Estimated duration of lesson:
2 45-minute periods
Ohio Academic Content Standard(s):
History: Benchmark B, GLI #5 American Revolution
Primary Sources used:
Mask Letters from the website "Spy Letters of the American Revolution: From the collections of the Clements Library," University of Michigan
This lesson is designed to follow discussions on the purpose of the Revolutionary War as well as the different viewpoints of the war. Following this lesson is a discussion of other methods used by spies during the Revolutionary War.
Students will view the primary source document of the mask letter written by Henry Clinton to John Burgoyne either in a printed version from the Spy Letter website, or going to the website. (See "Materials Needed" below.)
Students will use this document to understand how secret methods were used to communicate during the Revolutionary War. They will choose a side to support in The Revolutionary War, pretend they are a spy, and write a mask letter of their own. The secret message should include the “spy’s” viewpoint as a Loyalist or a Patriot during the war to summarize what they have learned so far in the unit.
Key Vocabulary Words:
Mask letter, grille
1. Review purpose of war, loyalists’ views of war, and patriots’ views of war which have been previously discussed.
2. Have students discuss communication options during this time period and make predictions on how secrets could be kept with communication limitations
3. Display or pass out copies of primary source of Henry Clinton’s mask letter.
4. Read letter aloud to students and discuss main idea of letter.
5. Demonstrate how to reveal code using mask. Read letter aloud to reveal code.
6. Students compare and contrast first letter with the mask letter.
7. Lead students to mask letter rubric. Students read rubric with partner.
8. Explain to students this is what they will be creating tomorrow during class.
- They will choose a side to support in The Revolutionary War, pretend they are a spy, and write a mask letter of their own.
- The secret message should include the “spy’s” viewpoint as a Loyalist or a Patriot during the war to summarize what they have learned so far in the unit.
- Answer questions students may have on assignment.
- Students will begin working on assignment next day.
9. Have students complete Exit Ticket on their own paper writing down the purpose of mask letters and how they were created.
1. Review purpose of mask letters and how they were created.
2. Students create own masked letter using rubric to guide them on expectations of assignment.
3. Once completed, students get into groups of four. All masks are put into a pile, mixed up, and handed out again. Students also trade letters. Students must then figure out which mask correctly reveals the secret code. They then share the code with the rest of the group.
4. Collect mask letters and masks for evaluation.
The assessment will come in two forms. The first assessment on the students’ understanding of mask letters will be demonstrated through Exit Tickets. Students will simply write down a summary of the knowledge learned about mask letters. Teacher evaluates exit ticket to assess student learning. The second assessment will be the mask letter created by the student. A scoring rubric for the project is attached.
Materials needed by teacher:
- Letter from Henry Clinton to John Burgoyne
- Mask Letter
- Story about letter
- Projector to project document or printed copy for each student
- White board and markers for comparison
- Mask letters rubric
- Paper: lined and construction (for masks)
Materials needed by students:
- Paper for exit tickets
- Paper supplied by teacher
- Mask letter rubric supplied by teacher
1. Study of other spy methods located at the Spy Letters of the American Revolution website.
2. Study questions located at the Spy Letters website.
Lesson developed by Abby Eldridge, Central School Intermediate, Shelby, Ohio