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Teaching Guide

Teaching Colonial Virginia

Not just another tourist stop.

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Ah, Virginia: unintentionally supporting presidential assassination since 1865. Ever since it was founded, Virginia has had a long, confusing, contradictory history. It's up to you to untie the tangled ties that bind this state together, without everything unraveling at your feet.

Our main recommendation: don't stage a cockfight in class. We have a few other activities that would be more educational.

In this guide you will find

  • information on why Colonial Williamsburg is now a prime tourist destination.
  • assignments to help students to analyze the historical documents of runaway slaves, William Byrd, Samuel Davies, and many others.
  • essay questions exploring the sometimes baffling opposing political and racial views of the state's founding citizens.

Unlike Virginia's motto, ours is clear: we speak student. Let us join the conversation with your class.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

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

Objective: Whether it's going bowling, watching football, gathering for a couple rounds of pub trivia, or swing dancing, the activities we engage in during our "down time" are often the activities that help knit our communities of friends and the larger society together.  

In this activity, your students will explore the role played by social pastimes in strengthening class relations in Colonial Virginia while also reinforcing social hierarchies. They will then see if they can identify school activities that fill a similar sociological function and take things one step further by creating and pitching an idea for a new school event that does.

Length of Lesson: One class period.

Materials Needed:

Step One: Show your students the short slideshow on cockfighting posted in the Colonial Williamsburg site.

You might also show these additional images of cockfights in other locales:

Step Two: As they view the images, ask your students to think about the ways these events both united and differentiated people within colonial Virginia.

  • What social classes seem to be represented at the events?
  • To what extent are they there as equals?
  • How are social distinctions maintained?
  • What effect does an event like this have on social relations?
    • Do cockfights strengthen social relations?
      • Do they improve class relations?
      • Do they threaten or reinforce class relations?

Step Three: Next ask your students to identify contemporary social events or pastimes that fill a similar role.

  • What pastimes today bring Americans of all classes together?
  • Do these events serve both to unite and differentiate? Explain.

Step Four: Ask your students to identify a school activity that fills this same role—an event that brings the "classes" together while also differentiating between them. 

Whether they think of an example or not, ask them to design a new event that unites the four classes behind a common activity while also reinforcing the class "hierarchy." Students should take 15-20 minutes max to work in groups for this part, with the expectation that each group will present its event at the end of the class.

At a minimum, groups should come up with a name for their event, a basic summary of the event, and an explanation of how it accomplishes the task of uniting the school while reinforcing the class structure. Visuals are welcome if they're able to pull them together, but not necessary.

Step Five (Optional): If the groups are coming up with good ideas, give them a chance to take their ideas to the next level by spending more time developing both their ideas and their presentations. Then have them present their ideas—or the class's favorite idea—to another class, a school group, or your administrators. Who knows? They may create a new school tradition.

Instructions for Your Students

Objective: Whether it's going bowling, watching football, or playing video games, the activities we engage in during our "down time" are often the activities that help knit our communities of friends and the larger society together.  

In this activity, you'll explore the role played by social pastimes in Colonial Virginia. In addition to strengthening class relations, activities like gathering to watch cockfights also reinforced social hierarchies. 

After checking out some of the favorite pastimes of Colonial Virginians, you'll see if you can identify school activities that fill a similar sociological function. Finally, you'll take things one step further by creating and pitching a new idea for a new school event that does.

Step One: Take a look at the short slideshow on cockfighting posted in the Colonial Williamsburg site.

You might also check out these additional images of cockfights in other locales:

Step Two: As you view the images, think about the ways these events both united and differentiated people within colonial Virginia. 

  • What social classes seem to be represented at the events?
  • To what extent are they there as equals?
  • How are social distinctions maintained?
  • What effect does an event like this have on social relations?
    • Do cockfights strengthen social relations?
      • Do they improve class relations?
      • Do they threaten or reinforce class relations?

Step Three: Next, see if you can identify contemporary social events or pastimes that fill a similar role.

  • What pastimes today bring Americans of all classes together?
  • Do these events serve both to unite and differentiate? Explain.

Step Four: How about a school activity that fills this same role? Can you think of an event that brings the "classes" together while also differentiating between them?

Whether you come up with an example or not, your next task is to work in a small group to design a new event that unites the four classes behind a common activity while also reinforcing the class "hierarchy." You'll have15-20 minutes max to come up with your idea for an event, which you will present its event at the end of the class.

At a minimum, you should come up with a name for your event, a basic summary of the event, and an explanation of how it accomplishes the task of uniting the school while reinforcing the class structure. Visuals are welcome if you're able to pull them together, but not necessary.

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING COLONIAL VIRGINIA?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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