Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Colonial Broadsides and the American Revolution

Created September 22, 2010


The Lesson


Colonial Broadsides: Image of broadside

A colonial broadside, a one-page, one-sided "newspaper" page meant to be hung on walls and posts.

Gutenberg printed his first in 1454. They are still printed today. They are broadsides: notices written on disposable, single sheets of paper printed on one side only, intended to have an immediate impact on readers.

Broadsides did have an impact in colonial America. They delivered the latest news and much more: government proclamations, public service announcements, opinion papers, advertisements, and entertainment updates. Broadsides address virtually every aspect of the American Revolution, providing a wide range of suitable classroom topics. In this lesson, students will use the resources of the Library of Congress's Printed Ephemera Collection to experience the news as the colonists heard it.

Note: Culminate your study of events leading to the American Revolution in the complementary EDSITEment lesson, Colonial Broadsides: A Student-Created Play.

Guiding Questions

  • In what ways can you connect broadsides to events leading to the American Revolution?
  • What various attitudes and political positions are revealed in the broadsides?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to

  • List important events leading to the American Revolution in chronological order
  • Discuss the connections between broadsides and the American Revolution

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Either this lesson or Colonial Broadsides: A Student-Created Play would work well as a culminating activity for a class studying the causes of the American Revolution.
  • An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera, available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, offers an Introduction to An American Time Capsule, featuring excellent background information on broadsides and other printed ephemera.
  • Concerning the broadside No Stamped Paper to be had, available on American Memory, the Introduction to An American Time Capsule states: "Revolutionary leaders used widely circulated newspaper extras to publicize colonial solidarity and encourage future concerted efforts against British measures. 'No Stamped Paper to be had' reports a variety of colonial efforts intended to force the repeal of the hated Stamp Act of 1765, including Boston printers vowing to continue printing papers without stamps, New York and Philadelphia merchants resolving not to import British goods, New Jersey freemen declaring that they would ignore the act and all who support it, and public hangings of the effigy of the stampman in Halifax and the effigy of the Lt. Governor in New York."
  • Review the interactive timeline The Coming of Independence: Key Events from the EDSITEment resource Learner.org. Notice that this timeline offers much more than a list of events; you can access useful introductory secondary texts for virtually every event on the timeline with a single click on the T symbol in the right-hand column. Select the events you want to emphasize with your class.
  • If desired, set up a large-scale timeline in the classroom on which students can post broadsides.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Colonial Broadsides and the American Revolution
  1. If desired, begin with a review of important events prior to the American Revolution. Share the timeline The Coming of Independence: Key Events from the EDSITEment resource Learner.org. Students can explore the links to additional information and documents.
  2. Share with the class the broadside No Stamped Paper to be had from the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory. (NOTE: Click the thumbnail for access to the full text as well as higher quality images.)
  3. Discuss what can be learned from this broadside about the Stamp Act and the colonists' reaction to the Stamp Act:

  • Why does the broadside begin with the story of the hanging in effigy of a stampman?
  • What different locations are mentioned in the broadside? Why?
  • What sorts of actions does the broadside report? Why?
  • Why does the section from New York on November 4th bother to mention that the crowd stopped at the coffee house?
  • What attitudes about the king are expressed? What do they reveal about the state of the rebellion?
  • What attitudes about bureaucrats are expressed? What do they reveal about the state of the rebellion?
  • What sorts of people are described as taking action against the Stamp Act? Why did they take action? Why are they mentioned?
  1. With this background, your students are ready to go on an online scavenger hunt, searching in small groups for broadsides that relate to events on the timeline at The Coming of Independence: Key Events, from the EDSITEment resource Learner.org.

    How your students search will depend on your goals. For a chronological approach, search by date -- "1774," for instance, returns 50 possible broadsides. Remind students that, because of technological limits on communication and transportation, events on a particular date may not be reacted to until quite a bit later—even the next year. Searching by location ("Boston") or keyword may also be especially useful. A search for "tea," for example, uncovers 32 broadsides. Your curricular goals should guide decisions about whether a broadside is relevant; in any case, students should always be required to prepare evidence showing how any particular document connects to an event.

    If your students have adequate access to computers, you might assign each small group of students one or more historical event on the timeline for which to find a relevant broadside. They can print out a copy, present it to the class, and affix it to a large timeline for display. In classes without access to computers, the teacher can print out full text (modern typeset) and colonial versions of the broadsides and after student groups pick at random, they can analyze one or more broadsides, present to the class, and then place the colonial version on the timeline.


    1. Selecting a broadside when browsing or searching leads you to a bibliography page. Clicking on the thumbnail on the bibliography page leads to the image page. The image page offers one-click access to higher quality digitized copies of the original (.jpg and TIFF files), bibliographic information, and a full text version of the broadside. Access to the full text (modern typeset) version is found in the heading. URLs provided in this lesson lead to the image page.
    2. Decide ahead of time if students should download and/or print a copy of the broadsides or simply compile a list of URLs for documents noted by students as connected to important events. If you will be posting the documents, you will need at least one hard copy of each.
    3. Have each group locate An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera on the EDSITEment resource American Memory. Familiarize students with the functions—"Search" by keywords, or "Browse" by Author, Title, Genre, or Geographic Location of Printing.
    4. Allow an equal amount of time for each group to work.
    5. If it is impractical for your students to search online, a selected, briefly annotated list of broadsides with connections to the American Revolution is available as a downloadable PDF.
  2. Once each group has connected an event and a broadside, its members should carefully record the name of the document and the URL of its higher quality image. If students have access to a word-processing program (such as MS Word), they can cut and paste titles and URLs to create a document.

    If desired, a Broadside Analysis Worksheet is available to help students examine a particular broadside. This worksheet is based on the Written Document Analysis Worksheet from the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom. Make sure students understand that they will not necessarily be able to fill in every item for every broadside. For example, some broadsides do not reveal the author.

    As a class, proceed from event to event on the timeline. For each event, give groups a chance to suggest related broadsides; a spokesperson should explain the connection. If practical, post the broadside. Brief, pertinent portions of the broadside could be read aloud, but not the entire document. A sample of selected broadsides placed along a timeline is available as a downloadable PDF.

  3. Finally, as a class, consider the broadsides once more from a different perspective-unconnected from specific events. Ask students to identify broadsides on the timeline that
    1. Demonstrate how information was circulated among the colonies
    2. Show actions colonists took to protest British policies
    3. Demonstrate actions authorities took against protesting colonists
    4. Provide evidence of the attitudes of those supporting the Crown and those protesting
    5. Indicate how long protesting colonists remained loyal to King George III

Extending The Lesson

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Historical analysis
  • Textual analysis
  • Using archival documents
  • Using primary sources
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets
Student Resources