We Are Colony! Settlement Design

By Jeffrey Sadoff, January 28, 2010

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

200 minutes for classroom activities and 30 to 60 minutes for homework


This lesson will take approximately four fifty minute periods and will require students to work cooperatively in order to develop a plan and persuasively present findings to other members of the class.

The students need to design an effective and functional Colonial settlement that will be self-sufficient and provide revenue for the settlers and England.

The actual design of the settlement must meet the needs of the colonists.

Teacher will help students identify different elements of reflection writing that relate to elements of governance and profitability for the settlement.

National Standards

Language Arts

Standard 1. Level II. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

8. Writes narrative accounts, such as poems and stories (e.g., establishes a context that enables the reader to imagine the event or experience; develops characters, setting, and plot; creates an organizing structure; sequences events; uses concrete sensory details; uses strategies such as dialogue, tension, and suspense; uses an identifiable voice)

Listening & Speaking

Standard 8. Level III. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)

Thinking and Reasoning

Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem solving techniques

Standard 6. Level III. Applies decision-making techniques

4. Makes decisions based on the data obtained and the criteria identified (e.g., selects appropriate locations for service industries in the community)


Standard 4. Level III. Understands the physical and human characteristics of a place

2. Knows the physical characteristics of places (e.g., soils, land forms, vegetation, wildlife, climate, natural hazards)

United States History

Standard 2. Understands cultural and ecological interactions among previously unconnected people resulting from early European exploration and colonization

Standard 3. Understands why the Americas attracted Europeans, who brought enslaved Africans to their colonies and how Europeans struggled for control of North America and the Caribbean

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Students will be able to:

  • define the context and the problem
  • plan and conduct research through observation and sketches
  • articulate reasons and rationale through oral presentations, visual aids, and written expression
  • recognize that geography will impact the layout of settlement, materials used to construct, and interaction with others (Native Americans and European settlers)


Design Process adapted from CHNDM

computers with internet access

online article – “Reflective Writing” – https://services.exeter.ac.uk/cas/employability/students/reflective.htm (for reference and adaption by teacher)


  • poster board
  • construction paper
  • markers
  • crayons
  • colored pencils
  • pencils
  • paper
  • graph paper
  • erasers
  • Design Process brainstorm handout/transparency
  • grading rubrics/group assessment checklist
  • Reflection idea/question handout
  • timer


  • backcountry: distant wilderness invaded by those with a sense of adventure; an area beyond settled lands
  • indentured servant: a form of debt bondage worker; the laborer is under contract of an employer for usually three to seven years, in exchange for their transportation, food, drink, clothing, lodging and other necessities
  • Mercantilism: an economic system (Europe in 18th century) to increase a nation's wealth by government regulation of all of the nation's commercial interests
  • proprietary colony: a colony in which one or more private land owners retain rights that are normally the privilege of the state, and in all cases eventually became so
  • royal colony: a colony ruled or administered by officials appointed by and responsible to the reigning sovereign of the parent state
  • self representation: representing one’s self
  • tidewater: low-lying coastal land drained by tidal streams


Day 1:

1. Teacher leads whole class discussion. Use following questions:

  • Why did people leave England for the Americas?
  • Why did colonists move to other areas within the Americas?
  • Who were the people that left? (social class)What groups?
  • What do we know about the geography of the area? (from our studies)
  • What experience might we encounter?

(Note: Have questions on board or overhead projector.)

2. Have students brainstorm independently on paper for three to five minutes, then discuss for five to seven minutes.

3. Ask students the following questions:

  • What have we learned from other settlers’ experience? (primary source info)
  • How do we want to function as a settlement?

4. Ask students to express their mental map of the classroom in a brief written/quick sketch.

5. Review the challenge: How do we organize and create a new settlement in the colony of Virginia in the year 1685?

6. Divide students (preselected by teacher) into groups and ask: How do we Investigate this challenge?

7. Quick brainstorm is small groups, then the whole class should review their ideas. (Note: This discussion will hopefully generate responses such as: interviewing class members, taking measurements, sketching possible arrangements.)

8. Show students the Design Process transparency.

9. Give students the Design Process handout and review.  Identify the connections to student ideas and where they fall into the steps of the Design Process.

10.  Groups meet for fifteen minutes.  T eacher will visit each group briefly to assess understanding of challenge and Design Process steps.

Exit question: What one aspect of the settlement is crucial to success?

Day 2:

1. Teacher reviews previous day’s activities.

2. Use transparency of Design Process steps

3. Clarify any questions/concerns (this will vary).

4. Ask Thinking/Focus question to whole class: How might the immediate geography impact the settlement’s communication, productivity, and behavior?  Tell students to consider this as they work on their designs. Ask students: Are there basic rules/procedures in place for members to follow? How are they related to the laws of the colony? (Jamestown)

5. Groups will actively engage in design process.

6. Begin to Frame/Reframe the problem.

7. Generate possible solutions. Each member of the group will share their thoughts on the previous day’s exit question.  (This is part of individual assessment packet.)  Groups can select a recorder of these ideas that can be synthesized to a few core ideas that will work.

8. Edit and Develop further ideas.  Students revisit some new ways to approach the problem and share their ideas within groups.  Encourage groups to take a five minute quiet time for individuals to think about the group work and come up with any new points to include.  Teacher will conference with all groups (up to five minutes or longer if necessary for groups that are struggling).

9. Groups work through the Design Process steps at own pace.  Remind groups that each member will be expected to articulate their ideas in some form, i.e. diagram, bullet list, written work, etc.  (Note: Groups should have access to classroom computers and books to view maps, aerial maps, reconstruction of early settlements, etc.)

10. Towards end of period gather whole class together and review some of the ideas they are all generating. Allow groups to recognize where they can add/delete ideas.

11. By end of Day 2 groups will Share + Evaluate.  Remind them to listen and give feedback within the context of the group’s goals.

12. Teacher offers brief review of possible building materials they might use and tools of the time. Class discussion:

  • How long will it take to construct specific building?
  • Which ones get built first?
  • Why?

Exit question: What one thing surprised me about the challenge? (Note: If they have done another challenge they might want to compare.)

Day 3:

1. Groups have forty minutes to Finalize their solutions and practice their presentations. Teacher will walk around answering questions/redirecting/encouraging groups.

2. At end of period groups will display their designs for presentations around classroom.  Whole class takes gallery walk (ten minutes).

3. Designs (visual displays) will stand on their own to Articulate the ideas of each group.

Exit question: How did I actively participate in the challenge? (Note: This relates to reflection.)

Day 4:

1. Groups will Articulate their solutions.  Each group will prepare and give a presentation that highlights the most effective points of their design: functionality, adaptability, communication.  Each group has five minutes to present.

2. Students will jot down things (pros/cons) they observed as groups give presentations.

3. Record their presentations.

Exit question: What did you notice about other groups’ presentations?

End of Day 4:

1. Review reflection guidelines with students.  Provide handout and rubric.

2. Allow students time to brainstorm/ write/discuss.

3. Teacher will conference with small groups and encourage students to go deeper into their observations/reflections.

4. Student homework: Students will edit own work and turn in final product (reflection) two days later.



Group Self Assessment (assessment handout)

student Reflection (based on discussion and Reflection handout)

Enrichment Extension Activities

Tthis design project can be extended by having groups create a 3D model of their settlement.  This can include scale measurements and topographical elements.

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