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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History Common Sense and the American Revolutionhomesitemap
Introduction -Link Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities - Link Classroom and Applications

Workshop 2
Classroom Applications

Reflect on how you teach Thomas Paine's Common Sense in your classroom. How would you teach it differently with primary sources?

Now consider these lesson ideas contributed by Primary Sources teachers:

Image of Andrew Sullivan

Explore the Main Points of Common Sense
Contributed by Andrew Sullivan

The language in Common Sense is challenging for modern students, but not nearly as difficult as most colonial texts. This activity explores Common Sense, showing students an example of an appeal to average citizens, not writings meant only for the ruling elite.

I had my students read four pages of excerpts from Common Sense. I chose not to assign the full text because of time constraints and because I know my students will read four pages, but I don't know if they will fully read 65 pages. I chose each excerpt based on what struck me as interesting. I also tried to cover the four or five main points of Paine's thesis.

Next to each excerpt I wrote a number, and that number corresponded to a question that the students had to answer. The students submitted written answers to the questions. The questions, designed to lead them to an understanding of Paine's main points, were:

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What is the difference between society and government?

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How do monarchies/dynasties get established? What is the king's role in a limited monarchy?

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Has America benefited from its ties to England? Will it in the future?

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Does America need military alliances to further its economic interests?

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Why is the time perfect for revolution?

My students seemed to enjoy the assignment. Paine's writing style is like a puzzle that they had to unravel to find the meaning. I prefer to use primary sources when I can, and Common Sense is a source that truly engages students.


Image of Tamara Berman

"For the professional, for the teacher, [personal interpretation of Common Sense] allows them to say, 'Hey, this on the surface frivolous-looking exercise has some intellectual meat to it" -- that a kid is really going to have to understand Common Sense, which is a complex document, which takes a lot of time to get through, which you really have to read if you're going to have to create something else out of it. "
— Tamara Berman

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