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Colonists and Common Sense: Teaching Thomas Paine

written by: Sarah Degnan Moje • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 5/8/2015

This lesson on Thomas Paine has student learn important vocabulary from "Common Sense" and then write an essay on why the colonists should revolt against the British.

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    445px-Thomas Paine rev1 Thomas Paine, who is perhaps best remembered by high school students for his oft quoted phrase these are the times that try men’s souls, is one of our countries first and best political commentators. A revolutionary Bill O’ Reilly, Paine rallies colonists to the cause, by giving them evidence of just how unjustly the American colonists are treated by the British. Using strong vocabulary and vivid examples, his doctrine Common Sense, implores all Americans who care about the future to rise up and become their own nation.

    Vocabulary within the document is, in and of itself, a valuable teaching tool for all English and Social Studies teachers. If students are not familiar with the words Paine uses to plead for his cause, then the full impact of the document is lost.

    Download the vocabulary sheet below, and have students create “Primary Source" flashcards. Differing from regular vocabulary cards, these require students to look back at the source to find the exact quote or quotes where the vocabulary term is used. Then, when students study with the flashcards, they are not only learning the meaning of the word, but the context in which it is used as well. Students can then go on to write their own persuasive paragraphs, using the vocabulary terms and mirroring Paine’s mood and tone in their style of writing.

    Once students have the vocabulary down, it is time for them to study and analyze the famous document. Use the quote analysis sheet and have students work in groups to both paraphrase Paine’s quotes and draw inferences from them. Then, have them compare one of the quotes to the opening lines of The Crisis # 1 by Paine, so they can see just how connected he is to the cause of freedom at all times.


  • Image of Thomas Paine in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Teaching Thomas Paine

These lessons are sure not to try your student's souls... Teach them the inspiring words of Thomas Paine.
  1. "The Times that Try Men’s Souls": Teaching Thomas Paine’s The Crisis
  2. Colonists and Common Sense: Teaching Thomas Paine