Teaching The Thirteen Colonies: Ideas, Resources, Videos, & A Free Resource
The colonies...the rebellion that eventually started the official organization of the United States of America. Colonists came in search of religious freedom and a better life, others were forced to come here as slaves. Many got way more than they bargained for in the wild, harsh land of North America. They encountered American Indians/Native Americans, suffered devastating losses through bitter cold winters, and had to "pull themselves up by their boot straps" to survive. Your students should love hearing about the people of the colonies, their different roles, and how ways of life were different depending on the region in which they lived!
If your class isn't into learning about the colonies, or your Colonial America unit is in need of some fresh ideas, look no further! I've gathered my favorite videos, children's books, and resources from the last decade of teaching to help!
Let's begin with the best books for teaching about the 13 colonies. My personal favorite, is "If You Were A Kid In The Thirteen Colonies". Kids are more engaged when the subject is like them! Wil Mara takes the reader through two stories-the life of Charlotte and Elijah. It is a realistic fiction text that also has snippets of nonfiction images and captions about life during this time. The end of the text also includes a diagram, timeline, glossary, and index for brushing up on those nonfiction text features.
My next favorites are a series of graphic novels from Jr. Graphic Colonial America. Each book is a unique graphic novel about the lives of different colonial workers. As you know, graphic novels are highly engaging and captivate interest in readers who may not necessarily normal be thrilled with history concepts. The novels are historically accurate, written at a level students can easily understand, include amazing graphics/cartoons, and even have diverse examples of real life colonists from the day at the end of the book for optional further research. They are definitely worth the investment and you can find them organized here (along with other texts that I love and teach with for this unit).
Also worth mentioning are "The Dish on Food & Farming" by Anika Fajardo and "The Dreadful, Smelly Colonies" by Elizabeth Raum. These are fun because they share disgusting details about life in Colonial America that kids will love and share facts about people believing vegetables made you sick, which will provide for some excited conversations and dialogue. There are actually 5 Fact Finder titles in that series that do such a great job making the history come alive. Be sure to check them out here! The final book I'll share was actually the inspiration for one of our best-selling and favorite resources, Colonial America Paired Passages: Perspectives of the Colonies! This book "Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak" is a children's book by Kay Winters about the outbreak of the Boston Tea Party told from multiple points of view. This focuses primarily on the Boston Tea Party and is a good way to discuss how events appear differently to everyone. The illustrations are fantastic and add humor as the perspectives change from person to person. Of course any time we can sneak in some additional reading skill practice like point of view, it is a win. So, modeling after this text about life in the colonies, we created some fictitious characters and nonfiction paired passages to coordinate about roles and lifestyles of the colonists from each region. In this resource, you'll meet Rachel (a Quaker), Thomas (a Puritan), Abrham (a slave), Kekata (a Native American), Mr. Ellerby (a plantation owner), and more. The fiction story of each person's life is designed to really engage students with how that person lived. I want your students to have this resource so much that I'll be sharing one perspective, along with another freebie at the end of this post.
We can never have too many videos to visualize enhance our lessons, and music is even more of a bonus! I personally love Flocabulary and am probably guilty of being their biggest fan! This particular video is a free resource on Youtube. Mr. Bett's parody is hilarious, too! You can find these videos, plus the ones I've created, here on my American History playlist or by clicking the image above. We *LOVE* filming videos for our students when traveling, so any time we take a trip, we try to stop by somewhere educational/historical and shoot some footage to bring home. There's video footage and discussions from a southern plantation, whaling in New England (not actually whaling, but on a whale watching tour that got canceled...long & not-so-fun story there), and detailed videos about the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies on our Bow Tie Guy & Wife Youtube channel. We also have more professionally created ones available for download/use here.
When I first starting teaching fourth grade (the colonies were taught in fourth grade, not third, in GA then) I. HAD. NOTHING. There were dusty old textbooks that caused me to cringe and purchase stock in Zyrtec. There were old workbooks that the kids HATED. It was in that mess that I began creating resources. That is how this entire 13 Colonies unit was born. I just simply created what I thought my students needed. They weren't anywhere near suitable for other teachers to use, but they are now! I created lessons that I thought my students needed and would benefit most from. Now I want to share some of my favorites with you and your students! The 13 Colonies Differentiated Passages are used to introduce the unit during guided reading groups. There's also a handy chart that students can use throughout the entire unit to add information to as they find or read it.
Once I saw how integrating across content was beneficial for my students, I began searching out all the best practices to do so. The Thirteen Colonies CLOZE reading and comprehension activities were created after that research. I created four paragraphs choke full of facts about the colonies and left out important key vocabulary. In this activity, students have to comprehend what they are reading and insert the correct vocabulary to fit the text. Super helpful vocabulary review and comprehension practice!
There are 19 more colonies activities that I've created that I could share, but nobody has time for that! If you want to see the bundle and all that it includes, click here. If you're still here for the freebie, you're almost there! Before students can fully understand the three colonial regions and the lives of the people who lived there, they need to know their location! So this free printable is an activity for students to locate and identify each colony on the map. It also includes a free sample of the Perspectives of the Colonists resource, featuring Robert, an artisan. I hope you and your students get "chirk"* over these activities, videos, and books about the 13 Colonies!
*Chirk=colonial word for cheerful or happy :)