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The Path to Independence

90 min

This lesson will walk students through the various declarations made by the colonists, leading up to the Declaration of Independence. Students will:

  • Evaluate calls for resistance against Britain and how they appealed to the rights of British subjects, the rights of the individual, local traditions of self-rule, and the ideas of the Enlightenment.
  • Explore how ideas about democracy, freedom, and individualism are expressed in some of documents that chronicle the steps toward independence.
  • Analyze the colonists’ changing goals over time with respect to their relationship to Great Britain.

Chapter Resources:

Additional Resources:

Groups should be assigned ahead of time to ensure appropriate grouping strategies for your classroom. If desired, roles such as Researcher, Reader, Time Keeper, and Presenter can be assigned, or students can choose roles within groups. Sufficient board space should be reserved to allow students to write on the timeline.

1. At the beginning of class, have a student volunteer read aloud the passage on Handout A: Key Excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. Then, give students a few minutes to individually jot down their answers to the Review Questions below the excerpt.

2. Call on several students to give their responses to the review questions and correct any misunderstandings before moving on to the next activity.

Note: 40 min: 25 min to explore individual documents in small groups; 15 min for groups to report on their documents and for the class to fill in the graphic organizer

1. Divide your class into five groups. Assign each group one of the following documents. Students will work in their groups to identify British actions, the purpose of the document, the argument being made in the document, the audience, references to natural rights, and the tone of their assigned documents.

2. Each group should answer the following questions on Handout B: The Path to Independence Graphic Organizer for their assigned document.

  1. What actions of the British government precipitated the publication of the document?
  2. What is the purpose of the document?
  3. What argument is being made in the document?
  4. Who is the audience for the document?
  5. If applicable, give at least two examples of a concern for natural rights or other Enlightenment ideals in this document.
  6. Describe the overall tone of this document, using no more than three words.

3. Each group will present the answers about their document to the class in chronological order. They should add the name and date of their document, the actions that precipitated the document, and the description of the document’s tone above the timeline in Handout H: The Path to Independence Timeline. As each group presents, students will add the details to their own timeline on Handout H: The Path to Independence Timeline.

4. After each group presents, have the class decide on one additional description of the effect of the document and write this below the timeline.

5. Once each group has presented, allow students about five minutes to answer the following questions individually, filling in Handout I: Discussion Questions and Exit Ticket:

     a. How does the colonists’ argument change over time? (continuity and change over time)

     b. What elements of the colonists’ argument form a consistent thread among the documents? (continuity and change over time)

     c. How do British actions affect the tone of the documents? Use at least two actions as specific examples. (causation)

     d. To what extent were the colonists justified in the course of action demonstrated from 1765 to 1776? (argument development)

     e. Which document demonstrates the largest shift in the colonial government’s attitude toward the British? Explain.

6. After students have jotted down their responses to these questions, hold a whole-class discussion in which several students share their responses for each of the five discussion questions.

Have students complete the final statements on Handout I: Discussion Questions and Exit Ticket as an exit ticket:

6. Name at least three elements of the Declaration of Independence that are seen in the earlier documents.

7. The most important similarity among the documents from 1765 to 1776 is _______________.

8. The most important difference among the documents is ____________________.