Lesson 1: Daily Life at Valley Forge
image of spoon, breeches, and wooden bowl Table of Contents
Museum Collections, Similar Items and Other Materials Used
National Educational Standards
Student Learning Objectives
Background and Historical Context
Teacher Tips
Lesson Implementation Procedures
Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
Extension and Enrichment Activities
Site Visit
Charts, Figures and Other Teacher Materials

A. The Winter at Valley Forge
  • Developers: Verena Calas, National Park Service Museum Educator, Washington D.C
  • Grade Level: 6-8 grades
  • Number of Sessions in the Lesson Unit Plan: 5
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B. Overview of this Collection-Based Lesson Unit Plan
  • Park Name: This lesson unit plan draws on the extraordinary Valley Forge National Historic Park museum collections featured in the virtual museum exhibit at www.nps.gov/museum.
  • Description: Students will explore the challenges experienced by the Continental Army and its leadership, including General Washington, during their encampment at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778 through object-based learning, hands-on activities, and active research. Students will work with and analyze primary source materials; including original Washington correspondence and other related documentation. Students will have the opportunity to make connections between the Revolutionary War period and the present by examining the similarities and differences between the original training manual of General Von Steuben and modern military manuals. Students will also practice analytical research, close reading, and debate skills through the examination of symbolism in colonial currency, the analysis of 18th century portraiture, and the discussion of women's role in the military.    
  • Essential Question: During the American Revolution, General Washington and the fledgling Continental Army encountered many obstacles. However, from the Valley Forge encampment they emerge an organized and trained fighting force. Therefore, what obstacles did soldiers encounter while at Valley Forge? And, what factors contributed its emergence as a trained professional fighting force?

    The following lesson plans are organized individually but make up a cohesive unit plan for "The Winter at Valley Forge". Teachers can choose to teach all five lessons as a unit, or each individually.

    Lesson Overviews
    • Lesson Plan 1: Daily Life at the Valley Forge Camp: This lesson introduces students to the challenges experienced by every day soldiers and their commanding officers during the winter at Valley Forge and explores how they dealt with these challenges not only physically, but mentally, as well.
      • Activity 1: Washington's Frustration
      • Activity 2: Rucksack Rummage
    • Lesson Plan 2: In Their Own Words: This lesson introduces students to the primary source documentation and analysis through the correspondence of men living in the Valley Forge encampment. Students will get another look into the challenges the camp presents as well as the emotional toll war can on the soldiers fighting it.
      • Activity 1: The Voices of Valley Forge
      • Activity 2: A Postcard Home
    • Lesson Plan 3: Von Steuben Makes an Army: This lesson explores the military training and tactics introduced by General Von Steuben at Valley Forge. Students will explore the importance of military manuals as modes of sharing information amongst large organized groups.
      • Activity 1: Who is Von Steuben?
      • Activity 2: Document Transcription and Translation
      • Activity 3: Creating a Manual
    • Lesson Plan 4: Remember the Ladies: This lesson explores the various rolls of women at the Valley Forge encampment. Students will compare the experiences of Valley Forge women to the changing rolls of American women in the military throughout history and partake in a class debate.
      • Activity 1: Who are the women of Valley Forge?
      • Activity 2: The Different Women of War, Independent Research
      • Activity 3: Class Debate
    • Lesson Plan 5: The Economy of War: This lesson explores the different kinds of currency and symbolism used not only in the Valley Forge Camp, but in the Thirteen Colonies at large. Students will also engage in the mathematical exchange of money.
      • Activity 1: Symbolism in Colonial, Continental, and Modern Currency
      • Activity 2: Redesign of the Dollar Bill
      • Activity 3: Converting Currency

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C. Museum Collections, Similar Items and other Materials Used in this Lesson Unit Plan
This lesson introduces students to the challenges experienced by every day soldiers and their commanding officers during the winter at Valley Forge and explores how they dealt with these challenges not only physically, but mentally, as well.
MUSEUM OBJECT [photos of objects in the Parks museum collections] SIMILAR OBJECTS [local items similar to museum objects] & OTHER MATERIALS Length of time

Activity 1: Washington’s Frustration

Similar Items [similar to objects in the Park museum collection]:

Activity 1: Washington’s Frustration


25 minutes

Activity 2: Rucksack Rummage

Breeches Canteen


Canteen Spoon


Playing Cards Dice

Playing Cards

Wooden Bowl

Wooden Bowl

Similar Items [similar to objects in the Park museum collection]:

  • Thin pants
  • Water bottle
  • Plastic cup
  • Plastic bowl
  • Spoon
  • Playing Cards
  • Game Dice
  • Athletic Cleats
  • Rucksack Rummage Observation Sheet


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D. National Educational Standards

NSS-USH 5-12 Era 3 – Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820's)
Standard 1
Understands the causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in forging the revolutionary movement, and the reasons for the American victory.

Common Core Standards
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

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E. Student Learning Objectives
  • Students will be able to summarize information about life in the Valley Forge camp and using primary source materials and period objects from Valley Forge National Historic Park.
  • SWBAT provide visual evidence for claims made about the daily lives of soldiers at Valley Forge.
  • SWBAT compare and contrast objects from the past and present as well as primary sources. 

  • SWBAT work collaboratively in small and large groups
  • SWBAT participate in class discussions.
  • SWBAT give oral presentations.

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F. Background and Historical Context
The Winter at Valley Forge: Background Information (PowerPoint)

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G. Vocabulary

Analysis: a detailed examination of the elements of structure of something, typically as a basis for discussion or interpretation.
the practice of carving a design onto a hard, usually flat surface (usually wood or metal) by cutting grooves into it. The piece of metal or wood is then covered in ink and stamped onto a piece of paper to produce a copy of the image.
Primary Source:
an artifact, a document, diary, manuscript, autobiography, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study.
Rucksack: a bag with shoulder straps that allow it to be carried on someone's back, typically made of a strong, waterproof material
Secondary Source: information that was created later by someone who did not experience first-hand or participate in the events or conditions you're researching
Summarize: to give a brief statement about the main points of something.

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H. Teacher Tips
  • Use online VAFO objects, documents, maps, and photographs to further student inquiry and to address student learning objectives.
  • Adapt activities for class length and grade levels (reading levels) as needed.
  • Obtain for classroom use, tangible items similar to the museum objects that students can handle and study.

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I. Lesson Implementation Procedures
Lesson 1, Activity 1: Warm Up, Engraving Close Look
Time Instructional Sequence Teacher Narration Exemplary Responses & Follow Up Questions
5 mins Post Warm Up question on the board, or print out instructions for every student. The question should read as follows:

• What do soldiers need to be successful off the battlefield? (Bodily needs? Mind? Heart?)

Allow students 5-7 minutes at the beginning of class to answer the question in their class notebooks.

Students should share and compare their responses with a partner.

Ask pairs to share their thoughts with the entire class
During the Revolutionary War, soldiers would do little fighting during the winter months. While waiting for better weather, they would camp together in a particular spot. Using your background knowledge about soldiers (perhaps you have a family member or friend who has served in the military) answer the following question. Create a list or use bullet points. Adequate food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, and homesickness. Do you think the experiences at camp would be different for officers like General Washington as opposed to the everyday soldier?
10 mins Download “George Washington and a Committee of Congress at Valley Forge. Engraving, 1866, from painting by W.H. Powell. 148-GW-184.”

Project engraving for entire class or print out individual copies for students. Do not include any background information about the image from the caption at this time.

Give students 2 timed minutes to do a close look at the engraving.

Ask students to discuss the following questions with their partner from Step 1 based on their observations of the engraving.
  • Who is depicted?
  • Where are they?
  • What time of year is it?
  • What is their body language telling the viewer?
  • How does the image make you feel?
Now that we have shared what we think soldiers need to survive at camp, I want you to look at the following image. I am not going to give you any information about the image. Instead, you are going to use your background information and observational skills to determine:
Who is depicted?
Where are they?
What time of year is it?
What is their body language telling the viewer?
How does the image make you feel?
You must provide evidence from the image to validate your responses.
General Washington in the center of the engraving with his soldiers on the right and other men on the left.

They are outside around cabins. It is the winter time (evidence: snow on the ground, cabins, and trees)

The soldiers on the right look tired and angry (evidence: there is one man with a bandage on his head wearing no shoes, another is crying into the lap of another man, some men have their swords drawn in the air).

The men on the left seem to be observing and thinking (evidence: one man has his hand on his chin like he is pondering something)

General Washington is gesturing to the soldiers like he is trying to explain something to the other men. His facial expression is stern and angry looking.
10 mins Project caption of engraving for the whole class. Read it out loud.

Explain the concept of an engraving.

Provide basic background information on the Valley Forge encampment necessary for the next activity via PowerPoint presentation.
Caption: “George Washington and a Committee of Congress at Valley Forge. Engraving, 1866”

From the caption, we can confirm that the man depicted is in fact George Washington at the Valley Forge camp. It also says he is with a “committee.” This committee was sent to Valley Forge from the Continental Congress to report on the overall condition of the Continental Army.

Engraving is the practice of carving a design onto a hard, usually flat surface (usually wood or metal) by cutting grooves into it. The piece of metal or wood is then covered in ink and stamped onto a piece of paper to produce a copy of the image. In this case, the engraving is modeled after a painting by W.H. Powell. The engraving was created in 1866, 89 years after the Continental Army was encamped at Valley Forge. Therefore, this is W.H. Powell’s artistic representation of historical events. Engravings were an inexpensive way for everyday people to obtain copies of their favorite pieces of art.
Lesson 1, Activity 2: Rucksack Rummage
Time Instructional Sequence Teacher Narration Exemplary Responses & Follow Up Questions
20 mins Split class into groups of 4 to 5 students.

Distribute premade “rucksacks” that include: thin pants, a water bottle, plastic cup, plastic bowl, spoon, playing cards, game dice, athletic cleats.
  • Give explicit instructions not to open rucksacks until told to.

Distribute Rucksack Rummage Observation Sheets (provided in supplementary documents)
  • Provide instructions and context for rucksacks aloud to the whole class.

Allow students 10-15 minutes to work within their groups to identify objects and their use.
  • Some objects may be more straightforward than others (i.e. the spoon and bowl for eating) while others may be more difficult (i.e. the athletic cleats).
Circulate the room helping individual groups as needed.
Soldiers not only travel with their weapons and ammunition. All soldiers take items crucial to their survival while traveling from battle to battle. Soldiers during the American Revolution and today carry “rucksacks” or durable bags that hold their valuable supplies. In your groups, take some time to observe the objects in your rucksacks. These rucksacks are for soldiers that are going to be in the cold, wintery environment that was depicted in the engraving. Don’t just identify what the objects are but what they could be used for when encamped. Record your findings in your Rucksack Rummage Observation Sheet.  
10 mins Project or hand out images of the original Valley Forge objects that correspond to each similar object in the rucksacks.

Ask students to pair each Valley Forge object with its corresponding similar object. Encourage students to note the differences in materials between the two sets.
20 mins Go over the correct pairings with entire class.

Ask students for their observations about the difference in materials and durability.
Both pairs of pants are thin and not adequate for winter weather. The breeches in the photo look worn and torn. The breeches also seem to only come down knee length, not covering the entire leg.

The spoon, bowl, cup, and canteen from the class rucksack are all made out of plastic. The objects from Valley Forge are made from wood and metal. Plastic seems easier to clean and is lighter when carrying them around. However, the wood and metal objects would probably be more durable and last for a longer amount of time. o Are there any disadvantages to using plastic for these kinds of materials today?
Now that I see the creepers, I know they correspond to the cleats because of the spikes. The spikes on the bottom look like they could be used for walking or climbing on a surface that might difficult in regular shoes such as snow or ice. Today’s soldiers would most likely wear some kind of waterproof and insulated boot with rubber bottoms, but those were not available during the Revolutionary Era.

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J. Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
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K. Extension and Enrichment Activities
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L. Resources
Other Materials Listed in Sections C
M. Site Visit

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N. Charts, Figures and other Teacher Materials

Download All Supplementary Materials

Lesson: Lesson 1, Activity 2
Title: Rucksack Rummage Observation Chart
Pages: 2