4 Exciting Ways to Introduce Your Thirteen Colonies Unit
Are you teaching about the 13 British Colonies? Sometimes the trickiest part about teaching something new is knowing how to begin.
It can often be difficult to get students excited to learn about important historical periods such as the Thirteen Colonies. That’s why I’m brainstorming engaging ways to introduce your history units.
Here are my top 4 exciting ways to introduce your Thirteen Colonies Unit. Happy teaching!
Introduce the Unit with a Primary Source
Pages from The New England Primer (First published in 1688)
If you’re not using primary sources in your classroom, now is the time to start! Primary Sources are first-hand accounts of a topic from people who had a direct connection with it. Primary sources are an effective way to help students connect with the past and bring history to life in the classroom!
This Thirteen Colonies primary source is a page from the New England Primer. The New England Primer was a reading textbook used by millions of American colonists for more than a century. The Primer taught children reading skills as well as Puritan attitudes and doctrine (A is for Adam sinning, B is for the Bible, etc. Read what they wrote for F!).
How it Works:
- Students study the document for a few minutes.
- Next, ask students the following questions. Students may share their answers verbally or write their answers down on a guided worksheet like this one.
- What do you think this primary source is? Where would it have been used?
- Who do you think wrote it? Who read/received it?
- What is it talking about?
- Why did the author write it?
- List the values taught along with the ABCs.
- How is this different from books we use in modern classrooms?
- What was happening at the time in history this document was created?
- Finally, students reflect on what this photo tells them about the Thirteen Colonies.
This is such an easy, low prep way to introduce your Thirteen Colonies unit. Check out more powerful Thirteen Colonies primary sources here.
Using a Great Introductory Video
The History of Colonial America by Flocabulary
When I was teaching, videos were one of my favorite teaching tools. They’re fun, engaging, and teach important concepts in a concise and memorable way.
Flocabulary’s Hamilton-style rap review of the 13 Colonies looks at the colonists from each region and explains their economies, cultures, and reasons for colonization.
How it Works:
- First, ask students to share what they know about the Thirteen Colonies. Briefly explain that the 13 British Colonies eventually became the first 13 states.
- Before viewing, give each student a copy of the following questions. Students will answer the questions while watching.
- What is a colony?
- Which part of America were the Thirteen Colonies located in? (Hint: use cardinal directions!)
- Name the three groups of colonies.
- What are some of the reasons people came to the Thirteen Colonies?
- Name similarities and differences between the groups of colonies.
- How were enslaved people treated in the Thirteen Colonies?
- After watching, discuss students’ answers and what questions they still have.
Looking for more Thirteen Colonies videos? Check out my list of Thirteen Colonies videos for students.
Introduce the Unit with a Historical Picture Book
Disclosure: The book link is an Amazon affiliate link. This means that I may earn commissions for purchases made by clicking the link.
When it comes to teaching history, textbooks can often feel dry, and the large amounts of text can be really overwhelming for students. Historical picture books bring history to life and help teachers address difficult concepts in age-appropriate ways.
This children’s book would be a great way to introduce your Thirteen Colonies unit. Hornbooks and Inkwells covers what life was like for children during Colonial times, including colonial children’s schooling.
How it Works:
- First, explain to students that although the Thirteen Colonies were founded over 200 years ago, children lived and went to school back then, just as they do today.
- Next, provide students with a Venn diagram or let them draw their own. Label one side “My Life” and the other side “Colonial Life”.
- As you read the book, students fill out the Venn diagram. Encourage students to analyze the text and make inferences as they read.
- After reading, students share the similarities and differences they found. As needed, prompt them with the following questions:
- What types of chores did colonial children do?
- How was school in colonial times different from school now? How was it similar?
- What did colonial children do for fun?
Click here to check out more of my Thirteen Colonies picture books for kids!
Introduce the Unit with a Song
America by Neil Diamond
This last idea is one your students are sure to love. Songs can be a wonderful way to connect with a historical time period by analyzing melodies and lyrics. Although this Neil Diamond song was written about immigrants in the 1900s, it’s meanings can definitely be applied to Colonial America.
How it Works:
- First, ask students who they think lived in the 13 Colonies. Where did these people come from? Explain to students that most colonists were immigrants from Europe. They left their homes for many reasons, including religious freedom and the opportunity to gain wealth.
- Next, tell students that they will listen to the song America by Neil Diamond. Although this is a modern-day song, encourage students to explore how this song relates to the British colonists who lived in the 13 Colonies.
- While students are listening to the song, consider putting up the lyrics for them to read.
- After listening, go through the lyrics and ask students to share the connections they made. Here are some possible ideas:
- The lyrics “We’ve been traveling far without a home” could represent the colonists who made the transatlantic journey from Europe to the New World.
- Although we know that colonists didn’t come on planes, the song does mention people coming on boats to America. Colonists would have spent many weeks or even months traveling by boat to the Thirteen Colonies.
- The lyric “To a new and a shiny place, make our bed and we’ll say our grace” could refer to the hope of what colonists were looking for, including freedom and wealth. “Say our grace” also applies because some colonists, like the Puritans and the Pilgrims, came to the New World for religious reasons.
More Resources for Teaching about the Thirteen Colonies.
I hope these ideas will help you introduce your Thirteen Colonies unit in an engaging way!
If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in my 3-week unit about the 13 Colonies. It is one of my bestselling units and has been used by thousands of teachers. Your students will love the Jamestown simulation where they make decisions that determine their survival!