In the late 1700s, conflict about "taxation without representation" brewed tensions to a fever pitch between the colonists and the British crown. The tensions boiled over at The Boston Massacre, leading to the refusal of the colonists to concede to British demands and the dumping of tea during the Boston Tea Party, paving the road to the Revolutionary War. Fifth grade classroom activities define the key players and sequence of events for each incident and help the children understand the points of view of the colonists and the British.
The Boston Massacre
On March 5, 1770, in Boston, an argument between a soldier and a merchant ignited a confrontation between Boston citizens and British forces, resulting in the deaths of five colonists and the trial of eight British officers. Passions ran high on both sides, coloring the accounts of what actually happened and who was at fault. Have students write two headline news articles -- one from the colonists' point of view and a second from the British point of view. Another idea is to assign parts and hold a mock trial, letting students argue the case from the American and British sides based on available historical evidence. Discuss how this conflict was an omen of the coming Revolution.
The Boston Tea Party
Dissatisfaction with British taxation revived a colonial non-importation agreement in 1767, causing the colonists to boycott English goods. The resulting loss of revenue threatened the the East India Company, so Britain decreed that East India could sell directly to the colonists, making their tea cheaper than other merchants. The colonists refused refused to allow the British supply ships to unload the tea. On December 16,1773, Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty donned Native American costumes and dumped 342 crates of tea overboard. Examine political cartoons of the era, depicting the incident from both sides. Have students draw political cartoons that illustrate the colonists and British views on the Boston Tea Party.
Divide the class into colonists and redcoats and have students make costumes, props and backdrops. Write a class script to re-enact The Boston Massacre or the Boston Tea Party. Let the students act out the events and discuss how it feels to be in the place of the colonists or the British. If you have time, have the students switch sides and run the scene again to let them experience the event from the opposite point of view. Discuss the merits and shortcomings of each viewpoint and why no two people, even when they both witness the same events first hand, will tell the story exactly the same way.
News of The Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party spread like wildfire through the colonies through songs, cartoons, paintings, writings and word of mouth, even though there was no system of speedy mass communications such as students are accustomed to in the digital age. But let them imagine that the colonists did have access to Internet technology and create a podcast of songs, slogans and eyewitness testimonies to broadcast to fellow patriots. Alternatively, some students may want to imagine how a British podcast would sound compared to a colonial patriot podcast.
- A More Perfect Union Seminar: Boston Massacre Curriculum Unit; page 7
- The Newberry Library: Boston Massacre Trial; Historic Maps in K-12
- Education; The Boston Tea Party Hits Your Home; Hannah Boyd
- Read/Write/Think: International Reading Association/National Council for Teachers of English; The Boston Tea Party Took Place in 1773
- Teaching Ideas: Podcasting
- Boston Massacre Historical Society: what was The Boston Massacre?
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