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The Jamestown Experiment

Grade Level: 8th Grade  

Subject: Social Studies / History  

Duration: 2 class periods (90 minutes each)


Students will understand the historical significance of the Jamestown settlement. They will explore the challenges faced by early settlers and the impact of their decisions. Students will engage in a role-playing activity to simulate the experience of the Jamestown colonists. They will analyze primary and secondary sources related to Jamestown.


  • Copies of primary source documents (e.g., excerpts from John Smith's writings, letters from settlers)

  • Maps of Jamestown and surrounding areas

  • Chart paper, markers, and sticky notes

  • Desired roles and scenarios for the role-play activity (suggestions below)

  • Internet access for research

  • Journals for reflection


  • Understand the historical context and significance of early American settlements.

  • Analyze primary and secondary sources to understand historical events.

  • Engage in collaborative activities to simulate historical experiences.

Note to Instructors: This lesson plan provides a fun and interactive way for 8th graders to learn about the Jamestown settlement, engaging them in role-playing, critical thinking, and collaborative activities.

Lesson Plan Day 1: Introduction to Jamestown

1. Introduction and Hook (10 minutes)

Show: Play a short video clip or animation about the founding of Jamestown in 1607.

Discuss: Talk about the essential question: "What challenges did the Jamestown settlers face, and how did they overcome them?"

2. Direct Instruction (20 minutes)

Say: Provide a brief lecture on the history of Jamestown, covering key topics:

  • Reasons for establishing the colony

  • The Virginia Company and the Journey to the New World

  • Early challenges: food shortages, disease, conflicts with Indigenous peoples

  • Important figures: John Smith, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe

Do: Use maps and visuals to enhance understanding.

3. Primary Source Analysis (20 minutes)

Do: Distribute excerpts from primary source documents related to Jamestown.

Say: In pairs, students will analyze the documents using guiding questions (e.g., What challenges are described? What solutions are proposed?). Each pair will present their findings to the class.

4. Group Activity: Planning a Colony (30 minutes)

Do: Divide students into small groups and provide chart paper and markers. Assign each group the task of planning a new colony. They must decide on key aspects such as location, supplies, leadership, and strategies for survival. Each group presents their colony plan, explaining their choices and how they would address potential challenges.

5. Reflection (10 minutes)

Do: Have students write a journal entry reflecting on the day's activities and what they learned about the Jamestown settlers' experiences.

Lesson Plan Day 2: The Jamestown Role-Play Experiment

1. Review and Introduction to Role-Play (10 minutes)

Discuss: Briefly review key points from the previous lesson.

Do: Introduce the role-playing activity: students will simulate life in the Jamestown colony, making decisions and facing challenges as early settlers.

2. Role Assignment and Scenario Setup (20 minutes)

Do: Assign roles to students (e.g., colonists, leaders, Indigenous peoples, members of the Virginia Company). Set up the classroom to represent different areas of the Jamestown settlement.

3. Role-Playing Activity (40 minutes)

Do: Present the first scenario: "Arrival in Jamestown." 

  • Students must decide how to allocate resources, build shelters, and establish relations with Indigenous peoples.

  • Move through a series of scenarios (e.g., food shortages, conflicts, trade opportunities) over the course of the role-play, allowing students to make decisions and react to events.

  • Facilitate the role-play by guiding discussions, introducing new challenges, and ensuring active participation from all students.

4. Debrief and Discussion (20 minutes)

Discuss: Conduct a class discussion to debrief the role-play activity. Ask questions such as:

  • What challenges did you face, and how did you address them?

  • How did your character's perspective influence your decisions?

  • What did you learn about the experiences of the Jamestown settlers?

Say: Encourage students to compare their experiences with historical accounts from primary sources.

5. Assessment and Reflection (10 minutes)

Do: Distribute a reflection prompt: "What was the most significant challenge for the Jamestown settlers, and what could have been done differently?"

Discuss: Talk as a class about the lessons we can learn from the Jamestown settlement. 

Do: Collect reflections and assess participation in the role-play activity.

 Assessment Ideas:

  • Participation in group activities and discussions.

  • Analysis and presentation of primary source documents.

  • Creativity and thoughtfulness in the colony planning activity.

  • Engagement and decision-making during the role-play simulation.

  • Quality of journal entries and reflection paragraphs.

 Additional Learning:

  • Research project on a specific individual or event related to Jamestown.

  • Creative writing assignment imagining a day in the life of a Jamestown settler.

  • Field trip to a local historical site or museum with exhibits on early American settlements.

Written by Rachel Jones
Education World Contributor
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