In January 1692, the Salem witch trials began and changed life dramatically
for the small farming community of Salem Village, part of the Massachusetts
Bay colony. Believing themselves God's chosen people, the Puritan inhabitants
of the village followed a strict Puritan code of hard work and religious
devotion. They remained vigilant to the workings of the devil in their
everyday lives and were dedicated to rooting out evil wherever they perceived
its existence. However, the restrained and solemn appearance of the Puritan
village belied fundamental economic, political, and interpersonal difficulties,
which wrought fear, mistrust, and uncertainty throughout the community.
This climate gave rise to the witch-hunt that followed.
After being regaled with magical tales of the West Indies by a Barbados-born
slave named Tituba, two young Puritan girls began exhibiting peculiar
symptoms, ranging from catatonic states to bodily contortions. Unable
to find a medical explanation for their unusual behavior, the local religious
authorities deemed it witchcraft. The magistrates, determined to locate
and eradicate the source of the bewitchment, commenced a series of trials
lasting for almost one year. In an effort to save themselves from the
fate of witches, death by hanging, neighbor turned on neighbor, ultimately
resulting in the execution of approximately twenty Salem citizens. Finally
in 1710, some, but not all, of the accused were exonerated. In 1957 the
state of Massachusetts officially cleared the names of all accused witches.
Through the activities presented in this lesson, students will gain comprehensive
background knowledge of the Salem witch trials in preparation for reading
Arthur Miller's The Crucible. The lesson can also be used on its
own, without mention of the Miller play, in a social studies or history
class. Students will become familiar with the basic tenets of Puritanism,
the internal problems of Salem Village believed to have influenced the
witch-hunts, and the individuals central to both the historical events
and the dramatic rendering. After examining Web sites and video clips,
students will participate in a hands-on activity in which they will role-play
in an activity designed to simulate a modern day witch-hunt.
Students will be able to:
- Articulate the basic tenets of Puritanism
- Explain the events leading up to the Salem witchcraft trials of
- Identify the individuals central to the trials and to the play
- Synthesize and evaluate facts to speculate the underlying causes
of the witch hysteria
- Draw connections between the events of 1692 and the modern world
States History Standards for grades 5-12
- Students will be able to describe religious groups in colonial America
and the role of religion in their communities.
- Students will be able to explain how Puritanism shaped New England communities
and how it changed during the 17th century.
York State Learning Standards for Social Studies
- Students will be able to analyze evidence critically and demonstrate
an understanding of how circumstances of time and place influence
- Students will be able to examine the social/cultural, political,
economic, and religious norms and values of Western culture.
Students will be able to understand how to develop and use maps and other
graphic representations to display geographic issues, problems, and questions.
York State Learning Standards for the English Language Arts
Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
- Students will be able to listen, speak, read, and write for information
and understanding. As listeners and readers, students will collect data,
facts, and ideas; discover relationships, concepts, and generalizations;
and use knowledge generated from electronically produced texts.
Standards for the English Language Arts
Students will be able to use a variety of technological and information
resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather
and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
Salem Witchcraft Papers
This Web site is part of a project created by the University of Virginia
and containing primary documents and transcriptions, historical maps,
and archival collections related to the Salem witch trials. This site
contains the painting "The Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692"
by T.H. Matteson.
Salem Witch Trials: The World Behind the Hysteria
This Web site, created by Discoveryschool.com, contains a 6-minute multimedia
movie about the Salem witch trials.
This Web site contains a map that portrays the geography of the witch-hunts.
of the Dead
This PBS Web site contains an interactive map profiling the individuals
involved in the witch-hunts and provides a timeline tracing the events.
This site enables you to download the Flash plug-in needed to view the
Discovery School presentation.
- Is There Honor in the Honor Code? sheet
- Which is a Witch? informational chart
- Student Profile sheet
- 3 copies of the List of Suspected Cheaters sheet