Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
Across the Centuries

Life in the American Colonies

Objective: Students research different European colonies in the Americas and write encyclopedia entries.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
3 hours over 2-3 days

Building Background:
Explain to students that colonialism is a system in which a nation controls the land and people of another nation or area, usually by force. A colony is usually governed by the ruling nation and is used as a source of wealth. Discuss the European colonization of the Americas beginning with the Spanish explorations of the 15th century. Describe how the conquest of Native Americans and the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean and Latin American regions pushed other European nations to establish their own colonies. For example, by the end of the 17th century, Portugal had colonized present-day Brazil, the English had settled the east coast of North America, and the French had colonized Canada. Life for people in each of these colonies was difficult. People worked long hours with few comforts. Tell students that they will research daily life in these colonies and learn how the colonies' products fit into the global economic system. Then they will use their notes to write encyclopedia accounts of these colonies.

What To Do:

1. Print and distribute the Colonial America worksheet. Have students review the worksheet and complete the map showing the location of the European colonies in the 16th and 17th centuries. Have students use their textbooks and a historical atlas to help them locate these colonies. Encourage students to revise their maps as you review them in class.

2. Ask students to choose one of these nations: England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Tell students to research the details of life in their chosen nation's North, Central, and South American colonies. Encourage students to focus their research around the people, economy, history, and politics of these colonies. In addition, students should uncover facts about how their colony's products factored into the world's economy and how that impacted life in the colonies. Suggest students visit their local library or, if the class has Internet access, the following Internet sites:

Liberty! The American Revolution

This site provides a glimpse of daily life in England's American colonies on the eve of the American Revolution.

The Failure of the West India Company Farming the Island of Manhattan

This online essay explains the problems encountered by the Dutch settlers in farming Manhattan Island and provides some detail about life in the young Dutch colony of New Netherland. The essay is part of a hypertext site of American history.

Jamestown 1607-1630

This site offers information on the Jamestown settlement.

California Mission Studies Association

This site includes a mission directory with information about the Spanish missions in California.

3. Have students review their research notes and share their findings with the class. Ask students to use their notes to compare and contrast life in the different American colonies.

4. Challenge students to use their notes to create an encyclopedia entry describing the North, Central, or South American colonies of the nation they chose. Help students organize their topic into sub-heads, such as history, people, economy, politics and government, daily life, and religion. Students should write 2 or 3 brief paragraphs for each topic. Tell students they should explain the hardships of life in the colonies as well as how the economies of the colonies fit into the larger world economy.

5. Invite students to create images, such as maps or drawings, to illustrate their encyclopedia entries. Collect students' entries and bind them into a class encyclopedia on the colonial Americas.

Ask volunteers to present their encyclopedia entries to the class. Encourage students to discuss the similarities and differences between the different colonies they researched. Challenge students to draw a Venn diagram on the board to record the similarities and differences they found.


Social Studies Center | Houghton Mifflin Social Studies | Unit Activities and Resources
Education Place | Site Index

Copyright © 1999 Houghton Mifflin Company. All Rights Reserved.