The American Revolutionary War lasted from 1775 to 1783 and introduced many of the ideas of democracy and freedom associated with the modern United States. While many students might be familiar with the basic timeline as well as some names of famous people of the time period, they are probably less aware of the reasons behind the war and the challenges the colonists faced. There are many interactive activities that will engage students and help them delve deeper into this fascinating chapter of American history.
During the Revolutionary War, messages were often confiscated and read by combatants on both the British and the colonist's side. Spies moved between both sides and passed information. In order to pass notes behind the lines, people used a variety of codes and disguises for their messages. Make your own invisible ink using 2 tbsp. of cornstarch and 4 tsp. of water. Stir the mixture over a heat source for two to three minutes. Have students use tooth picks to write messages to one another. Once the paper has dried, rub a sponge dipped into a mixture of 1 tsp. of iodine and 10 tsp. of water across the paper to reveal the secret message.
Benjamin Franklin founded several of the colony's newspapers, which were a popular way to communicate during Revolutionary War times. Have your students create their own newspaper detailing events during this time period. Students can take the role of reporters who offer eye witness accounts of the Boston Tea Party or the crossing of the Delaware. Others might create political cartoons depicting events of the time period.
Study the original Declaration of Independence and the meaning behind the words. Have students rewrite the Declaration of Independence using less formal, modern language. After rewriting it, have them sign it. Show them the signatures on the original Declaration of Independence and discuss why people still refer to a signature as a "John Hancock."
Create a classroom money system in which students are allotted certain amounts of classroom money for performing tasks or exhibiting good behavior. Offer either a general store or an auction on a regular basis as a place for students to spend their money. When students have some money, begin "taxing" them for using the bathroom, borrowing paper and pencils, not sitting in their chairs properly, talking taxes and other unfair taxes. Discuss how their feelings might compare to the colonists who felt unfairly taxed by the British.
Use one wall of the classroom to create a Revolutionary war timeline. As your class studies the war, decide on which important facts and events the class wishes to record on the timeline. The timeline will serve as a graphic organizer that will help your students visualize the war.
Find a book or website about the American flag and learn about its history and significance as well as the proper etiquette for displaying it and caring for it. Have students make a version of the early flag using painted wooden craft sticks, glue and stars.
Drinking tea was an important activity during colonial times. Many colonists brought their tea habit with them from England and considered it a daily ritual. The taxation of their tea supplies frustrated the colonists and led to the Boston Tea Party. Have students taste different types of teas such as peach, blackberry and Earl Grey, and vote on their favorites. Create a graph to show the classes' picks for best tasting tea.