Teaching the Revolutionary War
Are you teaching about the Revolutionary War? New and veteran teachers often need to brush up on their history before teaching this unit. There are many important events and people to remember.
In this blog post, I will outline the most important things you need to know about teaching the American Revolutionary War. This guide will cover events from 1775 to 1783. For more information about events leading up to the Declaration of Independence (1765-1776), check out my Ultimate Guide to Teaching the American Revolution.
Revolutionary War Overview
What is the Revolutionary War?
The American Revolution War began in April 1775 and lasted until September 1783. During the Revolutionary War, the American Colonies fought for independence from Great Britain. American colonists felt they were unfairly taxed and did not have the representation they deserved.
The Leaders of the Revolution
Although George Washington and King George III were not responsible for the American Revolution, they both played key roles in the war. George Washington was a Virginian who led the American Continental army. King George III was Great Britain’s leader during the Revolutionary War. George Washington would go on to become the first President of the United States and is remembered today as a great hero and leader. King George’s legacy is mixed. Some historians criticize the way he “lost” the American colonies while others treat him more sympathetically.
Washington nominated commander of the Continental Army, 1st Continental Congress, Link
Who Fought in the Revolutionary War?
Although we sometimes imagine American Revolutionary War battles involving British soldiers fighting against American soldiers, in reality there were many groups of people who fought in the war. The motivations for fighting varied from person to person.
Not all American colonists wanted to break away from Great Britain. Those who did were called Patriots. Other colonists, called Loyalists, were loyal to King George and wanted to remain united with Great Britain. Others were determined to stay out of the conflict for personal, business, or religious reasons. These colonists were called Neutralists.
So who fought on the British side? Hessian soldiers and American Loyalists joined trained British soldiers to fight for Great Britain.
On the other hand, American Patriots and trained French soldiers fought for the Continental Army.
In addition, Native Americans and African Americans fought for both the British Army and the Continental Army.
Image showing Patriots tarring and feathering a Loyalist, Link
How did the war begin?
The American Revolutionary War resulted from years of tension between Great Britain and the 13 colonies. Taxation acts such as the Stamp Act of 1765 and conflicts such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party escalated discord between the colonies and Great Britain. For more information about events leading up to the Declaration of Independence, check out my Ultimate Guide to Teaching the American Revolution.
The first military battles of the Revolutionary War were at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. British troops hoped to surprise the American militiamen and take important military supplies. However, American Patriots learned of the British plan and prepared. No one knows which side fired first. But shots were fired and eight Americans and one British soldier died at Lexington. The battle at Concord resulted in more casualties. These battles became known as the first of the American Revolutionary War.
Battles Around New York
On July 4, 1776, the colonies declared independence from Great Britain. That summer, George Washington was tasked with organizing a resistance to the British Army. This fighting group would be called the Continental Army.
Early in the war, the British Army captured New York City. This was a strategic victory which led some to wonder if the Patriot cause was a lost one. The British Army had better supplies and more experience than the Continental Army. By the winter of 1776, morale and resources were low for the Americans.
A Turning Point
In December of 1776, Washington coordinated a surprise attack on Hessian soldiers in Trenton. This victory for the Continental Army revived many Americans’ faith in George Washington and the Continental Army.
On January 2, the Continental Army launched another surprise attack at Princeton and were again victorious. Although these were small battles, they marked an important turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Washington Crossing the Delaware, Link
In 1777, the British Army turned its attention to the strategically important Hudson River Valley (located in New York & New Jersey). British General John Burgoyne’s plan to capture this area was called the Saratoga Campaign.
Later that year, British General Howe successfully captured Philadelphia. But, the Continental Army defeated the British at Saratoga. This was a significant victory for the United States. As a result of the victory, France officially formed an alliance with the United States in February 1778.
Battles in the South
For the first three years of the Revolutionary War, most of the fighting occurred around Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
After the failure of the Saratoga Campaign, the British turned their attention to the American South. They believed that Southern Loyalists would help them defeat the Continental Army.
The British began their Southern strategy in 1778 in Georgia and the Carolinas. They captured major cities including Charleston, South Carolina.
Continental General Nathaniel Greene responded with a strategy of avoiding major battles. Although he lost many battles, he succeeded in wearing down the British. As a result of the many skirmishes, more and more Southerners disliked and distrusted the British.
In 1778, the Continental Army launched a long seige on British forces at Yorktown (Virginia). After weeks of fighting, the British ran out of supplies and surrendered.
The End of the War
The surrender at Yorktown led to the beginning of peace negotiations and the end of the war. In Great Britain, more and more people felt that the war was too expensive and not worthwhile. Finally, in 1783 both countries agreed to stop fighting and signed the Treaty of Paris. In this peace treaty, King George recognized the United States as a country and the United States agreed to stop persecuting Loyalists.
Various depictions of the Revolutionary War, Link
Revolutionary War Timeline
When teaching the Revolutionary War, 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 Revolutionary War:
- April 19, 1775 – Patriot victories at the Battles of Lexington and Concord
- June 15, 1775 – George Washington becomes general of the Continental Army
- June 17, 1775 – The British win at the Battle of Bunker Hill, but with heavy casualties
- July 4, 1776 – The United States declares independence
- August 27, 1776 – British forces defeat the Americans at the Battle of Long Island
- November 16, 1776 – British victory at the Battle of Fort Washington
- December 1776- January 1777 – George Washington leads successful attacks at Trenton and Princeton
- September-October 1776 – Patriot victories at the Battles of Saratoga
- December 1776 – Washington and his army winter at Valley Forge
- February 6, 1776 – The United States and France become allies
- May 12, 1780 – British capture Charleston, SC
- October 7, 1780 – Patriot victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain
- January 17, 1781 – Patriot Victory at the Battle of Cowpens
- March 15, 1781 – British victory at the Battle of Guildford Court House
- September-October 1781 – Patriot victory at the Siege of Yorktown
- September 1783 – US and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris and the war is officially over.
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 Revolutionary War Timeline Lesson.
Teacher Resources for Learning about the Revolutionary War
Now that you know the basics, here are a few excellent resources to help you learn more. These resources will help you better understand the Revolutionary War!
- Who Won the American Revolution?: Crash Course US History – John Green’s fast-paced and informative video teaches about the important battles and outcomes of the Revolutionary War.
- Free Online US History Textbook – Chapters 6 of this online textbook discusses the events of the Revolutionary War.
- Britannica Online – Britannica’s Revolutionary War article is full of key dates and events of the Revolutionary War.
Revolutionary War Pacing Guide
Revolutionary War Simulation
Have you ever considered bringing the American Revolutionary War to life with a simulation? Here’s what I did with my students:
Each student was given a role in the Continental Army (solider, spy, or officer).
Next, students researched their role. They also got to learn about which colony they came from and choose a new colonial name.
As they learned about important Revolutionary War battles, students made strategic war decisions. These decisions resulted in the Continental Army earning or losing morale and supply points.
For example, when learning about the end of the war, the students who are playing the “officers” have to decide if they will move all their troops to the South or focus on winning the hearts of Southerners rather than winning battles.
Throughout the simulation, students compare their decisions to what really happened in history.
The students love this activity! They got so invested in the Revolutionary War. It was so fun to see them talking about the war in such a passionate way.
If you are interested in doing something similar, here is the pacing guide I used:
3-Week Pacing Guide
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5|
|The Road to Revolution||The Social Classes of Colonial America||King George vs. George Washington||Who Fought in the Revolutionary War?||British Forces vs. Continental Forces|
|Day 6||Day 7||Day 8||Day 9||Day 10|
|Choose Your Identity||Day 1 of Simulation: Early Battles Around New York||Day 2 of Simulation: Trenton & Princeton||Day 3 of Simulation: Saratoga Campaign||Day 4 of Simulation: Battles in the South|
|Day 11||Day 12||Day 13||Day 14||Day 15|
|Treaty of Paris||Problems Facing the Nation||Guess Which Founding Father?||How "revolutionary" was the American Revolution?||Revolutionary War Reflection|
Note: Each lesson is around 45 minutes long.
This pacing guide is the same one I use in my Revolutionary War Unit.
If the idea of planning and prepping everything for your Revolutionary War unit overwhelms you, then this resource is for you! It has everything you need!
Included is a helpful introductory PowerPoint presentation, engaging simulations, ready-to-print student worksheets, and an easy-to-use study guide and assessment.
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 Revolutionary War!
Free Revolutionary War Lessons
This timeline sorting activity will teach students about the key events of the Revolutionary War. I have created cards for 16 important events―from Lexington and Concord to the Treaty of Paris.
First, the students learn about the events by watching a video from the American Battlefield Trust. Then, they put the events in the correct order on the timeline. This is a great way to help students learn important Revolutionary War events.
In this free lesson, students learn about 8 key Revolutionary War battles. Students will learn about when each battle happened, where it happened, the number of casualties, which side won, and why each battle is important to remember.
But there’s a challenge! Each battle has one piece of information missing. Students must use clues found around the room to find the information. Your students will love being able to move around the room and you’ll love watching them being engaged in history!
Enter your email below to grab your free Revolutionary War Battles lesson!
Revolutionary War Primary Sources
If you aren’t using primary sources to teach about the Revolutionary War, you’re missing out! No matter what historical period you’re teaching about, primary sources 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 to do.
To help save you time, I’ve created a list of teacher-approved Revolutionary War Primary Sources.
One of my favorite Revolutionary War Primary Sources is a political cartoon called The Horse America, throwing his Master (1779). It creates an opportunity to analyze British feelings about the Revolutionary War.
The Horse America, throwing his Master (1779)
Description of Primary Source:
This is a quick but powerful Revolutionary War primary source. “The Horse America, throwing his Master” is a British cartoon poking fun at American independence by comparing the colonies to a horse throwing his master. The master, of course, is King George III. He is holding an unusual whip that has weapons attached to it (sword, bayonet, axe, etc.). Also in the background is a French soldier holding a large fleur-de-lys flag.
Class Discussion Questions:
What do you see?
Notice the caption at the bottom, what does it tell you?
Look at the people and animals in the cartoon, what are they doing?
What are the objects used for in the cartoon?
What do the symbols stand for?
When and why do you think the cartoon was drawn?
Who is portrayed more favorably: America or King George III?
Resources for this Primary Source:
Download the cartoon (Library of Congress)
Worksheet for analyzing a political cartoon (National Archives)
Revolutionary War Videos
Another great way to engage students is through high-quality history videos. Videos can teach a lot of information in a short period of time. They are also engaging and fun!
However, most teachers know that not all history videos are created equal. It’s hard to find accurate, appropriate videos. To help provide you with awesome, informative videos, I’ve created this list of 5 Revolutionary War Videos.
One excellent Revolutionary War video is “The Revolutionary War Animated Map” by American Battlefield Trust. This video is on the longer side, but it is a great overview of the Revolutionary War. I like this video so much that I use it in my Free Revolutionary War Timeline Lesson.
The Revolutionary War Animated Map by American Battlefield Trust
American Battlefield Trust’s detailed overview of the Revolutionary War covering major events from Lexington to the end of the war
My Rating: age 10+
Notes: This video is so excellent that I created a lesson around it. Read the lesson and download the Revolutionary War timeline sort.
Revolutionary War Picture Books
The final resource I want to cover for teaching the Revolutionary War 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.
They Called Her Molly Pitcher is a one of my favorite Revolutionary War books.
When Molly’s husband joins George Washington’s army at Valley forge, see decides to go with him. She witnesses the reality of the American Revolutionary War and helps as much as she can. On one particularly hot day, Molly helps by bringing pitchers of water to the overheated soldiers. However, when her husband is injured, Molly takes over his cannon.
This book is a great read about how women helped fight in the war, and how one woman went to extraordinary lengths to fight for her country. This book is inspired by a true story.
Appropriate for grades 8 and up.
Ideas for Using this Book:
This book would be a great way to discuss the differences between the two armies as well as the difficulties the rebel army faced during the war.
Students could discuss what it was like to fight during the summer heat. Ask students: Do you think it was smart for the Americans to shed their uniforms? How would this have helped them?
Note: The book link is an Amazon affiliate link. This means that I may earn commissions for purchases made through the link.
Revolutionary War Unit
I hope that these resources help you while you are teaching the Revolutionary War. If you need more help, consider checking out my 3-week Revolutionary War Unit.
Feeling stressed about teaching the Revolutionary War? This unit will help you feel prepared and excited to teach by providing you with 15 complete lessons, worksheets, and answers keys.
Sounds amazing, 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. This is especially true for subjects like history that require a lot of prior knowledge.
I created this unit to provide you with high-quality lessons that will save you time and help you fall in love with teaching history! Keep reading to see what makes this Revolutionary War Unit so awesome!
Revolutionary War Interactive Lesson Plans
15 complete lesson plans
3 weeks of activities
130+ pages with a variety of activities (simulations, PowerPoint presentations, informational articles, Jigsaw activity, task cards, and more!)
Table of Contents:
Part 1: Context for the Revolutionary War
The Road to Revolution—newspaper articles, jigsaw activity, and student worksheets
The Social Classes of Colonial America—informational article, discussion cards, and worksheet
King George vs. George Washington—task cards and worksheet
Who Fought in the Revolutionary War?—7 articles, worksheet, and group cards for sorting
British Forces vs. Continental Forces—informational articles and student worksheet
Note: This unit is focused on the Revolutionary War rather than the entire American Revolution. For 18 lessons about the events leading up to the war, check out my Declaration of Independence Unit.
Part 2: Events of the Revolutionary War (Simulation)
For this week-long simulation, students join the Continental Army and then adopt a new identity as a soldier, spy, or officer. Throughout the unit, students learn about actual events in the war. Then they make decisions which result in them gaining or losing points for the army. Each day they also analyze a primary or secondary source and complete a journal entry.
Choose Your Identity—students adopt an identity in the Continental Army (spies, soldiers, or officers), includes informational articles, and worksheet
Early Battles Around New York—28 slide PowerPoint with student worksheet, primary source activity, simulation instructions, student journal page & teacher guide
Trenton and Princeton—29 slide PowerPoint with student worksheet, secondary source activity, student journal page & teacher guide
Saratoga Campaign—30+ slide PowerPoint with student worksheet, primary source activity, student journal page & teacher guide
Battles in the South—30+ slide PowerPoint with student worksheet, secondary source activity, student journal page & teacher guide
Part 3: After the Revolutionary War
Treaty of Paris—activity where students make their own treaties and informative article
Problems Facing the Nation—informative article and multiple worksheets focusing on finding the main idea
Guess Which Founding Father—Founding Father speeches, Guess Which Founding Father game, and cheat sheet
How “revolutionary” was the American Revolution?—worksheet & writing activity
Revolutionary War Reflection—worksheet & writing activity