The Boston Massacre (Grades 4–6)

by Sandra Trenholm
View the engraving The Bloody Massacre in King Street
in the Gilder Lehrman Collection by clicking here.

Unit Objective

This unit is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These units were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. The lessons are built around the use of textual and visual evidence and critical thinking skills.

Overview

Paul Revere, “The Bloody Massacre in King-Street, March 5, 1770.” Boston, 1770.

In this lesson, students will be asked to learn about the Boston Massacre and to analyze Paul Revere’s depiction of the event in the engraving The Bloody Massacre in King Street. This lesson will provide students with an opportunity to look at disparate representations of so-called historical facts surrounding a famous event and will also teach them to deliberate with their classmates in a cordial fashion.

Lesson 1

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of the content of Paul Revere’s print The Bloody Massacre in King Street. Students will analyze the visual components of the image as well as the text at the bottom, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate these skills by writing a succinct summary of the events as depicted in the document.

Objective

What really transpired on the night of March 5, 1770, in Boston? After completing this lesson students will be able to read and understand primary documents that are key to the Boston Massacre and the ensuing trials of the British troops and their captain. Students will be able to identify similarities and differences between primary source documents. As a class, students will be able to discuss the Boston Massacre to determine what they think actually occurred.

Introduction

On the night of March 5, 1770, American colonists attacked British soldiers in Boston, which led to the soldiers firing upon the crowd and killing five of the colonists. This event became known as the “Boston Massacre,” a rallying point for colonists against the stationing and quartering of British troops throughout the colonies and against the Townshend Acts, which the British soldiers had been deployed to enforce. Many different accounts of this encounter are extant as John Adams successfully defended the British soldiers in court and thus had to depose numerous witnesses.

Materials

Procedure

  1. The teacher will create critical thinking groups (CTGs) of three to five students that will work together throughout both lessons. Give careful consideration to how students are grouped. Tell students they will “read like a detective” in order to analyze documents for clues as to what really happened on March 5, 1770.
  2. Hand out the image of Paul Revere’s engraving The Bloody Massacre in King Street, and ask students to study the image for five minutes, discuss the image in their CTGs, and record their findings in their image organizers. Explain that art is often used to shape a person’s opinion about events or people. Many times the evidence in prints such as this one requires a careful “reading” of the image to decipher the message. Ask students to study the image for a few minutes and consider the questions below. (Use of a magnifying glass aids in the exploration of the image and is exciting for students, but is not necessary to complete the activity.)
  3. As a class, discuss the elements of the image. Use the bullet point list on the Featured Primary Source: Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770, to help point out hidden elements that students may have overlooked. Throughout the discussion, ask students: “Why do you think Paul Revere included that in the image?”
  4. The following questions can help students explore the document and spark class discussion:
    • What do you think is happening in this engraving?
    • What do you see that shapes your opinion or strikes you as being interesting?
    • Examine the faces of the people in the image. How would you describe the British soldiers? How would you describe the colonists?
    • How many signs are legible in the print? What do they say? Where are they located?
    • Are there any unexpected figures in the print (dog, woman) and why do you think they are there?
    • According to this engraving, who is at fault in this Massacre? How do you know?
  5. Hand out the transcript of the poem from the print. The teacher then “share reads” the poem with the students. “Share reading” is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English Language Learners (ELL).
  6. The teacher now leads the CTGs in identifying ten words that are necessary to the understanding of the document. These Key Words should express the essence of the document. For this first document the teacher should do a “think aloud” as the words are chosen and underline the words in the projected document. Students’ input in choosing these words is encouraged. (Example: Teacher gives rationale for choosing a word; students invited to agree/disagree and suggest other words and/or rationale.) This would also be a time when the teacher thinks out loud about the meaning of unfamiliar words and takes the opportunity to teach strategies for vocabulary development. The teacher records the chosen words on chart paper or in some other way that is visible to the whole group and can be saved as an artifact for future lessons. Students record the Key Words in their Summary Organizer. Students may need to do this for one or two paragraphs at a time, and summarize as they go. Modify the remaining steps as necessary.
  7. Once ten Key Words have been identified, the teacher crafts a summary statement as a “think aloud” using the Key Words selected from the document. Again, student input is encouraged. (Perhaps a student will have a more efficient way of stating the summary!) The teacher records the process for the whole group and archives the final summary statement on chart paper; students record the final summary statement in their notes.
  8. The teacher now restates the summary in his/her own words. Key Words may be included, but this step should represent original thinking. This step of the process is a great opportunity to check for understanding. Invite students to offer their summaries. A final summary determined by the class and the teacher is recorded on chart paper for the class and in the students’ organizers.
  9. To conclude the lesson and check for understanding, students complete a quick write to the following prompt: Write a summary newspaper article of the events of March 5, 1770, using evidence from Paul Revere’s engraving and the accompanying poem.

Lesson 2

Students will be asked to “read like a detective” and gain a clear understanding of the report by Captain Preston, who was in charge of the British troops involved in the Boston Massacre. Students will analyze the text, draw logical inferences, and demonstrate these skills by writing a succinct summary of the events as related in the document.

Objective

What really transpired on the night of March 5, 1770? After completing this lesson students will be able to read and understand primary documents that are key to the Boston Massacre and the ensuing trials of the British troops and their captain. Students will be able to identify similarities and differences between primary source documents. As a class, students will be able to discuss the Boston Massacre to determine what they think actually occurred.

Materials

Vocabulary

In this protocol the students are expected to encounter vocabulary they do not know. There are words in eighteenth-century texts that many adults do not know the meaning of as well. It would be overwhelming and self-defeating to give the definition for every unknown word when we are trying to create more independent learners. This is one of the reasons for having the students work in groups, so they can reason out the meanings of words in context. If the students are truly stuck, have them write down the words that are puzzling them and open those words up to a whole-class discussion. If the word is critical to the passage then provide the meaning, but only as a last resort.

Procedure

  1. Students will sit in their CTGs. In Lesson 2, students will be reading an excerpt from the report by Captain Preston, who was the officer in charge of the British troops. Tell students that today they will “read like a detective” to discover more about the events of March 5, 1770.
  2. The teacher then “share reads” the excerpt with the students.
  3. The teacher now leads the CTGs in identifying ten Key Words in each paragraph that are critical to the understanding of the document. For this first document the teacher should do a “think aloud” as the words are chosen and underline the words in the projected document. Students’ input in choosing these words is encouraged. This would also be a good time for the teacher to think out loud about the meaning of unfamiliar words and to teach strategies for vocabulary development. The teacher records the chosen words on chart paper, or some other way that is visible to the whole group and can be saved as an artifact for future lessons. Students record the Key Words in the Summary Organizer. Students may need to do this for one or two paragraphs at a time, and summarize as they go. Modify the remaining steps as necessary.
  4. Once ten Key Words have been identified, the teacher crafts a summary statement as a “think aloud” using the Key Words selected from the document. Again, student input is encouraged. (Perhaps a student will have a more efficient way of stating the summary!) The teacher records the process for the whole group and archives the final summary statement on chart paper; students record the final summary statement in their notes.
  5. The teacher now restates the summary in his/her own words. Key Words may be included, but this step should represent original thinking. This step of the process is a great opportunity to check for understanding. Invite students to offer their summaries. This summary is recorded on chart paper for the class and in the students’ notes.
  6. To conclude the lesson and check for understanding, students complete a quick write to the following prompt: Based on Captain Preston’s report, write a news article detailing the events of March 5, 1770.

Closure

As class discussion, ask students to describe some of the similarities and differences between the accounts. Which account do they think is most accurate? Why? Why would someone create an account that was not accurate? Which is more compelling evidence: an image or written text? Who was present during the event, Paul Revere, Captain Preston, or both?

Visit or hand out a print-out of The Boston Massacre page from the Boston History and Architecture’s website. Use this as a summary of what really happened. Have students revisit their opinions regarding the engraving and the testimony.

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