Driving Question

What is the justification/rationale for different populations in claiming early America?
Why is conflict inevitable between these groups?

Students will be assigned to represent different competing groups from 15th-18th century North American colonization.  Each group will be responsible for understanding their own group’s motives and culture and use this as a lens for predicting the claims and behaviors of that group during early colonization.

Unit Title:

The Americas – Survive and Thrive

For Students:

11th Grade


4-5 weeks


American Studies (AP US History and AP English Language)

Unit Launch

Students are divided into 8 separate cultural groups.  On the first day of the assignment, each group is given a folder of materials that represent some of the ideas, beliefs, and culture of their assigned group.

Group Identity Packet – African

Group Identity Packet – Iroquois

Group Identity Packet – Pueblo

Group Identity Packet – Puritans

Group Identity Packet – Southern Colonists

Group Identity Packet – Wampanoag



Meet and Greet – Recording Sheet

At this point, each group studies their documents and tries to glean what they can about their source culture.  Students are then asked to come up with a name that they would use for themselves and, after meeting with and exchanging information with the other 7 groups, names for the other group’s that they’ve met.

Naming Ceremony day 1

This naming exchange is introduced through the anecdote of early American Indian tribes seeing early Christians eating hard-tack and drinking wine, thus naming them “Eaters of Stone and Drinkers of Blood.”

Midpoint Check

Each week, the group is presented with a new aspect of a challenge faced by these early groups.  Some challenges are geographical, some political, some religious, etc. As students attempt to answer how their respective groups would face these challenges, they assess the progress of the class’s discussion, understanding of the era, and expertise on their own cultural group.  In conjunction with these weekly challenges, new primary documents from the era are introduced to provide further background on different cultural groups connected with the week’s challenge.  Through class analysis of these documents, students gain understanding of various groups other than their own as the project progresses.

Culminating Experience

The culminating project is a “Choices” style round table discussion/debate where students take the position of their tribe on the following question:

Can all groups survive and thrive in North America, or are some destined to have power at the expense of others?

From your perspective, what, if anything, can be done to avoid war between groups?

The Objectives for this culminating activity are:

  • Create Claims from group perspective about Political Power
  • Defend claims through use of primary and secondary documentation
  • Participate in a Socratic Seminar style discussion appropriately/actively
  • Demonstrate accurate historical knowledge with group claims
  • Demonstrate close reading interpretive skills of documents through evidence selection
Differentiation (e.g. Special Education, English Language Learners)

Because the final product is a discussion, there is no sample to be shared at this point.

In addition to this discussion, students also take an AP style multiple choice exam for the eras covered in the unit, and complete a style analysis essay of one of the primary documents read by the class.

Teacher Reflection

Here’s what I really enjoy about this unit:

  • good balance of student-driven activity and teacher led understanding building to those student-directed items.
  • varied representation of groups present in early colonial America
  • contemporary connections to authors from some of the non-European groups and their written perspective on this era.

Here’s what I’m still working on making better about this unit:

  • Checking for deeper/accurate understanding of the assigned cultural group before the different challenges
  • activities to help with the above
  • pacing
  • finding good primary/secondary documents for some of the Native American groups to use with the whole class
  • Weekly challenges that feel meaningful/applicable to ALL the cultural groups
Student Reflection

Here’s what I really enjoy about this unit:


Here’s how this unit could help me learn more effectively:

Outside Expert Reflection

Here’s how this unit connects really well to my work:


Here’s where I think there are opportunities for growth:

Authentic Problem

Students examine the nature of cultural conflict and the root causes for cultural misunderstanding.

Authentic Assessment

Students take on the persona of an early group found in North America and must decide how to react and interact with other cultural groups based on values and norms.

Student Voice

Individual student groups become experts on their given cultural group, acting as experts for the rest of the class as instructors about their assigned group.

Culturally Responsive Instruction

Groupings focus equally on underrepresented groups from the Colonial period.

Contemporary connections at the end of the unit ask students to consider how underrepresented groups view contemporary American in contrast.


Students work together in small groups to evaluate and understand the beliefs and motivations of their assigned cultural group as a whole class to negotiate decisions for group survival.

Academic Discourse

During discussion and deliberation over group decisions students employ historical vocabulary.

From AP US History Course Standards:

On a North American continent controlled by American Indians, contact among the peoples of Europe, the Americas, and West Africa created a new world. (Era 1)

  • Describe the wide variety of Native American social, political, and economic structures that existed before European arrival to the Americas. (Key Concept 1.1)
  • What were the impacts of the Columbian Exchange on the Atlantic World? (Key Concept 1.2)
  • How were the worldviews of Native Americans, Europeans and Africans challenged by increased contacts among each of these groups? (Key Concept 1.3)

Europeans and American Indians maneuvered and fought for dominance, control, and security in North America, and distinctive colonial and native societies emerged. (Era 2)

  • How did varying imperial goals, cultures and North American environments lead the Spanish, Dutch, French and English to have diverse patterns of colonization? (Key Concept 2.1)
  • How did European colonization stimulate new interactions and conflicts amongst the different European and Native peoples? (Key Concept 2.2)
  • How did increased exchange across the Atlantic shape the development of colonial societies in North America? (Key Concept 2.3)

From Common Core Standards


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.


Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.


Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2e Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2f Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).

About the Authors

Rob Hallock


Alicia Kallay


Kevin Kincaid


Rob Wood

I am the English Department Head for Sammamish High School in Bellevue Washington.  This is my 11th year teaching, all of those years with Sammamish.  My current job includes teaching 10th and 11th grade students in English literature, as well as co-teaching a class with our History department that looks at the historical, artistic, and literary history of the United States.  In my years of teaching I have also worked with struggling students, honors students, and students who are newly arrived to the United States and beginning to learn English as a new language.


The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.