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Teaching Guide

Teaching Colonial New England

Bonnets optional.


When teaching colonial New England, you need to take students back in time to when things were a little more dramatic than Red Sox/Yankees rivalries. (And yes, we know New York isn't in New England). Colonists had bigger fish to fry, like smallpox and alleged witches.

In this guide you will find

  • activities and resources exploring everyone's second-favorite trial, the Salem Witch Trial. (O.J. Simpson took over the top spot in the 1990s.)
  • assignments to help students experience the religious fervor of the time, like the fiery sermons of Jonathan Edwards.
  • literary connections to books like The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter.

There's no reason to feel like you're about to be burned at the stake. Our guide is all the magic you'll need.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

The Famous American Trials website has posted a very useful compilations of resources for the study of the Salem witch trials. These materials present several teaching opportunities. For example, the trial records with the testimony of several accused witches are posted; these could be used to reenact portions of the trials. A more challenging analytical exercise consists of exploring the roles played by various participants and building an analysis that emphasizes the convergence of various factors in determining historical outcomes.

  1. Direct your students to this page, where they can find short biographies of key players in the Salem witchcraft trials.
  2. Sort your students into small groups. Then suggest to your students that several people contributed to the events of 1692. Assign each group several individuals to research. Ask them to identify the part that each played in sustaining the hysteria. For example, how did the ministers provide the doctrinal background for these sorts of accusations? How did the judges lend credibility to the young girls' charges? What made each of the accused witches a plausible target?
  3. Collectively debrief the groups' work. Post on the board the key role played by each participant in the events.
  4. Have your students write a short analytical essay in response to the following statement:

The charges made by young girls were not enough, on their own, to send nineteen accused witches to the gallows in 1692. A number of people, including respected ministers and judges, contributed to this mass hysteria.

Instructions for Your Students

How did a handful of young girls with overactive imaginations manage to send nineteen people in to the gallows in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692? Why would an entire community listen to and act on their accusations? You will be writing a short essay in response to the statement below. You will be conducting the necessary research in class.

The charges made by young girls were not enough, on their own, to send nineteen accused witches to their deaths in 1692. A number of people, including respected ministers and judges, contributed to this mass hysteria.

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