Teaching Students About the First Great Awakening


The First Great Awakening was a period of religious revival that swept through the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. The movement was marked by widespread enthusiasm for religious experience and an increase in new Protestant denominations. Teaching students about the First Great Awakening is essential, as it played a significant role in shaping the cultural and political landscape of early America. In this article, we will explore effective methods to engage students in learning about this important historical event.

Setting the Context

Begin with a brief introduction to colonial America, including a discussion of the religious and sociopolitical climate of the time. Explain how European settlers brought their religious traditions with them across the Atlantic, leading to diverse religious practices in the colonies. Additionally, introduce students to prominent figures of the First Great Awakening such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley.

Exploring Primary Sources

Incorporating primary sources such as sermons, letters, and diaries can promote a deep understanding of the First Great Awakening. Discussing these documents with students allows them to hear from individuals who experienced this period firsthand. Encourage students to analyze these sources for themes of spiritual renewal, individualism, and emotionalism.

Enlivening History through Multimedia

Incorporate multimedia resources such as videos or podcasts featuring historians discussing different aspects of the First Great Awakening. These sources can provide additional perspectives and insights into this period’s religious impact on American colonial life.

Engaging Students through Role-Play

Role-playing activities can be an engaging way to teach students about this historical event. Assign groups of students different roles within a community impacted by the First Great Awakening – ministers, converts, skeptics, and everyday citizens. Have them enact situations that might have taken place during this period to foster discussion about how people were affected by this religious revival.

Exploring the First Great Awakening’s Legacy

The First Great Awakening significantly impacted American social and political culture, ultimately leading to the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century. Discuss with students how the shift towards more emotional and individualistic religious practices influenced attitudes about democracy and contributed to the foundation of the United States. 


Teaching students about the First Great Awakening is an important opportunity to provide a comprehensive understanding of significant cultural, religious, and political movements in early America. By fostering discussions on primary sources, using multimedia resources, engaging in role-play activities, and exploring the movement’s legacy, educators can help students gain a well-rounded perspective on this key historical event.

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