Colonial House Picture of the colony
Meet the Colonists Behind the Scenes Interactive History Media Gallery
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Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Time Allotment: Two or three 45-minute class periods.

Overview: Over the course of American history, myths, half-truths, and downright lies have grown up around the earliest European colonists. Everyone knows, for example, that the Pilgrims enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast of turkey and mashed potatoes during the fall of 1621. Or that an Indian named Pocahontas saved the life of colonist Captain John Smith. Or that most early colonists came to the New World in search of religious freedom. Or did they?

In this lesson, students will examine the myths and misconceptions surrounding early European colonists in the New World. After brainstorming and discussing their ideas about the colonists, students will take an online quiz to assess their colonial knowledge. Following the quiz, students will examine a variety of Web sites and assess their historical accuracy.

Finally, students will assess whether or not they would be prepared for the life of a colonist, via another online quiz. As an assessment of the lesson, students will complete a creative writing exercise, synthesizing knowledge from the lesson plan activities.

This lesson can be used as a pre- or post-viewing activity for the PBS series COLONIAL HOUSE, or as an independent lesson on early colonization in North America. A basic knowledge of early colonial history is required.

Subject Matter: United States History, Media Literacy

Learning Objectives:
The student will be able to:
- Describe common misconceptions about early European colonists in the New World;
- Determine how these misconceptions differ from historical fact;
- Analyze images, artwork, and media relating to the early colonists and discuss their accuracy;
- Describe the living conditions faced by 17th-century New England colonists;
- Correct a peer's misconceptions about colonial life and provide historical rationale.

From the National Standards for History for Grades 5-12, available online at

Historical Thinking Standard 2: The student thinks chronologically; therefore, the student is able to draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.

Historical Thinking Standard 3. The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation; therefore, the student is able to compare and contrast different sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences.

Era 2, Standard 1A. The student understands how diverse immigrants affected the formation of European colonies. Therefore, the student is able to: analyze the religious, political, and economic motives of free immigrants from different parts of Europe who came to North America and the Caribbean; explain why so many European indentured servants risked the hardships of bound labor overseas; evaluate the opportunities for European immigrants, free and indentured, in North America and the difficulties they encountered.


Media Components:
Video: COLONIAL HOUSE, Episode 1: "A New World" (optional)
(For ordering information, visit PBS Shop for Teachers)

For the class:
Chalkboard or whiteboard
Computers with Internet Access
"Myth-Conceptions" answer key (click here)

For each student:
"Myth-Conceptions" worksheet (click here)
Pencil and paper

Prep for Teachers: Prior to teaching the lesson, preview the Web sites and the video clip to make certain that they are appropriate for your students. Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Download and print copies of the answer key and the student handout, and make the appropriate number of copies for your class. CUE the video to the appropriate starting point, which is shortly after the beginning of the episode, when you hear the female narrator say, "It's spring, and the first day of COLONIAL HOUSE," and you see the colonists on the dock.

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

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