Witchcraft in Salem

Old Witch House, Salem, Mass. - Stereographic Print

Lesson Plan

Grade level:

High School- 8th-11th grade

Estimated duration of the lesson:

3 class periods (50 minutes)

The content standard or standards that the lesson fulfills, and the relevant grade level indicators:

  • Grade 8 Interaction 1. Trace the development of religious diversity in the  colonies, and analyze how the concept of religious freedom has evolved in the  United  States.
  • Grade 8 The First Global Age 2. Describe the political, religious and economic  aspects of North American colonization including: a. Reasons for colonization,  including religion, desire for land and economic opportunity; e. Early representative governments and democratic practices that emerged, including  town meetings and colonial assemblies;
  • Grade 9 Enlightenment Ideas 1. Explain how Enlightenment ideas produced  enduring effects on political, economic and cultural institutions, including  challenges to religious authority, monarchy and absolutism.

The Primary Sources used:  

* Burr, George Lincoln, 1857-1938. "Letter of Thomas Brattle, F. R. S., 1692"; from Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706 
* Mather, Cotton. The Wonders of the Invisible World,1693. Printed first, at Boston in New-England; and Reprinted at London, for John Dunton, at the Raven and in the Poultry, 1693

A summary of the lesson:

Students will examine the Salem witchcraft trials through primary and secondary sources with an emphasis on different viewpoints of the trials. Worksheets will be given for these assignments and discussed in class. Students will then research on their own in the computer lab utilizing several websites.

To understand the trials and their context in early modern society, three powerpoints are available to use:

(These can be accessed & downloaded from the HTI/Harvey Goldberg site on Slideshare.)

Description of the instructional steps to implement the lesson:

Day One - Students will be divided into pairs and be given a copy of the primary source documents for Thomas Brattle and Cotton Mather.  Each pairing will also be given the Document Analysis Worksheet and complete one worksheet for each primary source. The document analysis should be followed by discussion of what can be learned from the documents and what they say about the trials.
Day Two - Class will be held in the computer lab.  Students will be provided with the Document Analysis Worksheet and two web addresses:
http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/home.html (Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive & Transcription Project)
http://www.famous-trials.com/salem (Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials)
to serve as a starting point for their research. 
Each student will  locate an additional primary source related to the Salem trials they find of particular interest.  Each student will individually complete the document analysis worksheet and prepare to discuss and explain the selected source in class the following day.  (Struggling students could be guided toward documents if necessary.)
Day Three - Students will present the source they selected to the class and explain how it contributes to a better understanding of the events in Salem.  (Be sure to check for any students with the same source so they can present and discuss together.)


Students will be graded based on the completed Document Analysis Worksheets, participation, and the presentation of the document they selected during research.

Materials needed by teachers:

Computer with projector or overhead to show documents if desired
Access to a class computer lab

Materials needed by students:

Access to a class computer lab

Other items that might be included: 

* list of key vocabulary
* ideas for students to continue learning on the topic
Created by John Young, Shawnee High School