I am in the midst of beginning my unit on the American Revolution. This is a topic that is often one of the most favorite for my students! They have some background information from their studies of third grade, but I find too that they also come in with many prejudices and misconceptions that I need to fix. Right away we begin with the meaning of the word, "revolution". Without fail, I am told by every class, every year, that the world "revolution" means "war". It makes for a great class conversation when we talk about the true meaning to be, "a sudden, and complete change". The students readily realize other revolutions that they are aware of that were not in fact wars (Artistic, Musical, and even the Industrial Revolution)
As adult historians, we recognize the significance of the role of taxation in the American Revolution. One of my favorite activities is to have students do a tax interview at home with an adult. The students need to ask someone to name three different taxes, where the money goes that is collected, and how they feel about the tax. This activity always has fascinating results. (It is frightening to see how many adults are unclear about the taxes that they pay.) Undoubtedly, at least one adult says that "taxation is a necessary evil", which also leads to an excellent conversation. It is also a great extension to encourage kids to read local papers and discover articles or letters to the editor about the topic of taxation. This is a beginning to helping kids understand that these issues that affected colonists long ago, still affect us even today.
It is extremely important to not teach a topic like the American Revolutin with bias. It could be very easy to play up the taxation by the British as completely unfair. I have learned over the years the importance of showing students all points of view on this important debate. I have read that approximately 1/3 of the colonists during the revolution were Patriots, 1/3 were Loyalists, and the other 1/3 tried to remain neutral in the middle. I am fortunate to use a fabulous resource that comes from the Old South Meeting House Education department. The Old South Meeting House was of course the site of the Tea Party Debate in Boston on the night of December 16, 1773. This resource is like a play or a readers' theater, with characters who range from real, famous Bostonians of the day to average Bostonians, both Patriot and Loyalist. No other resource has helped me express to my students the range of feelings during this time, and how both sides had valid points. This experience of being able to act out this debate and listen to each other's points, sticks in the students' minds. Kids will often refer to their classmates' points and how they relate to the different aspects of the revolution we are talking about. I have found that this debate isn't perfect historically (due to "Founding Myths") however it is fabulous resource that could be used well up through 8th grade! Visit http://www.oldsouthmeetinghouse.org/