What Defined Americans After the Revolutionary War?

Laura James, Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School, Bridgewater, New Jersey




What did being an American mean following the Revolution—politically, socially, culturally and economically? Who were America’s heroes and what where their core values? In this lesson, students will analyze the evolution of what it meant to be an American during the early republic.



Students will . . .

  • Investigate primary source document sets and use their analysis of those documents to create an “I Am” poem reflecting various aspects of American beliefs and culture in the early republic. In particular, students will study resources from the following categories: 1) Admired and Valued Ideals and Personal Character Traits; 2) Critical Contemporary Events; 3) Admired Individuals and Heroes; 4) Skills/Industries/Designs Unique to Eighteenth Century American Craftsmen, Artists and Artisans; 5) Participation in Government and Civic Society; 6) Unresolved Issues.
  • Activate prior knowledge about the causes of the Revolution, the Revolutionary War and the Constitutional Convention.





Admired and Valued Ideals and Personal Character Traits 


Critical Contemporary Events


Admired Individuals and Heroes


Skills/Industries/Designs Unique to Eighteenth Century Craftsmen Artists and Artisans


Participation in Government and Civic Society 


Unresolved Issues


Recommended Time

Two 40-minute class periods for document and object analysis, with the “I Am” poem assigned as the assessment for homework.



After receiving an introduction of the lesson, students will complete the You: Present Day bell ringer activity, then share their answers in a small group.

Introduce the “I Am” poem assignment by sharing Ms. James’ template and online example at Writing an “I Am” Poem.

Students will investigate three objects or documents from each of the six categories and record their thoughts on the source analysis notes sheets.

As a class, students will discuss the objects and documents and identify common themes and ideas.

As homework, students will create an “I Am” poem, with each line comprised of two or three sentences, that will include historic information based on the documents and objects analyzed in class.


Suggested Modifications

  • Vocabulary lists focused on words that have different definitions in the time period being studied, or phrases that are no longer used that are important to understanding the document.
  • Transcriptions of documents and songs.
  • Transcriptions of video clips if closed captioning is not available.
  • The addition of prompt questions to the source analysis note sheets to guide student note taking for each of the six categories.
  • Descriptions relating to the symbolism and significance of each document and object to aid in interpretation for students who struggle with abstract concepts.  By looking at the description of the object or document first, they will be able to locate the symbols and key ideas in the document or object. 
  • An index of notes or screencasts from previous lessons to reference prior knowledge.


Distance Learning Modifications

  • Use Jamboard or Google Classroom technology to facilitate small group discussions and analysis of documents and objects.
  • Post document/object groups to Google Classroom for students to investigate online (either remotely or while social distancing in the classroom).
  • Post a screencast example of the analysis of each type of document or object to model activity.
  • In a “no contact” classroom, the activity could be set up as a gallery walk with three document/object groups each class period (one document/object per group at a time to socially distance students throughout the classroom).


Optional Extensions

  • Students could role play/act out their answers to the categories of the “I AM” poem rather than writing the poem, or perform a dramatic reading of their poem role playing the character they created. Videos of this could be uploaded to share for distance learning.
  • Teachers could continue to explore the theme of what defined Americans for successive time periods in American history.
  • Higher level students could create two or more poems using different perspectives from each time period studied.


Standards Addressed


6.1.12.HistoryUP.2.a: Using primary sources, describe the perspectives of African Americans, Native Americans, and women during the American Revolution and assess the contributions of each group on the outcome of the war.

6.1.12.HistorySE.2.a: Construct responses to arguments in support of new rights and roles for women and for arguments explaining the reasons against them.

6.1.12.HistoryCA.2.a: Research multiple perspectives to explain the struggle to create an American identity.

6.1.12.CivicsPI.3.a: Analyze primary and secondary sources to determine the extent to which local and state issues, publications, and the rise of interest group and party politics impacted the development of democratic institutions and practices

6.1.12.HistoryCC.3.a: Evaluate the role of religion, music, literature, and media in shaping contemporary American culture over different time periods.