Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
America Will Be

Understanding Primary Sources:
The Mayflower Compact


What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2-3 hours over 1-2 days

Building Background:
Review the situation of those on board the Mayflower when they arrived in New England in 1620. They were months late in getting to North America and far off-course from their intended destination of Virginia. In addition, not all of the passengers were followers of the Pilgrims' beliefs. Ask students to speculate about some of the concerns the passengers may have had about settling in a new land under these circumstances.

Review the Mayflower Compact. What was the purpose of the document? Why might some of the passengers have believed a document like the Mayflower Compact was necessary? Tell students they will be examining the Mayflower Compact and writing about it.

What To Do:

1. Divide class into small groups. Distribute the Examining the Mayflower Compact worksheet. Distribute copies of the Mayflower Compact.

2. Have the groups read the Mayflower Compact and complete the worksheet. Remind students to look up any words they do not understand. If necessary, help students with any unfamiliar concepts presented in the document. For more information on the Mayflower Compact and the circumstances in which it was written try these sources:

3. When the groups have finished their research, discuss what they found. What is being promised in the document and by whom? Who did and who did not sign the document? Ask students to speculate about what conflicts the writers and signers were anticipating when they drew up the Mayflower Compact.

4. Have each group write its own "Classroom Compact." Explain that they should follow the format of the Mayflower Compact but use modern language and substitute appropriate descriptions of themselves for those given in the Mayflower Compact. Give students an example, such as: "We, who have signed this document below, have joined together to attend the [name] School, and study Social Studies. . . ." Remind students that a Compact was a pledge to do something in a stated way for an expressed reason, and that their "Classroom Compacts" should do the same.

5. When finished, have students share their Classroom Compacts. Encourage the class to point out and discuss the similarities and differences between the Classroom Compacts of each group.

Ask students to identify words, expressions, and/or ideas in the Mayflower Compact that we use today as part of our government. Discuss.


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