Teaching the 13 Colonies
If you’ve ever taught history before, you probably know that preparation is key to a great lesson. I would guess that almost every teacher has had an experience where they weren’t prepared to teach, and the lesson totally bombs! It’s not a good feeling and one that no teacher wants to repeat. However, it can also seem overwhelming to learn all the subject matter you need to teach, especially with large history topics like the 13 Colonies.
To help you save time, I’ve outlined the most important things you need to know to teach the 13 Colonies to your students.
13 Colonies Overview
What were the 13 colonies?
A colony refers to a region of land that is under the political control of another country. The 13 Colonies refers to the group of colonies established by Great Britain on the Atlantic coast of North America in the 1600’s and early 1700’s. Although many of the colonists came from Great Britain, the 13 Colonies also included settlers from other European countries, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans. The 13 Colonies can be grouped into three regions: New England Colonies, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies.
New England Colonies
- New Hampshire (1629)
- Massachusetts (1620)
- Connecticut (1636)
- Rhode Island (1636)
- New York (1664)
- Delaware (1664)
- New Jersey (1664)
- Pennsylvania (1682)
- Maryland (1634)
- Virginia (1607)
- North Carolina (1663)
- South Carolina (1670)
- Georgia (1732)
1775 Map, Public Domain, Link
Why did people come to the 13 Colonies?
There are many reasons why people settled the 13 Colonies. The first successful English colony in America was founded in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. These settlers hoped to find wealth in the New World. Specifically, they wanted to find gold like the Spanish had in South America. Although gold was never found in significant amounts, some Southern colonists did find wealth in the form of cash crops like tobacco.
1907 stamp showing the Jamestown Landing, Public Domain, Link
Beginning in 1619, enslaved Africans were brought to the 13 Colonies against their will. They were forced to work without freedom. Although most enslaved people could not make money from their work, their enslavers did. European colonization itself depended on the work of enslaved people. Slavery and the slave trade were central to the development and growth of the 13 colonies.
In addition, many English men and women immigrated as indentured servants. Indentured servants sold their labor for a certain number of years in exchange for passage to America. They hoped that after seven to ten years of labor, they would be able to collect their freedom dues and build lives of their own.
Furthermore, some came to the 13 Colonies for religious reasons. For example, Puritans and Pilgrims fled England because they were unhappy with the Church of England. Each group hoped to find religious freedom in the 13 Colonies.
The Embarkation of the Pilgrims (1857) by Robert Walter Weir, Public Domain, Link
Of course, colonists from other European countries like the Netherlands and Spain settled the 13 colonies. They settled for similar reasons to the British (ex: to gain wealth, to escape religious persecution, to bring glory to their home country, etc.). They had both peaceful and violent interactions with the English settlers.
Finally, all these groups interacted with the millions of Indigenous Peoples who were already living in North America. In general, European contact resulted in the devestating loss of life and lands for Indigenous Peoples.
What happened to the 13 Colonies?
In 1776, the 13 Colonies declared independence from Great Britain. To learn more about this, check out my Declaration of Independence Unit.
13 Colonies Timeline
When teaching the Age of Exploration, or any historical period, it can be helpful for students to have a general timeline of important events and when they occurred.
Here are some of the most important events to know when teaching the 13 Colonies:
- 1607 – Jamestown, Virginia is settled by The Virginia Company of London.
- 1620 – The Mayflower sets sail for the New World and Massachusetts is founded by Puritan separatists called Pilgrims.
- 1621 – Pilgrims celebrate the First Thanksgiving.
- 1623 – New Hampshire is founded first by fishermen and traders. John Wheelwright later settles there after being banished from Massachusetts.
- 1624 – Lord Baltimore founds the colony of Maryland. He hopes to make Maryland a safe place for Catholics.
- 1636 – Connecticut is settled by Puritans who disagreed with leaders in Massachusetts.
- 1636 – Rhode Island is settled by Roger Williams and other religious dissenters.
- 1638 – Delaware is founded by Peter Minuit and the New Sweden Company.
- 1653 – Virginians establish Carolina. Later, it is divided into North and South Carolina.
- 1664 – Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret found New Jersey.
- 1664 – The British take over New Amsterdam from the Dutch and establish New York.
- 1682 – William Pen establishes Pennsylvania. He hopes that it will be a safe place for Quakers to worship.
- 1692 – Hundreds of people are accused of being witches and some are hanged for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials.
- 1732 – Georgia is established by James Oglethorpe and becomes the last of the 13 Colonies.
- 1776 – The 13 Colonies declare their independence from England.
I recommend displaying a timeline like this in your classroom. Even better, have students help you create the timeline as you go through the unit! Click here to get my free 13 colonies timeline lesson.
Teacher Resources for Learning about the 13 Colonies
Now that you know the basics, here are a few more awesome resources to help you learn more. These resources will help you better understand the 13 Colonies!
- The Founding of the 13 Colonies – This video gives a short and helpful overview on each of the 13 Colonies.
- When is Thanksgiving? Colonizing America: Crash Course US History – This fast-paced, witty video gives a helpful overview of the 13 Colonies.
- The Quakers, the Dutch, and the Ladies: Crash Course US History – This follow-up video gives more information on some of the lesser-known colonies and settlers.
- Free Online US History Textbook – Chapter 3 of this online textbook discusses the British colonies as well as other colonies in this time period.
- Britannica Online – Britannica’s American Colonies article helps answer basic questions about the 13 Colonies.
13 Colonies Pacing Guide
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4`||Day 5|
|Colonization Introduction||Jamestown Simulation||History of the Southern Colonies||Life in the Southern Colonies||All About the Southern Colonies Game|
|Day 6||Day 7||Day 8||Day 9||Day 10|
|The Mayflower & Plymouth Colony||Early American Constitutions||Puritan Life||The Salem Witch Trials||All About the New England Colonies Game|
|Day 11||Day 12||Day 13||Day 14||Day 15|
|From New Amsterdam to New York||Fur Trading Simulation Game||The Quaker Way of Life||All About the Middle Colonies Game||Comparing and Contrasting the Colonies|
Note: Each lesson is around 45 minutes long.
This pacing guide is the same one I use in my 13 Colonies Unit.
If the idea of planning and prepping everything for your 13 Colonies unit overwhelms you, then this resource is for you! It has everything you need! Included are a helpful introductory PowerPoint presentation, engaging simulations, ready-to-print student worksheets, and an easy-to-use study guide and assessment to check student knowledge.
For those of you who are teaching remotely, I’ve added Google Slides to all the lessons. I created this unit to help you and your students love learning about the 13 Colonies!
Free 13 Colonies Lessons
To get you started, check out my free 13 Colonies lessons!
This interactive lesson is a great way to start off your 13 Colonies unit! In this simple but effective lesson, students learn where the 13 colonies are located. In addition, students group the colonies by region. I’ve also included some great online resources to share with your students.
This lesson can be printed or assigned via Google Classroom!
In this timeline lesson, students learn about each of the 13 Colonies in more detail. Students place the colonies on a timeline in order of settlement. They also learn about who founded each colony and why.
Students learn about the 13 colonies through task cards. I love this lesson because it’s so customizable! You can post task cards around the room to allow for more movement or let students work in pairs to provide more support.
This lesson can be printed or assigned via Google Classroom!
Enter your email below to grab your free 13 Colonies Timeline lesson!
13 Colonies Primary Sources
If you aren’t already using primary sources to teach about the 13 Colonies, you’re missing out! No matter what historical period you’re teaching about, primary sources can help history come to life for your students.
The main difficulty with primary sources is finding the time to search for them when you already have a million things on your to-do list. There are so many options that it can be overwhelming!
To help save you time, I’ve created a list of teacher-approved 13 Colonies Primary Sources.
One of my favorite primary sources is from The New England Primer. Your students will be intrigued by how different school texts looked during the 17th century. It will also lead to a great discussion on how religion and school were interconnected.
Pages from The New England Primer (First published in 1688)
Description of Primary Source:
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!)
Create a lesson out of this primary source with The Gilder Lehrman Institute’s lesson plan.
Class Discussion Questions:
Who 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.
What was happening at the time in history this document was created?
How does The New England Primer reveal the importance of religion in colonial Puritan life?
Resources for this Primary Source:
Student worksheet for analyzing a document (National Archives)
13 Colonies Videos
Another great resource to include are videos! Videos engage students and teach concepts in simple and easy to understand ways.
Unfortunately, searching for videos can be overwhelming. Finding an appropriate and relevant video can be like finding a needle in a haystack! To help save you time and provide you with high-quality videos, I’ve created a list of 13 Colonies Videos for Students.
These videos can be used in so many ways. For instance, you can use the 13 Colonies Song (Queen’s “Somebody to Love” Parody) as a review for your students. It’s hilarious and does a great job summarizing the founding of each colony.
13 Colonies Song (Queen’s “Somebody to Love” Parody) by Mr. Bett’s Class
- Mr. Bett’s HILARIOUS Queen parody song which reviews facts about the founding of each colony
- 3.5 minutes (you can skip the last minute of the video)
- My Rating: age 8+
- Notes: This would be a great review video. Your students will laugh their heads off!
13 Colonies Picture Books
The final resource I want to cover for teaching the 13 Colonies is picture books.
Picture books are an amazing resource for teaching history! They tell personal stories and help students make connections between their lives and the lives of historical figures. And the best part is you can usually find them for free at your local library or even by searching Youtube for read-aloud versions. History picture books are engaging and informative no matter which format you use!
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives, and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan is one of my favorite books about this time period. It is a moving book that I think all students should read.
Slavery was central to the development and growth of the colonial economies and existed in all 13 Colonies. Slavery is an important, heartbreaking, and confusing subject for children to study. I love this book because it tells the personal stories of 11 enslaved individuals. It focuses on each person, sharing their hopes, dreams, and sorrows.
The author Ashley Bryan was inspired by reading the will of an enslaver which listed the “worth” in dollars of each enslaved person. Bryan uses poetry and illustrations to imagine each enslaved person’s life.
This book is appropriate for ages 8 and up.
Ideas for Using this Book:
Bryan’s book teaches many important truths about slavery. For example, it shows how the experience of slavery varied for each person. The 11 enslaved people worked in a variety of trades (cook, carpenter, seamstress, and more). The skills of the enslaved people added to the wealth of the enslavers.
Each enslaved person has different memories, life experiences, and dreams. They all want freedom.
Classroom activity idea: Analyze each character in the story. What do they hope for? What do they do on the estate? If applicable, what was their life like before slavery?
The last page shows the appraisement where the dollar “value” of each enslaved person is listed. Also listed are the values of animals and crops. Ask students what this says about how enslaved people were viewed by their enslavers.
Note: The book link is an Amazon affiliate link. This means that I may earn commissions for purchases made through the link.
13 Colonies Unit
I hope that these resources help you while you are teaching the 13 Colonies. If you need more help, consider checking out my 3-week 13 Colonies Unit.
Feeling stressed about teaching the 13 Colonies? This unit will help you feel prepared and excited to teach by providing you with 15 complete lessons, worksheets, and answers keys.
Sounds like a dream come true, right?
As teachers, we want to create meaningful lessons for our students. But with so many subjects to cover, it can be difficult to find the time, especially for subjects like history that require a lot of prior knowledge.
I created this unit, and many others, to provide you with high-quality, engaging lessons that will save you time and help you fall in love with teaching history! Keep reading to see what makes this 13 Colonies Unit so awesome!
15 detailed lesson plans
3 weeks of activities
Answer keys (of course!)
150+ pages with a variety of activities (simulations, primary source analysis, PowerPoint presentation, Jeopardy-style reviews, and so much more!)
Your students will…
…develop a rich understanding of the cultures, economies, and groups that made up the 13 Colonies.
…be insanely engaged (They will love the fur trading simulation and the Jeopardy-style review games).
…beg you for more history lessons. Seriously.
…be able to spend more time with people you love instead of planning lessons on the weekends (I’ve been there and I know the struggle).
…feel proud of the way you are teaching your social studies standards.
…enjoy TEACHING instead of stressing about planning.
13 Colonies Table of Contents
Table of Contents:
Week 1: The Southern Colonies
Colonization Introduction—PowerPoint presentation & KL worksheet
Jamestown Simulation—activity where students act like the settlers of Jamestown and make decisions about their survival with article and student worksheets
History of the Southern Colonies—article about the history of each Southern colony and comprehension questions
Life in the Southern Colonies—task cards about aspects of Southern life (religion, education, social classes, etc.), student recording sheet, and reflection
All About the Southern Colonies Game—student information booklet, jeopardy questions, and jeopardy board (covers the Southern Colonies’ economy, geography, important people, Native Americans, & religions)
Week 2: The New England Colonies
The Mayflower and Plymouth Colony—facts about New England, article about the Mayflower and Plymouth Colony, interactive timeline, and reflection
Early American Constitutions—activity analyzing The Mayflower Compact and The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, simulation where students create their own constitution
Puritan Life—artifacts about Puritan life (religion, education, social classes, etc.) and student recording sheet
The Salem Witch Trials—article about the Salem Witch Trials, evidence activity, and student booklet about the important people in the Trials
All About the New England Colonies Game—student information booklet and jeopardy questions (covers New England’s economy, geography, important people, Native Americans, & religions)
Week 3: The Middle Colonies
New Amsterdam to New York—facts about the Middle Colonies, article about the British taking over New Amsterdam, two reader’s theater scripts, and comprehension check
Fur Trading Simulation Game—article about colonial fur trading, materials to play a fur trading simulation game (name tags, goods for trading, rules, awards, etc.)
The Quaker Way of Life—article about Quakers in the Middle Colonies, articles about different aspects of Quaker life (religion, education, social classes, etc.), rubric for student posters and presentations, and note taking sheet
All About the Middle Colonies—student information booklet, and jeopardy questions (covers the Middle Colonies’ economy, geography, important people, Native Americans, & religions)
Comparing and Contrasting the Colonies— sorting mats and cards to compare and contrast the Southern, New England, and Middle colonies
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