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Lesson Plans Library 9-12 > U.S. History
American Beginnings
American Beginnings
Grade level: 9-12 Subject: U.S. History Duration: Two class periods

lesson plan support
Students will
  • Discuss how historians learn about the past.
  • Analyze political cartoons from the Revolutionary period.
  • Write a paragraph summarizing what each cartoon means.
  1. Have students view "The Mystery of the First Americans" and "The Truth About Plymouth Rock" segments of the American Beginnings program .
  2. Review the ways in which historians learn about the past. Ask students what tools historians use. Answers may include the following.
    • Physical remains, such as bones
    • Government documents, such as the Declaration of Independence
    • Eyewitness accounts, such as autobiographies
    • Historical documents, such as newspaper stories and illustrations
  3. Explain that students are going to examine political cartoons from the time of the American Revolution. Working in pairs, they will analyze each of the following cartoons and then write a paragraph that explains its meaning.
  4. Give students time in class to analyze the cartoons and write their paragraphs. Have them consider the following questions as they work.
    • What is the central image in the cartoon?
    • Do you think this image is effective? Why or why not?
    • What clues in each cartoon help viewers understand its meaning?
    • Did you find some cartoons more effective than others? Why or why not?
  5. As students explore the Web sites, they will notice commentary about each cartoon. To discourage them from depending on this commentary, explain that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers. Political cartoons like these are open to interpretation, and students should focus on their own ideas about what each cartoon mean.
  6. During the next class, have students share their paragraphs and discuss their analyses. What do students think the cartoons mean? Is there consensus among students?
  7. Conclude by discussing the ability of political cartoons to communicate ideas. Do students think these cartoons conveyed the relationship between Britain and her colonies more effectively than could have been done with words? Do they believe political cartoons are useful communication tools today?

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points: Students were highly engaged in class and small-group discussions; analyzed the cartoons carefully and thoughtfully; produced an insightful paragraph about each one.
  • Two points: Students participated in class and small-group discussions; adequately analyzed the cartoons; produced a satisfactory paragraph about each one.
  • One point: Students participated minimally in class and small-group discussions; did not complete their cartoon analysis or write a complete paragraph about each.

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American colonies
Definition:The thirteen separate land areas that joined together to form the original states of the United States
Context:Most people living in the American colonies survived by farming, although more and more members of the growing middle class were artisans and shopkeepers.

Great Britain
Definition:The mother country responsible for the administration of the American colonies
Context:One of the reasons that tensions grew between Great Britain and the American colonies was that Great Britain passed a series of laws designed to increase its control over the colonies and the amount of revenue it collected from them.

Definition:The people living in the American colonies who supported the British point of view in the growing tensions between the two sides
Context:Many loyalists feared that a war between the colonies and Britain would be costly and could even lead to anarchy.

Definition:The people living in the American colonies who wanted to be free of British control
Context:Patriots such as Patrick Henry strongly believed that without freedom, America would be stifled by Great Britain and would not be able to grow and thrive.

political cartoon
Definition:The visual portrayal of an idea, often using symbols, caricature, and humor, to make a point or argue a particular point of view
Context:A use of a visual image, as is done in political cartoons, is often a powerful way to present a controversial point of view.

Revolutionary War period
Definition:The mid-1760s until the final peace treaty between America and Great Britain was signed in 1783
Context:During the Revolutionary War period, conflicts between Great Britain and the American Colonies escalated to the point where war was the only option; the fighting took place between 1775 and 1781.

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Academic Standards

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • U.S. History: Era 3 - Understands the causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in shaping the revolutionary movement, and reasons for the American victory
  • Historical Understanding -Understands the historical perspective
  • Language Arts: Viewing: Uses a range of strategies to interpret visual media

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
NCSS has developed national guidelines for teaching social studies. To become a member of NCSS, or to view the standards online, go to
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Power, Authority, and Governance

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