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Foundations Of American GovernmentFoundations-Of-American-Government

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • Learn the traditional view of what happened during the Boston Massacre.
  • Research different perspectives of this event.
  • Have a class debate, with one side arguing that the event was a massacre and the other arguing that the American colonies provoked the British to further their own agenda.



  1. Have students view "The Story Behind the Boston Massacre" segment of the Foundations of American Government program .
  2. Briefly discuss the traditional viewpoint of the Boston Massacre: With little or no provocation, the British opened fire on unarmed colonists, an event often thought of as the first incident of the Revolutionary War.
  3. Then review what students saw in the program: Eyewitness accounts, such as testimony from the trial of the British commander and his soldiers and modern-day forensic evidence have historians reexamining the traditional account of the Boston Massacre. Ask students to list some of the questions historians are now asking. Answers may include the following:
    • Did the British really shoot for no reason?
    • Were the colonists, in fact, armed?
    • Did the colonists provoke the British soldiers?
  4. Divide students into two groups and explain that they are going to stage a debate about the Boston Massacre. Assign one group the position that the British opened fire on the colonists with little or no provocation. Assign the other group the position that the Americans provoked the British, who then acted in self-defense.
  5. Refer students to the following sites, where they can gather information to support their arguments.
  6. Give students time in class to prepare for the debate. Remind them to draft an opening statement and to think about the points they want to make in their closing arguments.
  7. During the next class period, have students hold a debate. Make sure both sides have ample time to respond to the other side's arguments and to make their closing statements.
  8. Conclude with a classroom discussion. Which side do students think had the more compelling arguments? Why was the Boston Massacre an important event in American history? What did the American colonies and the British learn from this incident?

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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 group discussions; researched their topic and were well prepared for the debate; presented clear, well-thought and accurate arguments during the debate.
  • Two points:  Students participated in class and group discussions; researched their topic adequately and were reasonably well prepared for the debate; presented satisfactory arguments during the debate.
  • One point:  Students participated minimally in class and group discussions; did not research their topic thoroughly and were not well prepared for the debate; presented unsatisfactory arguments during the debate.

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John Adams
Definition: A patriot who also served as the lawyer for Captain Preston, commander of the British troops during the Boston Massacre
Context: John Adams was a masterful lawyer, and his persuasive arguments were one of the main reasons that Captain Preston was not found guilty of murder.

Crispus Attucks
Definition: Considered one of the leaders of the American colonists involved in the Boston Massacre; he was killed during the event.
Context: The history books claim that Crispus Attucks' blood was the first spilled in the cause of America's liberty.

Boston Massacre
Definition: The event that took place outside the State House on March 7, 1770, during which five colonists died and three were wounded
Context: Historians are still debating whether, during the Boston Massacre, the British soldiers opened fire for no reason or acted in self-defense.

Captain Preston
Definition: The commander of the British troops during the Boston Massacre
Context: Acoustical studies done by present-day engineers indicate that because Captain Preston had his back to his troops during the shooting, it was highly unlikely that they would have heard an order to fire even if he had given it.

Paul Revere
Definition: A patriot, artist, and silversmith; he produced an engraving that was thought to be the definitive statement about the Boston Massacre.
Context: Paul Revere's engraving, which shows the British soldiers lined up shooting the colonists, has been effective in conveying a particular point of view about the Boston Massacre.

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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 viewing skills and strategies to understand and 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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