Teaching Students About The English Colonies

The English Colonies hold an essential place in the history of the United States, and understanding their role in shaping modern America is crucial for students of all ages. With a thorough approach to teaching about the English Colonies, educators can deliver a comprehensive understanding of this critical historical period.

Begin with Pre-Colonial Background Information

To ensure a strong foundation for exploration, it is vital to provide students with background knowledge before delving deeper into their study. Teach your class about England’s reasons for establishing colonies in the New World, including religious freedom, economic opportunities, and control of valuable resources. These motivations can help establish an overarching narrative as students explore each individual colony.

Study Each Colony Individually

English colonies were uniquely complex and diverse in their founding principles, ethnic compositions, economic structures, and governance systems. To provide a complete understanding of the history of each colony, break them down into three regional groups: New England Colonies (Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire), Middle Atlantic Colonies (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York), and Southern Colonies (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia). A focus on each region will allow students to grasp individual characteristics as well as patterns among the colonies.

Incorporate Primary Sources

Students need a firsthand connection to the past for an immersive and engaging learning experience. Provide them with primary sources such as diaries, letters of residents, or colonial governors during that time. Consider studying the Mayflower Compact and contracts between workers and service merchants such as indentured servants.

Explore Diverse Perspectives

Teaching about the English colonies cannot solely focus on the lives and beliefs of European settlers; presenting diverse perspectives is crucial for accurate representation. Acknowledge Native Americans’ voices who resisted British colonization and educate students on African slavery experiences in the English Colonies.

Discuss Conflicts and Cooperation

Teaching about colonial times should extend beyond basic economics and politics. Discuss the social dynamics that shaped colonies’ development, such as the conflicts between Native Americans and settlers, collaboration among various European groups, or different cultural assumptions of colonists from distinct parts of England. These realities will help students understand the wide range of obstacles in establishing and maintaining colonial life.

Experiments in Governance

The foundation of American democracy can be traced back to colonial times. As students learn about each colony’s government, draw connections to the ways in which these systems influenced the United States’ modern political structure. Analyze the House of Burgesses and Mayflower Compact as early experiments in self-governance.


Teaching students about The English Colonies will provide them with a deeper appreciation of the complex history of the United States. By fostering an understanding of individual colonies, incorporating primary sources and diverse perspectives, exploring conflicts and cooperation, and analyzing experiments in governance, educators can create a well-rounded learning experience for their students.

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