you feel about the situation?
  • Can you think of a time when you were in a hurry or needed something badly?
  • What are some ways you can show understanding to the other student?
  • Is there a way you could both get what you need in this situation?
  • If someone does something that bothers us, what are some steps we can take before deciding how to react?

Tell students: When we disagree with others, we should try to understand their side of the issue. You should hear the facts and emotions the other person has about the problem, even if you don’t agree. This is called active listening.

Tell students: Later in this lesson, you will be role-playing a debate between Americans who did not agree during the lead up to the American Revolution. In this debate, active listening will be very important. When you actively listen, you try to hear the thoughts and emotions of the other person by looking at them, avoiding distractions, asking questions, not interrupting, and staying relaxed.

If time allows, have students draw or act out a response to the playground scenario using active listening.


In the Explore section of the lesson, students will consider the views of colonists during the lead up to the American Revolution and investigate the values of justice and natural rights in the Declaration of Independence. The Explore section is broken into two parts. The formative assessment in each part builds skills students will need for the final performance assessment.

Explore Part 1: What did colonists think about British rule? (45-60 minutes)

In the first Explore Activity of this unit, students will encounter the stories of real people from the 13 colonies in the lead up to the American Revolution. They will investigate different colonists and describe them and their views of British rule through an around the room activity. Then, they will create a debate outline using prompts and information they have gathered.

  • Glossary term(s): term(s) that can be used during this part of the lesson for pre-teach opportunities:
    • Colonist
    • Debate
    • Rule
    • Rebuttal
    • Loyalist
    • Patriot

Colonist Views Around the Room

Facilitation Note: Students will need a clipboard or other hard surface to write on, a copy of Handout B, and writing utensil (or online access and device). Students will move around the room for this activity. 

Before class, place Character Cards around the room in places students can access. As they enter the room, post a list of materials they will need and ask them to collect or distribute materials for class to begin.

Work with students to go over Handout B for the activity. Go over each box and detail your expectations for students both in terms of work quality and behavior during the activity.

When students are prepared and ready for independent work, release students to begin moving around the room. You can allow students to move independently or set the class up like stations with timers and move all students at the same time.

Scaffolding Note: The character cards can be printed for students who are unable to move around the room. Students can also be partnered with a peer for the around the room.

When students have completed the activity or time has expired, bring students back to a seat for a debrief and class discussion.

Class Discussion Prompts:

  • Which Colonial character was most interesting to you?
  • What do all of these people have in common?
  • Which colonists seemed very unhappy with British rule?
  • Which colonists enjoyed or were indifferent to British rule?
  • Justice is Upholding what is fair and right, respecting the rights and dignity of all. Which colonists would see British rule as injustice, or the opposite of justice?

To finish this activity, conduct a formative assessment to assess student learning in this content and build skills for the summative assessment at the end of the unit. Students will need a piece of paper, writing utensil, and place to write independently.

Formative Assessment: Writing a Debate Outline

To begin, distribute paper or copies of Handout G for students to write with.

Guide students in writing bullet points to outline a debate statement using the formula. If students are older or more independent, set your expectations and see how students do on their own. If students are younger or need more support, it is suggested to walk through each step with them for this first attempt at debate writing.

The topic: Many colonists felt the same way about British rule.

Teacher Note: The topic is purposefully vague to allow students to argue either side. Yes, many people did feel the same, or no many people did not. Students will choose the side they feel they can best support.

Debate Statement Formula:

  • Introduction: Introduce yourself, the topic and the side you will be arguing for, and your claim
  • Support Your Idea: Have 2-3 strong and relevant points to support your claim
  • Rebuttal: Address and state a reason that will counter what the opposing side is claiming
  • Conclusion: Restate your claim and points and then thank the audience

Scaffolding Note: Sentence stems can be very useful for students in this task.

  • My name is ____________.
  • When considering the topic _____, I agree/disagree.
  • My claim is ______.
  • Others may think _________, but I disagree because ______.
  • In conclusion, __________. Thank you.

Give formative assessment feedback to students in freeform comments in a timely manner so they have a check on their understanding and skills as they move on to the next phase of the lesson.

Teacher note: Rebuttal or counterclaim is an advanced skill. Students may need extra support with the concept when writing with the debate formula such as extra checks, or attempts. It can be omitted if needed for your time restraints or student population.


Explore Part 2: How does the Declaration of Independence show the American ideals of Justice and Natural Rights? (30-45 minutes)

In this Explore activity, students will investigate the Declaration of Independence, looking for the American ideals of justice and natural rights. They will work through a primary source activity of the teacher’s choice, and then write a debate paragraph and practice their speaking skills.

  • Glossary term(s): term(s) that can be used during this part of the lesson for pre-teach opportunities:
    • Grievances
    • Declaration
    • Independence
    • Affirmative
    • Negative

Primary Source Activity

To begin, read Handout C using a read-aloud style from the teacher support document and/or watch the Lesson Video (coming soon!). These resources give context for what happened between colonial British rule and the decision to declare independence.

Allow students to ask questions about the reading or video. Then lead students in a quick true or false check for understanding. Students will give a thumbs up for true, and a thumbs down for false. If you want to add difficulty, you have students play with their heads down on their desk, or challenge students to correct the false statements.

True/False Quick Check Questions:

  • The French and Indian War was only between France and the Native American tribes? False
  • The British government began to tax the colonies because they thought the Americans should share in the cost of protecting themselves. True
  • The “Intolerable Acts” were a punishment for the Boston Tea Party. True
  • Taxes were the only reason Americans wanted to declare independence. False

The next part of the lesson has two options. Option 1 is designed for younger learners, or learners who need more support. In this option, students view the Declaration of Independence as art and listen to excerpts read aloud. Option 2 is designed for older learners or learners who need less support. In this option, students read excerpts of the Declaration in groups with a scaffolded organizer. These options can be used separately or together.

Option 1

To begin, display this copy of the Declaration of Independence on the classroom board and distribute copies of Handout D to students. Handout D is a See, Think, Wonder chart to aid students in analyzing and reflecting on what they learn.

First, students view the Declaration as a piece of art and fill in the “See” portion of Handout D. Then, students listen as they read aloud these excerpts from the Declaration of Independence. The teacher excerpts contain pauses and questions for reflection for the students as they fill in the “Think” portion of Handout D. Then allow students 3-5 minutes to complete the “Wonder” portion of Handout D Independently.

If time allows, take a few minutes to share student responses from the activity.

Option 2

To begin, arrange students into groups and distribute Handout E. The worksheet has 3 parts designed to be printed on separate sheets of paper. This way, you can have all groups complete a part, discuss, and then move on. Or, you can give groups all 3 parts and allow them to move through the activity at their own pace.

With your method for completing the handout chosen, make your expectations for work quality and behavior clear to your students and begin.

Because primary sources are particularly difficult for students of this age to grapple with, be sure to be on hand to support them and move around the room frequently.

When students have completed the activity or time has expired, discuss the primary source with your students in a whole group with the discussion questions.

Discussion Questions:

  • What do you think the Founders are trying to say by capitalizing “In Congress”?
  • Why is it significant that the document is “unanimous”?
  • Why does this document include a long list of grievances?
  • What section do you think is the most important? Why?
  • Where are natural rights discussed in the document?
  • Consider the claim “The Declaration of Independence is built on the concept of natural rights”. How do the writers support this claim?
  • How does the idea of justice show up in the Declaration of Independence?
  • Consider all of the Principles and Virtues. What other principles and virtues do you think apply to the Declaration of Independence?

Formative Assessment: Speaking a Debate Paragraph

To finish this section of the lesson, students will complete a formative assessment in which they write a debate statement in paragraph form, using the same formula as before and then practice reading it aloud. The repetition is purposeful. This formative assessment builds on the previous formative assessment and leads students to build skills to ready them for the summative assessment.

To begin, post or provide each student with a copy of the BRI Elementary Principles and Virtues. Ask students to share any thoughts, questions, or confusions about the document.

Then, introduce the writing topic.

Topic: Of all the principles and virtues, the ideals of justice and natural rights are the most important part of the Declaration of Independence.

This topic is more complex than the last writing topic to give students the opportunity to expand on their opinion. For instance: Yes, justice and natural rights are the most important part of the Declaration. Or, no they are not, these other principles and virtues are more important. Be sure to emphasize to students that they are not arguing for or against the ideals of the Declaration, but which are most important.

  • Introduction: Introduce yourself, the topic and the side you will be presenting, and your claim
    • Affirmative is for, Negative is against
  • Support Your Idea: Have 2-3 strong and relevant points to support your claim
  • Rebuttal: Address and state a reason that will counter what the opposing side is claiming
  • Conclusion: Restate your claim and points and then thank the audience with eye contact.

Sentence stems:

My name is ____________.

When considering the topic _____, I agree/disagree.

My claim is ______.

Others may think _________, but I disagree because ______.

In conclusion, __________. Thank you.

Scaffolding note: You can use similar scaffolds for students from the last formative assessment, pushing students a little closer to independence. The writing formula, sentence stems, and prompts in the Teacher Slide deck can all support your students.

Finally, have students informally share their debate paragraph in small groups with active listening, general presentation behavior (eye contact, gestures, voice projection) and key words (For example, In my opinion, Consequently, Therefore, Specifically, That is why). The teacher slide deck has an assignment slide to facilitate this activity.


In the final activity of this lesson, students use all that they have learned and the skills they have practiced to participate in a role-play debate. For the debate, students take on the role of one of the real characters provided in the Character Cards.

  • Glossary term(s): term(s) that can be used during this part of the lesson for pre-teach opportunities:
    • Loyalist
    • Patriot
    • Declaration
    • Independence
    • Affirmative
    • Negative

Roleplay Debate: Declaration of Independence

To begin the activity, have students choose a character card to choose their role or assign one to them. Ask students to reflect on their role.

  • What kind of person are they?
  • What do they do?
  • When were they alive?
  • Where do they live?
  • What do they have to do with the American colonies and the Declaration of Independence?

Scaffolding note: In younger classrooms or for students who need more support, it can be helpful to pair or group students with one identity rather than have each student take on a different role.

Next, present the topic of debate: America should declare independence from Britain. Ask students to decide if their role-play character would support or deny this statement. Be sure to support students in this decision and correct students who may choose the wrong side.

Then allow students adequate time to write out their debate statement in their role for the debate. Remind them their statement should follow the following organization:

  • Introduction: Introduce yourself, the topic and the side you will be arguing for, and your claim
    • Affirmative is for, Negative is against
  • Support Your Idea: Have 3-4 strong and relevant points to support your claim
  • Rebuttal: Address and state a reason that will counter what the opposing side is claiming
  • Conclusion: Restate your claim and points and then thank the audience with eye contact.

Scaffolding note: Students who need more support might keep their statement in bullet points. Learners might be challenged to turn their bullet points into a written paragraph as well. You may also want to give students debate paragraphs a quick check before beginning the debate to ensure that students are on the right track. This is recommended for younger and struggling learners in particular.

Next, set the stage for the debate. You will act as the host and moderator for the class. It can be fun to offer students some props or costumes for this activity like tricorn hats, vests, quills, leather-bound books, parchment, etc.

Post the following debate structure so that students know when they will be speaking. Be sure to emphasize that this is a structured debate, not a free-for-all argument. Sides will take turns and will only be able to respond when it is their turn to speak.

  • Affirmative “for” side speaks to state their claim and supporting details.
  • Negative “against” side speaks to state their claim and supporting details.
  • Negative “against” side states their rebuttal and closing.
  • Affirmative “for” side states their rebuttal and closing.

Teacher note: It can help to give students a piece of scratch paper to record their responses and retorts during the structured debate so they have an outlet for things they might want to blurt out.

Options for student talk time:

  • All students speak twice—once to state their claim and once for rebuttal
  • All students speak once—either to state their claim OR for rebuttal
  • Representatives—Each “side” nominates representatives to speak for the group and these students present the claim AND/OR another representative group presents the rebuttal

ALL students should submit their debate notes and/or written argument for summative assessment evaluation by the teacher.

Once you have informed students how the debate will be structured and students understand when they will speak, commence the debate. Students will likely need to be reminded of when it is their turn and which part of the debate paragraph they should read. Gently provide all the support your students need to participate in the debate as needed.

To wrap-up the activity, you can declare a winner, invite parents or administrators to judge the debate, or just have students self-reflect. Students might also enjoy having a memento like a quill or picture of themselves in the debate or in their costume to remember the event. You might send these home or post them in the classroom. No matter what you choose, the students will have learned valuable skills in history, civics, and civil discourse through this activity.

Teacher Note: This activity can be repeated with any topic in another lesson. If students need additional support, repeat the bullet points or paragraph structure from the formative assessments.


In the final activity of the lesson, students complete a self-assessment to reflect on their growth and learning during the lesson. Then students play a game of historical sketching where students draw images related to specific historical events, figures, or concepts. This activity reinforces content retention while promoting teamwork and active participation.


To begin, distribute Handout F Student Self-Assessment. Handout F prompts students to reflect on their learning using the lesson objectives and primary question. The student reflection is designed to flex to fit your classroom. Be sure to give students the scale they will use to assess themselves. Stars, number scales, written responses, and sketches all work well.

Students can complete Handout F individually or with prompts from the teacher. However you choose to facilitate the student reflection, be sure that each student has their own paper and time to reflect independently so that the activity is a true self-reflection.

Scaffolding note: It can be helpful to model with a think-aloud the first time students are self-reflecting. To use a think-aloud in your classroom, plan ahead. Before the activity, identify places in the handout that students may struggle. Then while assigning the activity, review the handout and stop in those places. Model for students how they might support themselves. For instance, a teacher may choose to stop on an unfamiliar vocabulary word to define it. Additionally, teachers may read a complex sentence, stop, acknowledge the complexity, and re-read it for more clarity.

Historical Sketching Activity

When students have completed their self-reflection, transition to the historical sketching activity by distributing materials. Students will need a whiteboard or large paper, markers, timer, and list of historical events or people.

Before the activity, prepare a list of historical events, figures, and concepts that align with the lesson. Write each item on a separate slip of paper and place them in a bowl or hat. Here is a general list for this lesson:

  • Colonist, France, Britain, French and Indian War, Stamp Act, Townshend Act, taxation, Boston Tea Party, Declaration of Independence, loyalist, patriot, natural rights, justice

Split the class into small teams, ideally of 3-4 students each, ensuring a mix of abilities in each group.

Have one team at a time send up a representative to draw. This player will randomly select a slip of paper from the bowl without showing it to their teammates.

Set the timer for a suitable duration (1-2 minutes is typical) for the drawing round.

The player begins drawing the historical item on the whiteboard or paper pad. No words or numbers can be used in the drawings, only images.

The rest of the team must guess what is being drawn using their historical knowledge. If they guess correctly within the time limit, they earn a point for their team. Continue rotating through teams and players until everyone has had a chance to draw, or as time allows.

After the game, lead a discussion about the different drawings and guesses. Ask students:

  • Which items were the most challenging to guess or draw, and why?
  • How did they work together as a team to come up with their guesses?
  • What did they learn about the historical topics through this game?
  • If you could try again, what would you add to the drawings to help your teammates get the answer faster?

Ask students to think back over the entire lesson and the game of historical sketching. Then, pose the lesson’s primary question, “How did the ideals of natural rights and justice inspire a revolution for Independence in the colonies?” Lead a facilitated discussion to explore their responses and insights.

Student Handouts

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