Unit Title: Interpreting the Past – The Case of the “Bloody Massacre” Designed by: Fran O’Malley Director, Delaware Social Studies Education Project

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Check for Understanding:

3-2-1: Ask students to work with a partner to identify…

3 – causes of the tensions between colonists and British authorities.

2 – reasons why someone might arrive at different conclusions about the same event.

1 – question they still have about the “Boston Massacre.”

Strategy 3: Extending and Refining
Concept Formation

A baseline definition of the term massacre will serve as a basis for deciding whether the events of March 5, 1770, meet the criteria for a massacre. Students will consider and refine this concept during the mock trial of Captain Preston and the analysis of the Pelham-Revere cartoon.

Write the word “massacre” on the board. Ask students to think about the most important question a person should ask if their assignment is to define the term “massacre.”

For example, if asked to define the term “scholar,” a person might begin with the question—does a person have to study late at night to be a scholar? Or, does a person have to get good grades to be a scholar? Or, does a person have to be a researcher to be considered a scholar?

Ask the students to write down their question, and then a definition of massacre that flows logically from their questions.

Have a few students share their questions and definitions. Ask:

  • Did all of the students ask the same questions?

  • Did their questions lead to similar or different definitions?

Refine definitions: Raise the following questions with the students—these questions will come into play when students decide whether a “massacre” actually occurred on March 5, 1770. Be sure to record different responses where everyone can see:

  1. What is the minimum number of people who would have to be killed in order for a killing to be classified as a “massacre”?

  2. Must the killing be unprovoked in order for an event to be considered a “massacre”?

  3. Must the killing involve horrible acts of violence?

  4. Can a “massacre” occur if both sides in the killing (killers and victims) are armed?

  5. Is the ratio of victims to killers an important consideration in defining a “massacre”?

  6. Must the killings be indiscriminate in order for an event to be considered a “massacre”?

Provide time for students to revise their original definitions. Tell them to keep their definition in mind as they proceed through the activities that follow.

Check for Understanding:

Why do the questions you ask matter? Support your explanation with an example other than the ones discussed in the previous activity.


2 – This response gives a valid explanation with an accurate and relevant example.

1 – This response gives a valid explanation with an inaccurate, irrelevant, or no example.

Strategy 4: Extending and Refining
Reading in the Content Area – Selective Underlining or Highlighting

Have students work with a reading buddy to read the “Statement of the Case” (Appendix 1). Ask them to focus on the following overarching questions:

  • Should Captain Preston have been charged with a crime and put on trial?

  • Did the colonists get what they deserved?

  • What evidence serves as the basis for your conclusion?

Discussion: discuss these questions with the whole class after the students read the Statement of the Case.

Note to Teacher: The Statement of the Case is a lengthy but very important reading that offers details students will draw upon throughout the unit. Consider assigning 1-2 paragraphs at a time, pausing to have students summarize or focus attention on what appears to be unimportant details without clueing (e.g., snow on ground—could cause people to slip; moonlight—offers advantages to witnesses; people shouting “fire”). You might also consider having students use a marker or pencil to underline key statements and circle key words that help answer the questions.

Optional Activity: “G1T1” (Give One, Take One) – A list of “to know” questions relating to the Statement of the Case is offered as Appendix 1b. Have students answer the questions in chunks as they read. Then allow one-half of the class (management in mind) to walk around and give and take one answer with any other standing or sitting student. Then switch and let the other half walk around if there are still unanswered questions.

Check for Understanding

Suggest 2 different questions that someone might ask about March 5, 1770, that would lead to different conclusions. What conclusions might follow from each question?


2 – This response gives an appropriate question with an accurate and relevant conclusion.

1 – This response gives an appropriate question with an inaccurate, irrelevant, or no conclusion.

Strategy 5: Extending and Refining
Role-Play - Perspectives in the Fishbowl

Select six students to play the roles of John Adams; Abigail Adams; John Adams, Jr.; Mr. James Forrest; Samuel Adams; and James Otis (distribute the role descriptions in Appendix 4. Seat the 6 role-players in a circle in the center of the room (the “fishbowl”). Other students should sit in a larger circle outside the center circle listening and looking into the fishbowl.

The scenario begins with Mr. James Forrest entering the home of John Adams with a plea that Adams serve as the attorney for Captain Preston who is now charged with homicide as a result of the deaths of the 5 colonists on the night of March 5, 1770. At this point, Preston cannot find an attorney to defend him. The role-players are to convince Adams that he should or should not take the case. Encourage each student to begin with a question to Adams (e.g., Mrs. Adams might ask, “Do you realize what might happen to your law practice if you defend a British soldier”? James Forest might ask, “How can you demand rights for colonists while denying them to others”?).

Have students compile a list of questions (see chart below) that might lead John Adams to different conclusions.

Questions raised that encouraged John Adams to defend Captain Preston

Questions raised that discouraged John Adams from defending Captain Preston

Ask volunteers to share their questions with the rest of the class. Alternate between questions that might lead Adams to defend Captain Preston and ones that would discourage him from doing so.

Check for Understanding

Draw a web that contains the words conclusion, question, and perspective and that uses arrows to show how one flows from the other. Then, provide an example of each in the vicinity (e.g., below, beside) of each word.

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