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The Boston Massacre - Analyzing the Evidence

Lesson Plan

Developed by Todd Miller, Hillsdale Middle School, Hillsdale, Ohio
Boston Massacre print by Alonzo Chappel, NY Public Library Digital Collection


The causes of the American Revolution

Grade Level:

8th Grade--but it is suitable for high school age students as well.


The lesson will take 2-3 class periods.

Content Standards:

History 3.a, Social Studies Skills and Methods 1

Primary Sources Used:

Boston Massacre Eyewitness statements.
Where to find the Online Sources:
The lesson uses excerpts various web sites. If teachers wish to use more or different accounts, they can find more information at the above websites.

Summary of Lesson:

Oftentimes, students make the mistake of thinking that primary sources are always accurate. They believe that if a person witnessed an event, what they say must be true.
This lesson can be used to show that when using primary sources, one must be aware that people's memories are not always accurate and that things like bias can affect what they remember. Students will analyze several accounts from the trial of the soldiers that occurred after the shooting. When done, they will view part of the miniseries John Adams.

Lesson steps

a. Teachers not familiar with the Boston Massacre should read the general history of the incident and trial.

b. Pass out copies of the eyewitness testimonies, diagram of the shooting and the chart to the students. If one chooses, students may work in pairs and only assign one witness for each student. Some of the shorter testimony may be given to students with learning disabilities.

c. As students read the testimony, they will fill out the chart. Not all the questions will be answered by each witness.

d. When done, a larger chart drawn on the board can be filled out by the students. When completed, it can be used by the whole class to compare the testimonies.

e. When the chart has been completed and all the testimony analyzed, ask students about what factors may have influenced what the people said. Answers might include physical factors like darkness, distance from the shooting, or emotional ones like bias.

f. Watch the John Adams episode dealing with the Boston Massacre and Trial. It starts at the beginning of Episode 1. Chapters 1-4. The segments pertaining to the Boston Massacre ends at time 43:30. The series is intended for adult audiences, however, the only parts not suitable is some language that is used during the trial. There is a very powerful scene later in Episode 1 that deals with tarring and feathering however it contains nudity so be sure to stop the movie at the time indicated above.

Post assessment guide.

Students should be assessed on their ability to analyze primary sources.
This can be done by the teacher analyzing how well the students completed the chart and their answers during discussions.

Teacher Materials:

a. to record witness answers to several key questions
c. John Adams mini-series

Student Materials