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Holding Ground; Defending the Homeland- The American Revolution

Created by:
Katie DeRichie
Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District

Jim Erney
Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District

Greg Goodwin
Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District

Revolutionary War Games

Grade Level:
9 to 12


The purpose of this lesson is to demonstrate to students the difficulties the British faced in maintaining loyalty in the American colonies. Students will also consider the economic cost, military challenges, and changing morale of fighting a foreign war over several years.

Historical Context

As the American Revolution labored into the early 1780s, and battles moved westward, supplies, food, and weapons diminished, forcing the British to utilize the goods of American colonists. Consequently colonial attitudes toward the British began to shift in this region of the country. Colonists who had been previously indifferent to the war began to support the ideals of the Patriots in hopes of protecting their personal property.

A combination of international conflict, economic strains, and colonial willingness to continue battle forced England to reconsider their position on colonial independence. Eventually the British realized that the costs of war were greater than the potential gain. As a result, the British government entered into peace negotiations with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay representing the United States. The Treaty of Paris, signed in September 1783, officially ended hostilities, recognized American independence and made the Mississippi River the new nation's western border.


strategy, patriotism, independence, perseverance, negotiations, compromise

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

1. Recognize the challenges faced by an occupying country in maintaining control over its territories.

2. Compare the challenges faced by the British in the American Revolution to those faced by Americans in future military engagements in the 19th and 20th centuries.

3. Interpret a primary source to understand meaning and historical context.

4. Explore the role of strategy, chance, and risk in military engagement.


STANDARD 6.1 (Social Studies Skills) All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics.

STANDARD 6.2 (Civics): All students will know, understand and appreciate the values and principles of American democracy and the rights, responsibilities, and roles of a citizen in the nation and the world.

STANDARD 6.5 (Economics): All students will acquire an understanding of key economic principles.

STANDARD 6.6 (Geography): All students will apply knowledge of spatial relationships and other geographic skills to understand human behavior in relation to the physical and cultural environment.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Variety of different board games such as Monopoly, Shutes and Ladders, Parcheesi, etc.)

Materials for creating a board game (such as construction paper, scissors, markers, rulers, and tag board).

Game pieces representing two sides


Copies of letters from George Washington to Charles Cornwallis

Details of Activity

WARM UP/ENGAGEMENT (10 minutes): Teacher should write the following instructions on the board: Pretend you are a classroom teacher. As the classroom leader of 25 students what would your expectations be for your class? How would want them to behave, what would you want them to produce? In return, what would you do for your students? How would you maintain your control if your students no longer follow orders? What incentives do you offer to your students to make them want to follow your instructions? How, in other words, does a classroom teacher establish rules for behavior to encourage correct action and reward good behavior?

Students should spend about 10 minutes brainstorming and write responses to these questions.

FIRST ACTIVITY (35 minutes): The purpose of this activity is to use board games to explore the roles of risk, strategy and chance in historical events--in this case the American Revolution.

1. Have students study different game boards and identify different parts of the game, e.g., tokens, spinners, layout of squares or spaces, the content of squares or spaces, cards which are drawn to advance play, other game pieces such as dice, and so forth. Discuss the different goals of each game and how the goals are achieved.

2. Explain that playing games is one way of learning about the relative roles of strategy, risk, and chance. In this case, the game will teach you about how these factors influenced the American Revolution.

3. Next, discuss ways in which a board game might be able to teach information about the Revolution. Use the following questions, as well as any knowledge students already have about the Revolution to generate discussion:

How could the game board show the Revolutionary War events?

Who were some of the major people in the Revolution?

What kinds of tokens would be appropriate for this game?

Should there be some "provisions" or "rewards" available to the move the game along?

What kinds of positive or negative elements might be used to advance or delay a player as he or she tries to get to "independence"? Think of some positive elements (warning the people that the British were coming, finding food at Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware undetected) and some negative elements (having no shoes at Valley Forge, being captured by the British, getting lost on the way to Philadelphia).

4. Divide the class into five groups. First, each group should spend some time on the websites listed below, noting major events in the Revolutionary War. Then, assign to each group the task of researching a different perspective on those events, also using the websites listed below.

Suggested groups are:

Colonial Rebels -- Some colonists were more enthusiastic about the Revolution than others. The Sons of Liberty, for instance, were a group that did not hesitate to use violence if they thought it would help their cause. Do some research on the Sons of Liberty, as well as on Committees of Correspondence and other pro-rebellion groups.

Colonial Loyalists -- many in the colonies did not want to become independent of Britain. A large group was in Maryland, but there were many such groups scattered all over the colonies. What was their perspective, and what happened to them?

The British -- Of course, the British, from King George III, to his military commanders, to common citizens, thought that the colonists' ideas of independence were ridiculous and unheard of. What was their perspective based on?

African Americans -- there were some African Americans on each side of the conflict; what was their story?

Native Americans -- many Native American tribes had participated on both sides in the French and Indian War, which ended shortly before the Revolution. Who were some of the tribes and how did their positions differ?

In each case, ask students to find out what the names of some people in each group were, what the group believed about the Revolution, what events were important to them, what they did (or did not) do in terms of participating in the war. Each group should write a report to record their findings.

5. Next, challenge each group to develop a board game that reflects what they've learned about the War from the perspective they've taken. Remember that the final goal of the game may change, depending upon the perspective of the group being studied. For example, independence might very well not be the goal from the point of view of the British.

As an example, present "Falconland v. The Brave Empire," a simple card game using a deck of cards. Students begin by allocating various colonial cities between Falconland, the patriots trying to defend their territory and the Brave Empire, who seek to reassert control over what they see as colonial upstarts.

Each team begins with five cities. The objective of the game is to establish control over 90% of the cities (or 9 cities total).

Shuffle a deck of cards and cut them in half. The Brave Empire, as they were the original political power in the region, can chose the first city of engagement-- one controlled by Falconland.

Falconland will turn three playing cards face up, and the Brave Empire will turn one card face up. If the Brave Empire's card beats any of the three Falconland cards, they gain control of the city.

If the Brave Empire card is lower than all three of Falconland's cards, Falconland retains the city and gains the right to chose the next city of battle. At this next engagement, as the Brave Empire is now on the defense, they turn over three cards, and Falconland responds with one card. Again, if the Falconland card is higher than any of the three Brave Empire cards, they win the city; it is lower, they fail to win the city and lose the turn.

If the card turned over by the team on the offense ties the highest card in the defending team's set of three, then the turn should be played again (consider it a battle with no clear winner!

Play only for 7 minutes; at the end of that time, the Brave Empire must have acquired 90% of the cities to win; if not, they retreat in defeat.

6. When this model game of Falconland is complete, have the groups plan their own revolutionary war board game. If time permits, "trade around" these games so that that each group is playing another group's game.

SECOND ACTIVITY: After several rounds of play, engage students in a discussion of what they've learned. The following questions may serve to keep the discussion going:

Before you begin this lesson, what images about the Revolution came to mind? Where do you think you got those images?

What were the major events of the Revolution?

What role does risk play in war?

What about strategy or chance?

Practice and Reinforcement

Compare the events of the American Revolution to later military engagements. You might chose, for example, to have students read General Cornwallis' letter of surrender, which outlines the factors that contribute to the British defeat at Yorktown, and compare it with accounts of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan in daily newspapers. Ask students to bring relevant articles to class and read them in small groups for evidence of risk, strategy and chance.


In part adapted from a lesson plan presented on http://www.firstladies.org.

Web Links:
Model board game with links to the 5 groups above.

Letter of surrender by British General Cornwallis.

National Park history of the American Revolution.

For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here