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Colonial Era

Lesson Plan PDF

Essential Question:

How did individuals show courage in the colonial era?

Guiding Questions:

  • How did Native Americans and European colonists demonstrate courage during the colonial era?
  • How did the reasons for European immigration influence the development of the 13 colonies?
  • How did enslaved and free Blacks resist the injustice of slavery during the colonial era?

Learning Objectives

  • I can conduct a family interview to determine how I arrived at my current town, home, or school.
  • I can use speaking and listening skills to share my family interview and learn from others.
  • I can organize new knowledge into a graphic organizer.
  • I can engage with my peers to investigate the 13 colonies through an escape game.
  • I can investigate primary sources to learn about the lived experiences of enslaved Africans in the colonial era.

Content Objectives

  • I can describe the early relationships between European settlers and Native Americans.
  • I can explain the reasons why Europeans came to North America, including religious freedom and economic gain.
  • I can identify key individuals who founded colonies for various reasons.
  • I can identify the introduction of slavery in the colonies and the different experiences of enslaved and free Africans.


Vocabulary Word Study

To anticipate the lesson, students conduct a word study to understand the civic virtue focus of the lesson: courage. Then, students share their concepts and experiences with courage in a whole-group discussion.

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

To begin, provide each student with a copy of Handout F, 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.

  • Tell about a time you saw someone be courageous.
  • Tell about a time when you were courageous.
  • How is courage different from justice?
  • List as many courageous things as you can in 30 seconds. Then, compare with a partner.

Before moving on to the next part of the lesson, tell students: “We will be thinking a lot about courage in this lesson. At the end of the lesson, you will create a poster about the courage of people in the colonial era of American history. Be sure to keep courage in mind as we move through the lesson and ask any questions you have along the way.”

Teacher note: Courage can seem like an intimidating task, but students do it in their lives more often than they realize. Asking someone to stop picking on someone else is a big example, but it can also be small actions. Sitting next to a new student or asking someone if they are feeling okay, trying out for a new team/club, most virtuous actions happen in the mix of our daily lives.


Homework: Family Interview

In this part of the lesson, students will complete a homework assignment where they interview a family member to learn more about how their family arrived at their current place.

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

To begin the lesson, distribute Family Interview Homework Handout to students and read the directions and question choice options together.

  • Walk through the steps of the interview assignment together allowing the students to ask any questions they have. Remind them you will not be with them to clarify.
  • Explain to students they will be responsible for bringing their interview responses with them to class tomorrow for a class discussion.

Scaffolding Note: For students who need additional support: When assigning this item for homework have students choose their questions in class by circling them on their worksheet. Then, have students write those questions on the second page of the handout where they will record their interviewees’ answers.

Teacher Note: For some students who do not have an immediate family member or may be adopted, appropriate questions can be added to the handout. However, you may want to notify families about this activity beforehand or prepare students by helping them choose a family member or plan to call one that does not live with them. If no appropriate family members are accessible, students can choose any important person in their life.

The next day, students pull out their Family Interview Homework. Group students into pairs or allow students to choose a partner.

In the next part of the lesson, students will be sharing the highlights of their interview with their partner.

  • Family Interview Sharing- Students take turns sharing their answers to the following questions:
    • Who did you interview?
    • What questions did you choose/ask?
    • What were the answers?

Then, prepare students for their independent reflection on the family interview activity.

On plain paper with a pencil, students will record their thoughts and conversations with a four-sentence summary. The parts of the summary are:

  • A 2-sentence summary of your partner’s family interview
  • 1 sentence how their story is similar to yours
  • 1 sentence about how their story is different from yours

Scaffolding note: This 4-sentence summary can be tough for younger learners. Remove the summary or remove the compare and contrast sentences, as necessary. Add sentence stems for students who need more support.

  • Sentence Stems: My partner interviewed _____________. They told me that their family ________________. They are similar to me because _______________. Their family is different from mine because ______________.


The Explore section is broken into 3 sections. Students investigate informational texts to understand the earliest British settlements in America, participate in an escape game to investigate the growth of the 13 colonies, and participate in an activity called “Save the Last word” to understand the journey of enslaved Africans to America. The formative assessment in each section builds skills students will need for the final assessment.

Explore Part 1: How did Native Americans and European colonists demonstrate courage during the colonial era? (30-45 minutes)

Glossary term(s):

  • Courage
  • Representative Government
  • Powhatan Confederacy
  • Iroquois Confederacy
  • Settlement
  • Colonist

Settlements Organizer

To begin, provide students with a copy of the Reading Handout A: Option A and Organizer Handout C.

Teacher Note: Option B of the Lesson Reading does not contain all the information needed to complete Handout C. If Option B better suits your student’s reading level, supplement with the lesson video to ensure they have all the information they need to complete the organizer.

Then organize students to read Lesson 1 Reading Handout A: Option A or B. You can utilize various types of reading strategies based on the age, abilities, and comfort of your students. Read more about how to implement reading strategies here.

When students finish reading, ask them to complete the Organizer Handout C independently, or with their partner.

Scaffolding note: Completing the organizer can look like copying from the teacher’s board, filling in the blank, working with a partner, cutting, and pasting in the correct box, or free writing. Choose the level of difficulty most appropriate for your students and modify accordingly.

Finally, when students have completed their task, or time has expired, bring students back together as a whole-group to discuss what they have learned.

Discussion Questions:

  • What is courage? When have you seen courage in your life lately?
    • Courage is _________. One example of courage I’ve seen is ____________.
  • How are the Native Americans and European settlers courageous in their own ways?
    • Native Americans were courageous because _________. European settlers were courageous because _________.
  • What are the main differences between Jamestown and Plymouth?
    • Jamestown is ___________, while Plymouth is _________.
    • Jamestown and Plymouth are different because ___________.
    • While Jamestown and Plymouth have _________ in common, they are different because ___________.

Formative Assessment: Illustrating with Details

In this formative assessment, students display their learning while practicing skills needed for the summative assessment. In the summative assessment, students create a 4-Corner poster. Each corner has a drawing with labels and a written description. In this formative assessment, they learn and practice drawing with details using elements of art to enhance their natural drawing abilities.

To begin, set up students in an independent work area. Students will need Handout B or plain paper, crayons, markers, colored pencils, or other art supplies.

Use Handout B and the Teacher Slide Deck that accompanies this lesson to lead students through creating an illustration that captures the courage of Native Americans or the settlers of Jamestown or Plymouth.

The teacher slide deck contains slides that will help you review the following topics with your students:

  • Quick Overview of elements of art: space, shape, and color.
  • The slide deck shows examples of space, shape, and color and gives examples students might use in their illustration. It also explains that adding detail to illustration helps their audience understand their message better.
  • Review of Courage
    • The slide deck reviews the definition of courage and gives prompts to brainstorm ideas of courage from daily life and the colonial era.
    • Teacher Note: Be careful that student suggestions do not fall into troupes and inappropriate scenarios.
  • Use elements of art to draw a scenario
    • Finally, the slide deck has an assignment slide to display so students can see their expectations as they work independently.

Scaffolding note: If your students need more support to draw their scene, you can use the following prompts to guide students as they draw.

  • Think of the scene that showcases courage that you would like to draw.
  • Draw the village scene from the colonial era, either of a European or Native village.
  • Add action to the scene by adding people or animals
  • Highlight how courage is part of your scene.

Formative Assessment 1-point Rubric:

Evidence of Mastery


Room for Growth

Uses an accurate scenario from Jamestown or Plymouth
Uses elements of art: space, shape, and color
The scenario showcases courage


This 1-point rubric is for quick student feedback. It allows the teacher to identify strengths and weaknesses for every student rather than assigning a score. The rubric can be modified to create an analytic rubric if scoring is needed. Be sure to give students feedback on their formative assessment quickly so they can reflect on their knowledge and performance as you move to the next part of the lesson.


Explore Part 2: How did the reasons for European immigration influence the development of the 13 colonies? (45-60 minutes)

In this part of the lesson, students participate in an escape game to learn about the growth of settlements into the 13 colonies. Then students complete a formative assessment to show what they have learned and build skills of the summative assessment.

Glossary term(s):

  • Economic
  • Political
  • Religious tolerance

Thirteen Colonies Escape Game

To begin, create groups of 3-5 for the Escape Game activity. Directions for printing and setting up the escape room are included in the escape room file. Each group will need a copy of the materials for “Envelope #1”, and a group copy of Handout E to start the game. Keep the other envelopes with you and distribute them to students as they “breakout” and move to the next clue.

Scaffolding note: Students will be using many types of thinking and puzzle solving in this activity. Be sure to mix abilities and dispositions in your groups so students have a variety of strengths to draw from.

Students begin the Escape Room by entering the scenario and discovering the problem. In this case, students have accidentally travelled back in time, and they don’t know where or when they are. 

Scaffolding note: If students have not done a breakout room before, work through Envelope #1 with them. If students have done this before, it may still be helpful to open the first clue together and dramatically read it aloud to pique student interest. The Escape Room and scaffolding note below contain more instructions on how to play with young or new players.

As students finish the first envelope, they will bring you their group worksheet. Check the code. If they answer correctly, they “breakout”. Play a fun noise or celebrate the group in some way and then give them envelope #2. Continue the same system for all 6 envelopes.

Students will be utilizing new information during this escape game. Be sure to move around the room giving students encouragement and small nudges in the right direction.

Since students are working with new information, it is important to let all groups finish the breakout room, not just the first group that breaks out. Be sure to plan an activity for your early finishers so that they can extend their knowledge while the other groups finish. Some ideas for early finisher activities include: writing a short summary paragraph of one of the colonial leaders from the escape game, creating your own escape game puzzle using the readings, or creating a quiz for students covering the information from the escape game. You could combine the questions students write and create a quiz for students to take the next day.

Scaffolding Note: It is possible to complete the escape game as a whole class for younger students or students who need more support. Simply supply all students with the materials for one envelope at a time and have the whole class solve the puzzle concurrently. When one group arrives at the answer, share out and have all students move to the next envelope together. Continue in this way through all 6 envelopes so the whole class “escapes” together.

Formative Assessment: Adding Labels to an Illustration

In this activity, students use primary source illustrations to practice labeling an illustration. Students will use this skill in the summative assessment. This activity gives students the chance to practice the skill in a low-stakes activity using information they learned in the escape game.

To begin the activity, provide students with Handout G. This worksheet showcases 2 illustrations of courage in the colonial era and 8 cut and paste blocks at the bottom. Students will use scissors and glue to label the illustrations.

Use the Teacher Slide Deck to introduce the activity and lead students through if they need extra support to cut and paste the labels onto the illustrations of courage from the colonial era.

The teacher slide deck contains slides that will help you review the following topics with your students:

  • Review of Courage
    • The slide deck allows students to brainstorm how these primary source images might represent courage with the support of the whole group.
  • Analyzing the illustrations
    • The slide deck prompts students to discuss what the illustrations are showing before beginning to label them.
  • Finally, the slide deck has an assignment slide to display so that students can see their expectations as they work independently.

Check students’ work in a timely manner for accuracy. Then, quickly conference with any students that placed their labels in the wrong location. Try to get students’ feedback to them before beginning Explore #3.


Explore Part 3: How did enslaved and free Blacks resist the injustice of slavery during the colonial era? (30-45 minutes)

In this Explore activity, students will investigate primary sources from the slave trade in the colonial era. The students will take part in an activity called “Save the Last Word” to structure conversation around a heavy topic. This activity allows students to engage deeply with the content and share their insights. 

Glossary term(s):

  • Natural rights
  • Climate

Save the Last Word

Before beginning the activity, read aloud with students Handout H: Option A or B. Or, choose a reading style from the  Modes of Read-Aloud Teacher Support document.

Primary Source Image Suggestions:

Before beginning the protocol below, choose a primary source image and model for your students with a think-aloud. Show students how to annotate, share thoughts with their group, and how to select a “last word”. This will give students an example of how to work with their small group before they begin.

  • Select and Prepare the images: Choose a selection (3-5) of images from the primary sources provided that are rich in content and lend themselves to various interpretations. Each selection should be substantial enough to prompt meaningful discussion. The images will serve as a means to group students.
  • View and Annotate: Distribute or assign the images to students and have them view and annotate their assigned selection individually. Encourage students to highlight important areas, jot down questions, and note their personal insights.
  • Small Group Discussion: Divide students into small groups. Based on which image they were assigned. In these groups, students take turns sharing their thoughts on the section they annotated. This allows for a focused and in-depth discussion within smaller groups.
    • Scaffolding note: If students need more support for this conversation, you can offer the following sentence stems, or use your own.
      • I noticed…
      • I saw…
      • I noticed that too. I thought…
      • I missed that detail. I was interested in…
  • “Save the Last Word”: After discussing the image, one student in each group is selected to “save the last word.” You can select the student to “save the last word” or allow the groups to elect a representative. This means they share the most significant point or insight from their discussion with their small group. Others listen attentively and don’t respond immediately.
  • Whole-group Discussion: After all the student representatives have had the opportunity to “save the last word” with the small group, bring the entire group together for a larger discussion. Show all the images to the class. Each student now shares the point their group member saved as the last word and their assigned image. This encourages diversity of perspectives and ensures that all students’ insights are represented.
  • Listening and Responding: As each student shares their “last word” point, others in the group listen carefully. After everyone has shared, students can respond to the points made, offer additional insights, ask questions, and engage in a broader conversation.
    • Scaffolding note: Sentence stems for whole-group discussion could include:
      • All of these images tell me…
      • I feel…
      • When I see the images other groups saw, it makes me wonder…
      • Our last words were similar/ different because…
  • Reflective Closing: Conclude the discussion by allowing students to reflect on the process and the insights that emerged. Encourage them to consider how their understanding of the image or topic evolved through discussion or writing.
    • Scaffolding note: If time is short, you can shorten this activity by just completing the first 4 steps. The slide deck is created to support you in the shorter or longer version of this activity.

Formative Assessment: Adding a description to an Illustration

In this final formative assessment, students practice another skill that they will need for the summative assessment. Students work to add a description to an illustration that is labeled. This repetition and practice of skills in each formative assessment is purposeful to allow students time to build the skills they need.

To begin, provide students with the worksheet for Handout I. In this activity students are provided with illustrations and labels. Their job is to write a description of the courage they see in each box. Have students write 2-3 sentences to describe the scene and the courage reflected in each box.

Use the Teacher Slide Deck to introduce the activity and lead students through if they need extra support to cut and paste the labels onto the illustrations of courage from the colonial era.

The teacher slide deck contains slides that will help you review the following topics with your students:

  • Writing sentences review
    • The slide deck reviews the basic parts of a sentence and some sentence stems for beginning their description.
  • Analyzing the illustrations
    • The slide deck prompts students to discuss what the illustrations are showing before beginning to describe them.
  • Finally, the slide deck has an assignment slide to display so that students can see their expectations as they work independently.

Teacher Note: If the primary sources included in Handout I do not suit your classroom or student population well, consider altering the assignment with drawings from students or alternate primary sources that you choose.

This is the last opportunity for students to practice the skills of drawing an illustration, using labels, and describing an illustration before the summative assessment. Be sure to give students time to ask questions about anything they have learned in the unit including courage and the colonial era content they have learned before moving to the summative assessment.


In the summative assessment, students will use everything they have learned in the lessons to create their own 4-Corner poster with illustrations, labels, and descriptions to show the courage of their family, Native Americans, Europeans, and enslaved Africans.

4-Corner Poster

To begin, students return to the story of their family’s journey to this place, as well as the stories of diverse groups that existed in the colonial era through discussion.

Ask students to think all the way back to the beginning of the lesson when they interviewed a family member about how they arrived in the place they live or go to school. With all that they have learned, have students consider how their family’s journey might be considered courageous. Or, what is one thing from their family’s story that showcases courage? Have students share with another student sitting near them informally.

As students share, draw a box divided into 4 quadrants on the board. Label each box with a title: My family, Native Americans, Colonists, Enslaved People. Ask 3-5 students to share an example of their family’s courage and add their examples to the box for the whole class to see.

Then, ask students if they can think of ways that each of these other groups were courageous. Give them 3-5 minutes to brainstorm with a partner. Add these thoughts and ideas to the boxes on the board as well, creating a list of examples that students can pull from when they are working independently.

Use this opportunity to provide your students with examples that do not fall into troupes and correct any student examples as you go. Many student responses can be modified or added to as they share them to make them appropriate for the task. For example, a student might mention that enslaved people singing was courageous. You could add on to that saying “Yes, their singing was courageous because it was a way that they resisted their enslavement. Let’s add that to our list.”

Scaffolding note: For students who need extra support, it can be helpful to have them submit a rough draft or plan before creating their poster.

Then, use the Teacher Slide Deck to lead students through beginning their task.

The teacher slide deck contains slides that will help you review the following topics with your students:

  • A review of the lesson to help students remember all they have learned.
  • Four-corner poster set up instructions
  • An assignment slide to display so that students can see their expectations as they work independently.

Scaffolding Note: If students need content support, they can reference any lesson materials they have like readings, handouts, and the video. If students need process support (drawing, writing, labeling) refer them to their formative assessment handouts.

Once students have completed their posters in class or for homework, The teacher will grade the student’s work with a rubric to assess grade level skills and adherence to task.


4-Corner Poster Rubric

This rubric is designed to be used with your school, district, or state literacy and/or other expectations. Add categories needed to make this rubric work for your classroom.

Evidence of Mastery


Areas for Growth

Illustrations use Color, Space, and Shape skillfully
Illustrations have labels to describe them to the viewer
Illustrations are accompanied by a description of 2-3 sentences or more
All 4 assigned groups are represented
Scenarios chosen show courage of the group
Scenarios are historically accurate


In the final activity of the lesson, students complete a self-assessment to reflect on their growth and learning during the lesson. Then students reflect together as a group with a Reflection Jar activity.


To begin, distribute Handout J: Student Self-Assessment. Handout J prompts students to reflect on their learning using the lesson objectives and primary question. Students can answer the questions with full sentences, yes or no, checks, stars or another way the teacher chooses.

Students can complete Handout J 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, when reviewing the reflection categories, encourage students to think about how they know they were successful at the task.  For example, you may reflect on the task “Given a worksheet, I can carry out an interview and convey family stories to the class.” by saying “If I did this well, it might look like x, y, z. If I struggled with this, it might look like….”

Reflection Jar

When students have completed their self-reflection, transition to the Reflection Jar activity by distributing a small piece of paper to each student. Ask them to write down one thing they have learned from the lesson and one question they still have.

Scaffolding note: To encourage targeted reflection, you could prompt students by asking them to reflect on the lesson supporting questions or explore the theme of courage a question like “How did individuals demonstrate courage during the colonial era?”

Once everyone has written their reflections, have them place their papers into a designated “Reflection Jar.”

Then, and/or at the beginning of the next class, randomly select a few slips from the jar. Use these slips to facilitate a discussion, either with the whole class or within smaller groups. Possible discussion prompts include:

  • “Does anyone else have the same question?”
  • “Can anyone answer this question?”
  • “Did anyone learn something similar?”
  • “Why do you think this idea is interesting or important?”

Teacher Note: This activity is versatile and can be effectively used at the end of a lesson, a day, a week, or any other relevant timeframe to encourage reflection and shared learning.



Student Handouts

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