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We The People: A HistoryWe-The-People-A-History

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): K-8
  • |
  • Duration: 1-2 class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • Identify the reasons the colonies fought the American Revolution.
  • Describe the meaning of "taxation without representation."
  • Explain why the colonies were so angered by British-imposed taxes


  • We the People: A History program
  • Small candies (15?20 small pieces for each student)
  • Disposable cups, one per student
  • Chart paper
  • Black marker
  • Writing paper
  • Pencils and erasers


  1. Discuss the reasons that American colonies fought the Revolutionary War.  Why did they want independence from Britain? Do you think that Britain was right to tax the colonies on paper, tea, and other goods?
  2. Introduce the phrase "taxation without representation" and explain that this slogan was a rallying cry used by colonists seeking independence from Britain. Ask students: What does the slogan mean? Talk about the pros and cons of life in colonial America. For example, the colonists enjoyed a great deal of freedom because they were governed from afar, but the taxes imposed by the British angered them.  They felt exploited because no on in the British government represented their interests.
  3. Tell the class that they are going to play a game about taxation. Choose two students to act as British tax collectors, one as a Member of Parliament, and one as King of England. All other students will be colonists. As a class, brainstorm some taxes that could exist in a classroom situation, possibly a tax on books, pens, or pencils or a tax on tardiness.
  4. The tax collectors, Parliamentarian, and king will decide on 10?12 taxes to enact. Have these students write their list on a piece of chart paper that will be displayed in the classroom. Instruct them to include a tax on noise so students remain quiet during the lesson.
  5. When the list is complete, give each student a cup of candy. Explain that the British tax collectors will collect taxes from all the colonists. Read through the list of taxes and tell students that the tax collectors will collect one piece of candy for each item on the list. If students have a pencil, they must pay the pencil tax with one piece of candy. If they do not have a pencil, they do not pay the tax. Any student found talking too loudly must pay a tax of one piece of candy.
  6. Ask the king and Parliament member to stand in the front of the room, observing while one collector takes taxes from half of the students and the other takes taxes from the other half. If a student refuses to pay a tax, have the collector escort that person to a  "jail" in a corner of the room and take the entire cup of candy. Instruct the tax collectors to keep 10 percent of the candy they collect, give 40 percent to the Parliament member, and 50 percent to the king.
  7. After the taxes have been collected and divided, have students count how much candy they have. Tell them that they will keep only this amount. How many pieces of candy do most of the colonists have? How many pieces of candy do the tax collectors have? How about the Parliamentarian and the king?
  8. Ask students to talk about how the activity made them feel. Who feels upset and why? Are they angry that they lost pieces of candy? Is it fair that the king has so much? Were the taxes fair? What happened to a colonist who did not pay a tax? Was there a way to make the taxes fair? If so, how? In what ways did this activity resemble the taxation system in colonial America?
  9. Tell students to write a one-page essay about the activity, addressing the following.
    • What was your role in this activity? How did it make you feel?
    • In what ways were the taxes fair or unfair? Was there a way to make the taxes fair for all? If so, how?
    • How was this activity similar to what happened in colonial America before the Revolutionary War?
    • What were the colonists fighting for in their battle to become independent?
    • Do you think the colonists were justified in their anger toward the British? Why or why not? Explain fully the phrase "taxation without representation."

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points:  Students wrote thoughtful essays that clearly identified the reasons for the American Revolution, clearly and correctly described the phrase "taxation without representation," and clearly explained why the colonists were so angered by British taxes.
  • Two points:  Students wrote somewhat thoughtful essays that adequately identified the reasons for the American Revolution, adequately and somewhat correctly described the meaning of "taxation without representation," and adequately explained why the colonists were so angered by British taxes.
  • One point:  Students wrote incomplete essays that did not identify the reasons for the American Revolution, did not describe the meaning of "taxation without representation," and did not explain why the colonists were so angered by British taxes.

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Definition: A region politically controlled by a distant country; a dependency
Context: Seeing Spain grow rich from American colonies, France, the Netherlands, and England sought to establish their own colonies.

Definition: Government by the people; exercised directly or through elected representatives
Context: The government of Athens in ancient Greece was a democracy.

Definition: An individual or collective gesture or display of disapproval
Context: Taxes imposed by Britain sparked angry protests.

Definition: One that serves as a delegate or agent for another; a member of a governmental body, usually legislative, chosen by popular vote
Context: A representative from each of the 13 colonies gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the Second Continental Congress.

Definition: The income of a government from all sources appropriated for the payment of the public expenses
Context: The Stamp Act required every piece of paper, from pamphlets to playing cards, to display a revenue stamp.

Definition: A contribution for the support of a government required of persons, groups, or businesses within the domain of that government
Context: A document known as the Magna Carta put restrictions on an English king's power and rights to tax the English people.

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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,click here.
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Historical Understanding: Understands the historical perspective.
  • U.S. History - Era 3: Revolution and a New Nation: Understands the causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in shaping the revolutionary movement, and reasons for American victory; Understands the impact of the American Revolution on politics, the economy, and society.
  • U.S. History - Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States: Understands the rise of the American labor movement and how political issues reflected social and economic changes.

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 The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has developed national standards to provide guidelines for teaching social studies. To view the standards online, click here.
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Culture
  • Individual Development and Identity
  • Power, Authority, and Governance
  • Civic Ideals and Practices
  • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

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