Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Examining the Boston Massacre Through Primary Sources

Primary sources

K20 Center, Sherri Cornelius | Published: September 16th, 2020 by Oklahoma Young Scholars/Javits

  • Grade Level Grade Level 5th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2-3 class period(s)
  • Duration More 120 minutes


Students will use primary sources to explore and help them explain the Boston Massacre. They will compare two images depicting the event and draw conclusions about what happened based on what the artist chose to depict. Students will examine the roles of perspective and propaganda with regard to the images. They will then read primary source depositions from the ensuing Boston Massacre trial. Finally, students will read a researched account of the Boston Massacre and act out their own version to draw conclusions about what happened.

Essential Question(s)

What role do perspective and propaganda play in the recounting of events like the Boston Massacre?



Students engage in an I Notice, I Wonder activity to analyze an image of the Boston Massacre.


Students compare and contrast two images depicting the Boston Massacre, prompting a discussion of how there can be different sides or perspectives to a historical event.


Students use an Inverted Pyramid to structure a discussion about varying perspectives of the Boston Massacre.


Students read a researched account about the Boston Massacre, then perform a short skit that demonstrates a perspective of the event.


Students complete an Exit Ticket that asks them to respond to one of three questions about the Boston Massacre.


  • Lesson slides (attached)

  • I Notice, I Wonder handout (attached, one per student)

  • Exit Ticket (attached; one half-sheet per student)

  • Depictions of the Event handout (attached; optional, one per student, printed single-sided)

  • Boston Massacre Trial Depositions (attached; one per group)

  • Boston Massacre Reading Passage (attached; one per student)


Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the instruction. Begin by organizing students into groups of two or three. Display slide 3, showing an image that depicts the Boston Massacre. (Or, pass out Page 1 of the attached Depictions of the Event handout if you prefer to provide students with a printed copy.) The title of the image, "The Bloody Massacre," has been cropped out. Don’t share the title of the image or introduce the term "Boston Massacre" to students just yet.

Distribute the attached I Notice, I Wonder handout and ask students to examine the image closely, making observations (“I Notice”) and generating questions and inferences (“I Wonder”) about the image.