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Grade Level: 5-8
Curriculum Focus: American History, Colonies, Puritanism
Project Overview
Online Components
National Standards Correlations
Using the Project in Your Classroom
Project Overview
In 1692, 24 people died during the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. Although we have detailed accounts of the events, historians are still trying to determine the reasons for this tragedy. Although the witch trials are an engaging topic for young people, it may be even more difficult for them to understand how people in a community turned on their neighbors. There may be a tendency to see the people of Salem as ignorant or cruel. But in many ways, these people were like us—with their own beliefs, fears, challenges, petty disagreements, even jealousies. This project was designed to show the events and the people of Salem in the context of their life and times. Students will get a closer look at what life was like in Salem in 1692, watch the story unfold, and meet some of the people behind the trials.
Online Components
Life in 1692
Students will discover some of the daily challenges, fears, and pressures of life in 17th century Salem. They’ll get a quick look at the general state of Salem Village as a part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and learn about real problems faced by Puritan farmers—from Native American raids to smallpox. Then they’ll get an in-depth look at three major factors behind the witch trials: the role of Puritanism and the belief in witchcraft, the divisions and feuds within Salem, and the expectations of children in 17th century New England. Students will get a better sense of what life was really like in 1692 Salem—and begin to see the events in light of Salem’s life and times.
The Story of the Witch Hunt
This interactive presentation shows the events of 1692—from the first accusations to the end of the trials. A captivating narrative is combined with engaging images and audio to create a short “movie” of important facts of the witch trials. Students will watch the events unfold and learn what may have sparked the accusations—and how the simple games of young girls led to the hysteria that swept over the village. In addition, they’ll see how the examinations, trials, and hangings transpired in less than a year—but left 24 innocent people dead.
People Behind the Trials
This section tells the stories of six individuals—from a “bewitched” young girl, to the accused witches, to town leaders—whose lives were touched by the events. Students will learn the unique role that each person played in the trials and get a firsthand look at the events through documents from the day. For each individual, students will find an excerpt from a primary source document—such as a trial transcript or a letter—along with a question that directs their reading.
National Standards Correlations
The content and activities in this project help students meet the following content standards for grades 5-8, as described by the National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS).
United States History
- Understands the characteristics of societies in the Americas, Western Europe, and Western Africa that increasingly interacted after 1450
- Understands how political, religious, and social institutions emerged in the English colonies
- Understands how the values and institutions of European economic life took root in the colonies and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the Americas
World History
- Understands the economic, political, and cultural interrelations among peoples of Africa, Europe, and the Americas between 1500 and 1750
- Understands major global trends from 1450 to 1770
Using the Project in Your Classroom
Following are some suggestions for implementing “Salem Witch Trials” in your classroom.
Think You Know the Whole Story?
Introduce this project by brainstorming what students know and would like to know about the Salem witch trials. When did they occur? How long did the trials last? Who was responsible for the accusations? What happened to the victims? Why were certain people accused? What was the age and gender of the accused witches? What was the evidence used to convict the accused? What brought an end to the trials? Keep this list on a board in the classroom. After you’ve explored the project with your class, return to the list. Were their initial impressions of the witch trials correct? What were they most surprised to learn?
Troubled Times
Ask students to consider what life was really like for the community of Salem Village. Begin by exploring the online feature, “Life in 1692 Salem.” What were some of the challenges and fears the Puritans faced every day? What was it like to be a child in Puritan New England? What did Puritans see as the cause for misfortune? As a class, discuss how each of these factors may have played a role in the witch trials. What do they think the main cause of the hysteria may have been?
Timeline of Tragedy
As students watch The Story of the Witch Hunt, ask them to take notes dating important events during the trial. Working in pairs, have students create a timeline of the accusations, examinations, trials, and hangings. Encourage them to use online sources to help complete the timeline. They may also want to print images or draw their own pictures to illustrate the different events on the timeline.
Letters from Salem
Have students explore the biographies and primary source documents in People Behind the Trials. Ask students to choose one featured person and try to imagine themselves in his or her shoes. What motivated their actions? What do you think they were thinking or feeling? Have each student write a letter from the person they chose. Their letters could be written to real people from Salem or to a fictional person.
Courtroom Reenactment
Recreate the Salem witch trials in your classroom using excerpts from actual trial transcripts. (See “Sarah Good” or “Tituba” in People Behind the Trials or find other transcripts online at Before you begin, assign different students to play the role of the judge, the accused, and perhaps the young girls in the courtroom. Discuss what you know about the people involved and the courtroom setting. Tell students that unlike today’s courts, those accused had to defend themselves and were considered guilty until proven innocent. Perhaps the most important difference is that the Salem trials accepted “spectral evidence”—claims from the girls that they were being hurt by spirits of the accused witches, which no one else could see.
20th Century Witch Hunts
Discuss the definition of a witch hunt with your class. A witch hunt occurs any time a group of people persecutes another group unfairly, usually blaming that group for larger problems. Ask students to think of examples of “witch hunts” during the 20th century—such as the Holocaust, the McCarthy trials, and the Japanese internment camps. Have students research a modern-day witch hunt and compare and contrast it with the Salem witch trials.