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Lesson Plan Geography and Its Impact on Colonial Life

European settlement patterns were influenced by geographic conditions such as access to water, harbors, natural protection, arable land, natural resources and adequate growing season and rainfall. Examine a variety of primary sources to determine why colonists were drawn to a particular region of the country.


Students will be able to:

  • analyze, interpret, and conduct research with online primary sources;
  • examine regional differences in Colonial America;
  • determine reasons for location to a particular region; and
  • identify how colonists adapted to their environments.

Time Required

Three classes

Lesson Preparation



New England Colonies

Middle Atlantic Colonies

Southern Colonies

Lesson Procedure

Day One Activities

Step One: Class Discussion (10-15 minutes)
How does environment affect where a person lives?

Discuss with students how people adapt to the environment of a particular location or relocate to suit their needs/wants. For example, people who live in the midwest are most likely farmers. Most actors move to California and New York. Why?

Sample questions for your students:

  • If you wanted to become a movie star, where would you live?
  • If you wanted to be a lobster fisherman, what region of the country would suit your needs?
  • Where would a dairy farmer most likely live?

Step Two 20-30 minutes
Divide students into 6 groups; 2- New England Colonies Region, 2- Middle Colonies Region, 2- Southern Colonies Region. Distribute primary source packets. Assign each group member at least one source to examine and analyze. Students analyze the primary source, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.


Based on the evidence of these documents, what was it like to live in a particular region (New England Colonies, Middle Atlantic Colonies, Southern Colonies)? Why would you go to live in a particular region?

Day Two Activities: 90 minute block

Step One: In groups, share findings about the primary sources in your packet. Identify whether or not the region represented by your packet has the following geographical features:

  • Access to Water
  • Harbors
  • Natural Protection
  • Arable Land
  • Natural Resources
  • Growing Season

Then answer these questions about your region:

  1. What kinds of industry can be developed here?
  2. Is this area better for urban or rural living? Why?
  3. What are the positive qualities of the area?
  4. What are the negative qualities of the area?
  5. Which resource was the most useful or helpful? Why?

Step Two: Based on the assessment of the region's geographical features, students write a letter to a sibling "back home" describing his/her experience in the new country and convincing the sibling to join him/her.

Step Three: Students exchange letters with a member of each of the other regions and read the letters, and list at least three different characteristics of each region and at least one they all share.


Students search the Library of Congress digital collections for more sources that depict/describe the region.

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluate completed homework according to your standard. Develop guidelines for evaluating the letters and feature comparison work with your class as appropriate.


Bobbie Chase and Anna Muher