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Patriots Day | Primary Source

Suggestions for Active Learning

The film Patriots Day and this companion Web site offer insights into topics in American history including ways of understanding the past, the relationship between the history of an individual and the history of an era, experiencing local history, the American Revolution, the birth of American democracy, military preparedness and the right to bear arms, war news reporting, and more. Use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: history, economics, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


  1. If you could be a reenactor for any historical event or era, what would you choose? Make your selection, then decide whether you want to be an actual individual (such as Abigail Adams) or a member of a group (such as a medieval knight). Then research the time period and/or person you have chosen to find out as much as you can about him or her -- what clothes you would wear, what food you would eat, what tools, weapons, etc. you would use, what sort of educational and religious background you would have, and so on. Show the class what you have learned by giving the class a five-minute presentation in which you assume the character you have chosen.

  2. What if Paul Revere and William Dawes had not made their rides to Lexington and Concord to warn the countryside of the British Regulars' approach? How would American history have turned out differently, or would there even be such a thing as "American" history? Working in groups of two or three, formulate your own answer to this question and then present it to the class.

    Your presentation can take any one of a number of forms. For example, you could create two timelines side by side, one listing major events starting in 1775 as they actually happened and the other one listing events that might have happened if Revere and Dawes hadn't ridden that night. Alternatively, you might write and act out a short skit involving well-known figures from American history, showing how their lives might have been different if Revere and Dawes hadn't ridden. Another possibility would be to write a news story for a newspaper or radio broadcast describing some event that might have occurred if Revere and Dawes hadn't ridden. Your presentation can be set at any point in time from April 19, 1775 to the present.


  1. The phrase "No taxation without representation!" expresses the belief among many colonists that the British Parliament had no right to impose taxes on them since they had no voting representatives in Parliament. Working with a partner, answer the following questions on this issue, using material from the essay on events ;eading to the American Revolution and other sources. (a) What specific kinds of taxes created opposition from colonists? (b) How did the British government justify imposing those taxes on the colonists? (c) Why weren't the colonies represented in Parliament? (d) If the colonies had been represented in Parliament, do you think the American Revolution would have occurred? Explain your reasoning.

  2. Take the "class" entitled Reenactor 101. Then, as a class, find out if there are any reenactor groups in your area. If there are, invite a representative of the group to visit your class and talk about the group's activities, including how it finances them. To prepare for this talk, research the historical period or event the group reenacts and your community's role in it. Use this information to prepare specific questions on the challenges the group faces in recreating "its" piece of history.


  1. In 1775, news of the events at Lexington and Concord spread to other regions by ship and horseback. If the same battle were fought today, people in North America and Britain would likely hear about the day's events as they occurred, in a series of television or radio "Special Reports" throughout the day from reporters accompanying both sides in the fighting. What might these reports be like?

    Divide the class into four groups. Three of the groups will act as reporters: one group will accompany the British troops, a second group will accompany the minutemen, and the third group will watch the fighting from a distance. (Each group, in turn, should divide up so that, for example, one reporter is with the minute men in Lexington and another reporter is with the minute men in Concord.) The fourth group should act as anchor persons and analysts in the television or radio studio, calling on the reporters in the field for information and asking them questions.

    Each group should prepare for its part in the broadcast by reviewing the events of the day using the description of what happened; the map of key places on April 18-19, 1775; the timeline; and other materials. When all groups are ready, the reporters in the studio should begin the broadcast by announcing a "Special Report" and then giving listeners or viewers the necessary context before calling on the reporters in the field. Groups also might want to review an essay on the day's aftermath and then discuss during the last of the "Special Reports" the question of how each side might attempt to "spin" the day's events -- in other words, shape media coverage of the events to its own advantage.

  2. Together as a class, read Longfellow's famous poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," which contains many striking images of Revere's famous journey that evening. Then read Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Condord Hymn," also memorializing the events of Patriots Day.

    On your own, draw a picture that either illustrates one of the images in the poems, or updates one of those images to the present day to show what Revere's ride or the conflict at Concord Bridge might look like if they occurred in April 2004 instead of April 1775. Post the pictures around the class, grouping them in chronological order from the start to the end of the events described in the poems. After reviewing the pictures, discuss as a class whether you think the events of Patriots Day would be as memorable if they took place today.


  1. Patriots Day isn't the only holiday that is celebrated in some states but not others. Find another example, from your state or another state. Then show it to your teacher for approval, to ensure that some other student hasn't chosen the same holiday. Once it has been approved, find out what it commemorates and what events usually take place on that holiday. Present your findings in the form of an illustrated poster.

    After everyone in the class has had a chance to review the posters, discuss as a class whether you think any of these state holidays -- including Patriots Day -- should be national holidays

  2. Read about the monute men. Then hold a class debate on the following question: Would the United States be better off today if it had a system of universal military service along the lines of the minute men instead of the current professional, all-volunteer force?

    Before beginning the debate, divide the class into groups to research various aspects of the issue, such as the Civil War-era draft riots, the history of the draft in the United States, why the draft was ended in the 1970s, how the armed forces have performed since switching to an all-volunteer force, and why some people have argued for the creation of a system of universal military service. Each group should brief the class on its findings through an oral presentation or by preparing and distributing fact sheets.

    Once groups have made their presentations, discuss the question as a class. List the arguments for and against the proposal on the board. When you are finished, vote on the proposal.

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