Ryan Johnson Portfolio Project


Exploring the American Revolutionary War Through Primary Source Documents

Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Identify what a primary source document is and how it can be used for learning
  • Identify, describe and relate to the events leading up to, during and after the American Revolutionary War
  • Describe people’s experiences (Soldiers, people from Saratoga who were involved, scouts, Green Mountain Men, women, nurses, children going to war, women pretending to be men donning uniforms and fighting, Generals St. John, Burgoyne, Howe) that lived during the time of, or participated in the American Revolutionary War.

Needs Assessment

Instructional Problems

Students, especially younger students, are typically not accustomed to identifying, accessing and summarizing information from primary source documents. Students need to learn about primary source documents, the important role they play in history, and how invaluable they can be to our learning. Using primary source documents to explore the several perspectives, events and people who observed or played key roles in the American Revolutionary War is a unique and relatable way to learn this material. Additionally, students will need the skills learned in this unit as they progress through high school, as New York State Regents exams require the ability to identify and access information from primary source documents.

Nature Of What Is To Be Learned

The American Revolutionary War was one of the first major events to happen in our nation’s history, and it is the people who lived during that time that are able to describe the events that took place most effectively. Primary source documents are letters, journal entries, drawings, letters to the editor, photographs that are written or produced by people who saw or experienced something first-hand. Students will learn about primary source documents, and will then explore aspects of the American Revolutionary War by reading or looking at them. This method of learning is underutilized and provides a unique perspective and learning opportunity for students.

About The Learners

Students from many different disciplines and all grade levels can and should learn the importance of primary source documents, and how they can be used to gather and understand information and experiences in history. Learning how to obtain information from primary source documents is a typically underutilized method of learning, and will help with student's gaining deeper and more connected understanding of material.

Performance Objectives

- Students will be be able to define "primary source document," and be able to identify one when it is presented to them.

- Students will acknowledge and be able to show an understanding of the importance of primary source documents, and how they uniquely and accurately capture one's personal experiences as it relates to the American Revolutionary War.

- Students will learn about the precipitating events that led to the American Revolutionary War, about the key people involved, the major battles and other events, primarily through Primary Source Documents.

- Students will research and choose primary source documents from the American Revolutionary War period that they find interesting or have a personal connection to.

- Students will demonstrate a deep understanding of the American Revolutionary War by generating a reflective essay using primary source documents from people who participated in or observed aspects of the American Revolutionary War to show deep understanding of the material.

Task Analysis

Did the author of the document experience the event they're describing THEMSELVES? Yes: Primary Source Document. No: Secondary Source or Other Document

Once a Primary Source Document can be identified: Students will be able to divide journal entries and other Primary Source Documents into parts, breaking them down and learning specific details about specific historical events or people.

Students will learn about the American Revolutionary War through Primary Source Documents. After learning about the American Revolutionary War, students will identify a person or event that speaks to them or is of great interest that they would like to learn more about.

Students will discriminate between Primary Source Documents and Secondary Source Documents, using their previously learned identification skills to select 3-5 Primary Source Documents that interest them and speak to their chosen historical event or person.

Students will compose a reflective essay describing their chosen documents and relating them to the American Revolutionary War.

Instructional Curriculum Map

                         Exploring the American Revolutionary War Through Primary Source Documents

[Precipitating Events]---->[Different Acts]--->[Key People]--->[Allies]--->[Battles and Outcomes]--->[Turning Point]---> [Treaty of Paris]--->[Articles of Confederation]--->[Constitution].

Course Outline Precipitating Events

  • Enlightenment Thinkers: People can decide how to worship their god, they can decide who and how their nation will be run


  • Navigation Acts of 1651
  • Sugar Act of 1764
  • Stamp Act of 1765
  • Quarting Act of 1765
  • Declaratory Act
  • Townshend Act of 1767
  • Tea Act of 1773

Key People

  • Englishman John Locke
  • Montesque
  • Thomas Paine
  • Paul Revere
  • Sam Adams
  • Benedict Arnold
  • Patrick Henry
  • Ethan Allen
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • General Thomas Gage
  • Minutemen
  • Hessian Soldiers
  • George Washington
  • General Horatio Gates
  • British General John Burgoyne
  • British General William Howe
  • British General Charles Cornwallis


  • Benjamin Franklin traveling to France to acquire the help of their Navy

Battles and Outcomes

  • Lexington and Concord--the first battles of the Revolution
  • Bunker Hill
  • Trenton
  • Ticonderoga
  • Saratoga
  • Monmouth
  • Charleston
  • Cow Pens
  • Yorktown

Turning Point

  • Battle of Saratoga...proved to the French that we could win the war, so the French joined in in earnest to defeat the British completely

Treaty of Paris

  • Officially ended the American Revolutionary War

Articles of Confederation and the Constitution

  • Articles were drafted during the American Revolution as the first Constitution of the United States. Created a loose confederation of sovereign states with a weak central government.
  • Constitutional Convention of 1787 came about after the Articles (and the idea of a weak central government) was proved ineffective
  • Current Constitution was drafted and signed into effect

Thoughts and Methods of Teaching

The American Revolution is taught several times throughout a child's academic career, and depending on when this course is being implemented, different amounts of prior or prerequisite knowledge will be brought to the class by the students. I am currently a 7th grade Social Studies teacher, and will be teaching this very unit starting in the coming weeks, and finishing after Christmas break. I have a great deal of technology at my disposal at my school, and intend to do the following:

To begin this course, students would look at the pictures or replicas of the actual Acts that the British forced upon the colonists. They would look at letters and diary entries from colonists reacting to the Acts. They would see photographs/cartoons depicting events and be asked to critically analyze them in the context of the time period. Students will be given the task of working in small groups to read the Quartering Act and think critically and collectively about how it would make them feel if they were colonists and they were forced to house a soldier from a country/ideology that they don't support. The same could be done for the Navigation Act (all trade/goods had to go to or through Britain): "What if you could only buy and sell goods to Wal-Mart?"

Key people would predominantly be taught through notes I create in Power Point, supplemented with letters, and other important documents that they have created. Photographs/pictures of those key people could be shown to help students create a visual image of the person for memory purposes. Students will also read about these people in their textbooks.

Key battles could be presented in several ways--namely through battle plans/battle maps and the memoirs of the generals who led the key battles. I would be able to teach the information through the eyes of those that were actually there, and because some of the battles were local, students would have a personal connection to the battles and the outcomes. Videos of reenactments could be viewed.

The actual documents--the Treaty of Paris, Articles of Confederation, Constitution--would be used to teach these topics/units. Memoirs of what it meant to those that signed the documents, how they felt about them, what their hopes were for the future of the nation.


Prior to beginning this unit, a pre-test will be administered to assess student's prior knowledge of primary source documents, as well as content related to the American Revolutionary War. Based on the data gathered from this pre-assessment, objectives will be written to provide goals for lesson plans designed to teach the necessary information/material. Throughout the unit, student learning will be monitored by asking content-specific questions. If students are unclear about specific facts or ideas, the material will be re-taught. As a final assessment, students will produce an essay that details several primary source documents, and how the experiences of their authors relate to the time period as a whole. Essays will be graded with a rubric, and students will be presumed masters of this content if they score 85% or higher on this final assessment.