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Teaching Guide

Teaching Jamestown & Early Colonial Virginia

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It seems like people used to just plop down wherever they wanted and name a place after someone. Jamestown. Georgetown. Williamsburg. Of course, there was always more to it than that, and we can help your students explore that early Colonial vision.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing key historical documents of the time period.
  • discussion questions on race, politics, and the economy.
  • historical resources on Virginia's neighbors to the north, Puritan New England, and on Spanish Colonization.

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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

Objective: Four centuries after she lived and died, Americans remain intrigued by Pocahontas. Her story and her image are still important parts of American folklore—so much so that she's become a Disney princess with her own doll

In this exercise, your students will analyze several images of Pocahontas and consider her role in American culture. They'll participate in a class discussion aimed at deconstructing her iconic status and then write a few paragraphs exploring how representative the life and legend of Pocahontas are of the historical Jamestown. 

Length of Lesson: One class period.

Materials Needed:

Images of Pocahontas, such as these:

Step One: Share the images below with your students. You may want to take a few minutes to scroll through them all first, without comments, and then revisit individual representations as you discuss the questions in Step Two.

Step Two: Remember those questions we mentioned in Step One? Here they are. You can use them to discuss the various representations of Pocahontas with your students. 

  • Which do you think is the most accurate representation of Pocahontas? Explain your choice. 
  • Judging from the images above, when did the manipulation/exploitation of her image begin?
  • What recurring themes or suggestions do you notice in the use of her image?
  • Are these treatments generally positive? Explain.
  • Is any other figure from Jamestown as recognizable?
  • Why has Pocahontas become such a central figure in the story of this colony?
  • Is there an analogous figure for Massachusetts Bay?

Step Three: Present your students with the prompt below and give them 10-15 minutes to respond to it in writing. 

Is the story of Pocahontas representative of the real history of Jamestown? Why or why not? (NOTE: This doesn't have to be an either/or answer. You may choose to explain both the ways in which her story does—and does not—represent historical Jamestown... if that's what you believe.)

Step Four: Give students a chance to share their thoughts and offer one another feedback.

Step Five (Optional): Have students revise their freewrites into polished mini-essays of 2-3 paragraphs. Or more.

Instructions for Your Students

Did Pocahontas look like this?

 How about this

In reality, she probably didn't look much like either of those people. Yet these images of Pocahontas pop up all over the place in 21st-century America. So why are Americans still so fascinated with the image of Pocahontas, a Native American woman who lived and died 400 years ago?

We're going to dive deep into that question today as you examine images of Pocahontas and analyze her continuing role as a historic (and pop-culture) icon.

Step One: Take a look at the images below with your classmates and teacher. You may want to take a few minutes to scroll through them all first, without comments, and then revisit individual representations as you discuss the questions in Step Two.

Step Two: Remember those questions we mentioned in Step One? Here they are. You can use them to discuss the various representations of Pocahontas with the rest of your class. 

  • Which do you think is the most accurate representation of Pocahontas? Explain your choice. 
  • Judging from the images above, when did the manipulation/exploitation of her image begin?
  • What recurring themes or suggestions do you notice in the use of her image?
  • Are these treatments generally positive? Explain.
  • Is any other figure from Jamestown as recognizable?
  • Why has Pocahontas become such a central figure in the story of this colony?
  • Is there an analogous figure for Massachusetts Bay?

Step Three: Read the prompt below and take 10-15 minutes to respond to it in writing. Don't worry about your punctuation, spelling, or grammar as you write. Just do your best to get as many of your ideas down on paper (or screen) as possible. 

  • Is the story of Pocahontas representative of the real history of Jamestown? Why or why not? (NOTE: This doesn't have to be an either/or answer. You may choose to explain both the ways in which her story does—and does not—represent historical Jamestown... if that's what you believe.)

Step Four: When everyone is done writing, you'll have a chance to share some of your ideas and hear what your classmates came up with. Be sure to volunteer something from your writing. And offer your peers some good feedback on theirs.

Step Five (Optional): If you wish—or if your teacher does—revise your response to the writing prompt into a polished mini-essay of 2-3 paragraphs. Or more. 

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING JAMESTOWN & EARLY 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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