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Colonial History Project

Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 2002/Modified by rdcurry 2003
Assumed Identities: 
21st Century Students Assume the 
Personas of 1770's Virginia Colonists
A Web based Social Studies Project designed for students in grades 5-8
integrating historical research and presentation tools
developed by Rob Curry
5th Grade Teacher at Vinci Park School  - Berryessa Union School District  -  San Jose, California

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Courtesy of 
Colonial Williamsburg 
Foundation 2002 

Cyber Safety 
for Kids 
Safety Comic Web site 
from Disney 

 This project requires 
Microsoft Power Point. 
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Overview of this Project
 Students will actively engage themselves in the Project Based Learning study of the Colonial period of American history.  In collaborative groups, the students will do research of their character's particular social group (gentry, middling class, working poor and enslaved Africans).  From that shared group research, they will then refine further research to their particular character.  They can collaborate further by contacting Colonial Williamsburg reenactors and email students at a Williamsburg area school through ePals.

Purpose of This Unit
Enduring Understanding: A person's location in a given social order influences the person's perspective, both in the past and in today's world. 

Essential Questions

  • What were some historical perspectives of the various groups in the 1770's on the issue of Independence and how does that relate to life in our nation today?
  • What are the most important elements of researching primary documents/resources?
  • Who were the colonial characters whose narratives were studied?
  • How does the historical period effect the experiences related in the narratives?
  • What are primary sources and documents?
  • How are primary documents useful in studying the past?
  • In what ways can historical fact be presented?
  • How can historical primary sources be used to develop historical fiction?
  • What can we learn from the past that can be useful?
  • What were the conditions of various social groups in 1770's Virginia that led to the change from a loyal British colony to a leading proponent of Independence? 
  • What was life like for people of the various social groups in that time and place? 



    Learning Objectives of This Unit
    This project will have the following outcomes: 
    1. Students will understand the daily life of members of the various social classes which existed in the Williamsburg, Virginia area in the early to mid-1770's, leading up to the American Revolution. 

    2. Students will meet  Specific Objectives  (from  California State History/Social Science Standards and ISTE) : 

    California State History/Social ScienceOBJECTIVE
    The students will understand the political, religious, social, and economic institutions that evolved in the colonial era. 
    1. The students will  Understand how the British colonial period created the basis for the development of political self-government and a free-market economic system (California Social Studies Standards 5.4.5) 
    2.The students will understand the influence of location and physical setting on the founding of the  original 13 colonies (California Social Studies Standards 5.4.1) 
    3. The students will describe the introduction of slavery into America, the responses of slave families to their condition, the ongoing struggle between proponents and opponents of slavery, and the gradual institutionalization of slavery in the South.(California Social Studies Standards 5.4.6) 
    4. The students will explain the early democratic ideas and practices that emerged during the colonial period, including the significance of representative assemblies and town meetings. (California Social  Studies Standards 5.4.7) 

    1. The students will Create multiple paragraph expository compositions: 


                        1.0 Writing Strategies 
                        Students write clear, coherent, and focused essays. The writing exhibits the students'
                        awareness of the audience and purpose. Essays contain formal introductions,
                        supporting evidence, and conclusions. Students progress through the stages of the
                        writing process as needed. 

                        Organization and Focus 
                        1.1 Create multiple-paragraph narrative compositions:
                        a. Establish and develop a situation or plot.
                        b. Describe the setting.
                        c. Present an ending.

                        1.2 Create multiple-paragraph expository compositions:
                        a. Establish a topic, important ideas, or events in sequence or chronological order.
                        b. Provide details and transitional expressions that link one paragraph to another in a
                        clear line of thought.
                        c. Offer a concluding paragraph that summarizes important ideas and details. 

                        Research and Technology 
                        1.3 Use organizational features of printed text (e.g., citations, end notes, bibliographic
                        references) to locate relevant information.
                        1.4 Create simple documents by using electronic media and employing organizational
                        features (e.g., passwords, entry and pull-down menus, word searches, the thesaurus,
                        spell checks).
                        1.5 Use a thesaurus to identify alternative word choices and meanings. 

                        Evaluation and Revision 
                        1.6 Edit and revise manuscripts to improve the meaning and focus of writing by
                        adding, deleting, consolidating, clarifying, and rearranging words and sentences. 


                               ISTE National Technology Standards
       1.Basic operations and concepts 
    Students demonstrate a sound  understanding of the nature and  operation of technology systems. 
      2.  Students are proficient in the use of   technology. 
      3. Technology productivity tools 
             Students use technology tools to  enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity. 
             Students use productivity tools to  collaborate in constructing  technology-enhanced models, prepare  publications, and produce other creative  works  

    Project Resources

    Students will do research on 
    historical characters from 
    1770's Williamsburg using 
    as resources:

    (Courtesy of Ms. Nicole Moore, Oakland CWTI 2001 Video Tapes

    Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's

    Major Search Engines 

    Ask Jeeves for Kids

    Rubric for Research Activity

    Power Point Planning Storyboard 

    Project Activities: 
    Research and Planning

    1. Background Knowledge 
         Prior to starting this project, the teacher may choose to use text materials to introduce the Colonial period of American history.  The class may also have previously viewed video depictions of 18th century life in Roots, as well as Colonial Williamburg Foundation's Electronic Field Trips and video tapes such as, The Runaway, and Reflections on Liberty (The Thoughts of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry), available through Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 

    2. Research 
         Students choose an historical character along with the biographies of the People of Williamsburg resource materials (primary sources from and other Colonial Williamsburg materials) to research the person. They then fill in a research form. They will work in cooperative learning groups doing the research in teams of 3-4 students per group of common social class members (gentry, middling, laborers, enslaved).  They will then do additional individual research into the lives of the particular character. 
         Students do additional research on the history and culture of Colonial Virginia using print, music and internet resources and they are challenged to come up with some generalizations about the person, .  Some sources are listed to the left. 
    Rubric for Colonial Research activity. 

    3. Planning 
         Students create an "historical fiction" character based on their research.  They then plot out a 7-9 panel story board of what life was like, following a teacher created template. From that they implement the main project of the powerpoint and web page and some of the alternate activities below. Most are decidedly 21st century in nature, depending on computer technology.  However, by using modern day technology, students can learn a great deal from the past. 

    Students will also be 
    challenged to connect the debate in the 1770's over 
    the issue of Loyalty or Liberty as a cause to take up
    arms to modern day military conflict.  One activity 
    will be a mock debate between the characters in
    favor of the Cause of Liberty vs. the Loyalists with
    those impartial or against the war allowed to voice
    their beliefs and the reasons for those positions.
    (Photo courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 2002)
    Ask an Expert
    If you are taking the role of a tradesperson, you can email a colonial tradesperson at Colonial Williamsburg a question. 
    Include your street address and allow several weeks for a response. 

    Ask an ePal 
    Students are encouraged to email a student at a Williamsburg, Virginia school through ePal for any help they can give, being close to Colonial Williamsburg 


    Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 2002

    Power Point Presentations

    Power Point  Storyboard

    Teacher created template for
    student Power Point 

    Colonial Identity 
    Power Point Presentations
    created by 5th graders. 

    Rubric for Power Point Storyboard 

    Rubric for Power Point

    Following the story board created (see above), students follow a teacher created template in planning and creating a Power Point presentation of their character's life. Students will use the provided rubrics to peer evaluate the work of fellow group members before the power point is due, so that they can assist one another in improving the final product. 
    When finished, students use the Power Points in giving an oral report on their character. 

    Power Point Presentations created by 5th Grade 
    students at Vinci Park School 2001-03

    Web Template1

    Web Template2
    [Use this web page and modify with 
    power point slides (saved as jpg images) of your own] 

     Rubric for Web Site

    Student Web Page 
         Those students who are capable of doing more than just a Power Point as a multimedia activity, can create a web page featuring their character to demonstrate their knowledge of the way of life of their assumed identity. They follow the same storyboard as for the Power Point.  These pages will be part of a Web Site set up by the teacher with templates  using Netscape Composer  and saving on an established server such as  my school's version of, or using Microsoft Word 2000+, Front Page or Microsoft Publisher (and Saving as a Web Page) to publish to a school or district web site.  Students are to open a template, modify it with the information and images they gathered and then save the web page with a unique name. 
    Culminating Activity: 
          Besides displying their Power Points and web pages on computers at school and/or publishing them to a web site, students can also display their work on a TV (a VHS videotape playing their powerpoints from a converter from the computer) and display boards for the other written components.  They  also take on the role of their Assumed Identity Character for a school Colonial History fair. 
         In June 2003, our students had a Colonial History Fair performance in which they portrayed their characters and expressed the reasons why they were either Loyalists, Patriots or undecided.  In doing this, students became their assumed colonial identity.  This culminating activity included costume, set and prop design and it provided students with more opportunity to work collaboratively.

    Additional Activities

    Patchwork Quilt

    Each individual will create a section for a patchwork quilt. Each section will portray something that is representative of the student's Assumed Character.  All the individual sections will be sewn together, hopefully by parents or community volunteers.  It will have, in the center, a class created central patch that states a unifying theme. 

         With the help of community volunteers, mainly retired sewing and quilting enthusiasts, our students have the American tradition of quilting passed down to them through this intergenerational interaction. 

    See a page on as Assumed Colonial Identities Quilt made by our class.


    Each student can create a biographical brochure for each individual using Microsoft Publisher 2000+ or Microsoft Word. View a sample brochure. See the Brochure Rubric for the expected outcomes. 

    Diary Entry
        A diary entry as written by the charcter. Students will  write a diary entry in the role of their assumed identity and write what everyday life was like. This can be one section of the student website. Another option is for students to write the diary entries and then be published in a colonial-era facsimile newspaper for each group using Microsoft Publisher 2000.  See the Diary Rubric for expected outcomes. 

    Written Essay 
         Students will write a 1-3 paragraph essay on what they have learned while doing this activity and how they can relate to their colonial characters and apply what they learned to their life today. View an essay written by a student. See the Essay Rubric for expected outcomes. 

    Students  communicate with students from the Williamsburg area. By doing this, they can develop their communication skills while seeking out sources from students living in the area being studied.  See our pending e-Pal partner school's website.

    A Word About Citing Sources

    Students will be assessed by fellow group members and by the teacher based on the provided rubrics. 

    Whenever possible, students are assessed using the rubrics during the given activities (to help guide them in areas they need to improve) and again at the completion of the activity.  The rubrics are used for self-assessment, peer assessment within the group and by the teacher.

    Additionally, the teacher gives the students continual guidance in informal assessments during small group conferences and "walk arounds"

    Research Activity Rubric 
    Storyboard for Power Pt.  Rubric (.html)
    Power Point Rubric (.html)
    Web Site Rubric (.html)
    Brochure Rubric (.html)
    Diary Rubric (.html)
     Essay Rubric (.html)
    Student Self-Assessment in e-Portfolios (.html)

    It is very important for students to learn how to properly cite resources and referances they use.

    Likewise, they need to know and practice the respect for copyright laws and to understand intellectual properties.

    Correct format for 
    Citing your sources and writing a Bibliography

    This project was created using resources 
    made available by the 
    copyright holders and used by permission.

    Links for Implementing this Unit

    Free Tutorial on using Netscape Composer

    National Semiconductor's on-line 
    Global Connections Course

    Animated GIF's and Templates
    Many of the animated gif images, tiled backgrounds and 
    Power Point templates are from
    Animation Factory  <
    Additional Colonial Clip Art available at: <>
    Comments, questions and suggestions are gladly accepted. Colonial Webmaster Rob Curry


    Last updated July 6, 2003  Copyright ©
    Permission granted to use and modify all original work herein for educational non-commercial use only.