Life in the Thirteen Colonies


Designed for 4th through 6th grade students, this lesson describes what life was like in the early colonies. Students will learn about and describe aspects of the early colonial society. They will discuss different roles between men and women. They will also learn about slavery and why slaves were brought to America.

Life in the Thirteen Colonies helps students recognize how much society has changed. They will see how many areas of life are different, such as fashion, people’s rights, and architecture. Students can compare their lives in modern society to the lives of the colonists.

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What our Life in the Thirteen Colonies lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: What was it like to live in the late 18th century? Life in the Thirteen Colonies teaches students what life was like for earlier settlers. Students will compare their own lives to those of the colonists. They will learn about the different roles of colonial men and women of society and how life was different for people living on farms and in cities. They will discuss how many aspects of life have changed in the last 200 years. This lesson is for students in 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the orange box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. For this lesson, the supplies you will need are pencils, pens, and highlighters. To prepare for this lesson ahead of time, you can copy the worksheets and gather the supplies you’ll need.

Options for Lesson

Included with this lesson is an “Options for Lesson” section that lists a number of suggestions for activities to add to the lesson or substitutions for the ones already in the lesson. For this lesson, there’s only one suggestion for the activity! You can have students do research on colonial fashion and have them recreate colonial clothing to wear to class. This is a fun activity for your students and will help kick off the lesson in an enjoyable way!

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page includes a paragraph with additional guidelines and things to think about as you begin to plan your lesson. This page notes that students will learn how their lives differ from the lives people led during the colonial period. This page also includes lines that you can use to add your own notes as you’re preparing for this lesson.


Colonial Times: Life in the Colonies & Children in the Colonies

This lesson includes four content pages. These pages describe in depth a few aspects of colonials times. Students will quickly discover how different life was during the late 1700s. The way people traveled, dressed, and acted greatly differs from modern society. Students will learn all about what children’s lives were like during the colonial period. Some children were able to go to school, which was often help in the local church or another public building. Schools back then were very different, with students aged seven to sixteen in the same class and the local minister often serving as the teacher. They taught most of the school lessons from the Bible and had a short school year held between planting seasons so children could work on the farms.

Young men and boys could also learn a trade to become a blacksmith, tailor, wheelwright, or shoemaker. Wealthy families in larger cities would send their male children to private academies where they learned things like Greek and Latin. Not all children attended school, and many simply worked on farms or learned a trade! In their limited free time, the children of this time enjoyed playing with other kids – just like they do today.

Farm and City Life & Housing

The next section of this lesson discusses the differences in farm and city life during this period. Almost everyone lived on a farm, working at least six days a week. The people who did live in cities were tradesmen, such as carpenters or blacksmiths. Even the people who had professional careers, such as lawyers or merchants, worked nearly all the time. Students will also learn about how the lives of men and women were very different at this time. Women couldn’t vote, own property, or participate in town meetings. Instead, they had to stay home and care for the children, make clothing for the family, and cook, and more.

Students will then learn about housing during this time. They almost always built their homes from wood and most houses were small, with only a single room. They used a fireplace for cooking and heat and made their floors out of dirt. Most houses had only a table and a few chairs in them! The growth of cities meant that building supplies slowly became more available, which meant that city colonists could build homes with lead glass and multiple rooms.

Clothing & Slavery

The lesson then describes the clothing styles of men and women, pointing out differences even among the colonists themselves. For example, men wore loose linen shirts tucked into their pants with long socks made of wool. They also wore sleeveless jackets, plain leather shoes, wide-brimmed hats, and coats or capes. Women usually wore long, loose dresses under a long gown made of wool or linen. Men and women who lived in cities wore more fashionable clothing, but their clothes were still durable and practical.

Students will also learn about how slavery started in Jamestown Colony in 1609. The lesson discusses the suffering of the people who the Dutch, Spanish, or British forcibly removed from their native lands and forced into slavery. Slavery was a significant and horrible part of history, and continued until the Civil War in the 1865. The lesson describes slavery as “one of the most tragic events in American history.”


The Life in the Thirteen Colonies lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. You can refer to the guide on the classroom procedure page to determine when to hand out each worksheet. These worksheets test student’s understanding of the lesson material.


The activity requires students to answer questions based on the reading passage. Students will have to demonstrate critical thinking in answering some of these questions. For example, students will have to answer “What was life like for children during colonial times?” and “What year and where did the first slaves appear in America?”

An option for an additional activity is to have students research colonial fashion prior to the lesson. They can recreate the styles and wear them to class to kick off the subject. Students will become interested in this topic because of this fun and creative activity.


For this practice worksheet, students will fill in a Venn diagram to compare and contrast their life with the people in colonial times. The practice worksheet will further solidify student’s comprehension of the topic. Students will use the lesson material to fill in details from the colonial times and their experience of their own lives to compare and contrast. They can add details about their homes, food, clothing, upbringing, and more.


The homework assignment requires that students write a story from the perspective of a colonial child. They will use the information they learned in the lesson to describe what they might see or do. Students will include what life was like, the things they would see or do during a day in the colonial times, and descriptions of things like clothing, where they live, and the chores or jobs they would do.

Worksheet Answer Keys

This lesson plan includes answer keys for the practice worksheet and the homework assignment, though both answer keys simply note that answers will vary. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade


Social Studies

State Educational Standards

NCSS.HIS.2.6-8, NCSS.HIS.D2.HIS.1.6-8, LB.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3 – 6.3

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.