Lesson 2: In Their Own Words
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 Valley Forge National Historical 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: The Voices of Valley Forge
“How to Read an Object”

Washington's Letter to Henry Laurens

Carter Pay Order

Washington's Letter to Henry Laurens

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



Activity 2: A Postcard Home

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

  • Examples of Postcards
  • Postcard sized cardstock pieces
  • Pens and pencils
  • Markers of assorted colors
  • Crayons/colored pencils of assorted colors
  • White glue
  • Construction paper of assorted colors


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D. National Educational Standards

NSS-USH 5-12 Era 3 – Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820's)
Standard 2
Understands the impact of the American Revolution on politics, economy, and society.

Common Core Standards
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.


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.

Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

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E. Student Learning Objectives
  • SWBAT use the analysis of primary source documents to identify obstacles faced by soldiers and their commanding officers during their time at camp.
  • SWBAT create original pieces of creative writing that analyze and describe daily life at the Valley Forge camp.

  • SWBAT analyze and read primary source documents.
  • SWBAT annotate primary sources.

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

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G. Vocabulary

Annotate: to make critical notes or comments.

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H. Teacher Tips
  • Separate students into groups according to reading level and assign appropriate reading to each group.
  • Do model annotation with one primary source documents as a whole class.

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I. Lesson Implementation Procedures
Lesson 2, Activity 1: The Voices of Valley Forge
Time Instructional Sequence Teacher Narration Exemplary Responses & Follow Up Questions
10 mins Distribute copies of Washington’s Letter to Henry Laurens, the White Marsh Love Letter, and the Carter Pay Order to students.

Project images of the originals or include color photocopies in each student packet for reference.

Allow students to create groups of 2 to 3 students.
15 mins Instruct students to read all three documents and perform the proper THIEVES and APPARTS annotations as directed in the Primary Source Annotation Guide as well as the end of document questions (provided in supplementary materials).
Annotating is the process of making critical notes or comments about the things we read.

Primary sources, or sources created during a particular time in history, can sometimes seem difficult to read because of unfamiliar language. Annotating primary source documents before and after we read them allows us to understand them better.

There are two models for annotating we will use for these sources. Each model is an acronym for the steps you take in the process of annotating.
  • Before Reading = T.H.I.E.V.E.S. Model
  • After Reading = A.P.P.A.R.T.S. Model

Descriptions of each document are included at the top of each. Vocabulary lists are included to help with any unfamiliar words. Read the “Tips for Reading a Historical Document” before you begin reading. Reading silently in your head or quietly out loud together.
15 mins After students have finished annotating their primary sources, have them complete the Primary Source Analysis, Strengths and Limitations sheet (provided in supplementary materials). All different kinds of primary sources tell us different pieces of information about the people, places, and time that they reflect. Every primary source has both strengths and weaknesses. For example, if a soldier writes a letter home to his mother describing a battle we get to read about the soldier’s perspective. But, we don’t know if he could be exaggerating the details for the benefit of the reader. A military log that describes the very same battle may give us specifics about where it took place and the number of dead and wounded. But, it would not describe the feelings of the soldiers fighting.

For your specific primary source (s) identify the strengths and weaknesses of the information they provide for the reader.
15 mins Create a class list of all the challenges experienced as a result of the Valley Forge encampment. This means looking at the issue from all points of view – soldiers, officers, civilians working at Valley Forge, and families at home.

Post list in an area where students have easy access for reference.
For your specific primary source (s) identify the strengths and weaknesses of the information they provide for the reader.
  • Lack of supplies : food, water, medicine, shelter
  • Harsh winter conditions
  • Lack of confidence in their generals/leaders
  • Homesickness
  • Disease
Lesson 2, Activity 2: A Postcard Home
Time Instructional Sequence Teacher Narration Exemplary Responses & Follow Up Questions
10 mins Create an easily accessible station for students to access art supplies, card stock, and other materials necessary for creating postcards.

Create an easily accessible station with examples of modern day postcards.

Discuss with students the use of a postcard.
Postcards include some kind of picture or artwork as well as a message memorializing where someone has been. Postcards allow you to share an image of where you are with someone you care about.

You can include a short message with information someone about a trip or experience.
40 mins Instruct students to create their own postcard depicting and describing the Valley Forge encampment. When making your postcard, you can choose to be yourself, pretending to live during the winter of 1777-1778, or you can assume a completely new identity of your choosing. You are required to use the information gathered in previous activities to provide a loved one with factual information about you daily life in Valley Forge camp.

You should be creative and put “personality” into the message and artwork.
5 mins Allow students an opportunity to share their work.

Display postcards in classroom.
What aspects of Valley Forge did they focus on?

Did you decide to write as yourself? Or assume a new identity?
J. Evaluation/Assessment for Measurable Results
  • Completed annotations and strengths/weaknesses evaluation for the primary source documents.
  • Completed letter about the conditions of Valley Forge.
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K. Extension and Enrichment Activities
L. Resources

M. Site Visit

N. Charts, Figures and other Teacher MaterialsSupplementary Materials Listed in Sections C

Lesson Title Page(s)
Lesson 2, Activity 1 Transcript of George Washington’s Letter to Henry Laurens
Vocabulary and Reflection Questions
  Transcript of Henry Knox’s Letter to Lucy Knox
Vocabulary and Reflection Questions
  Transcript of the Carter Pay Order
Vocabulary and Reflection Questions
  Primary Source Annotation Guide 16-17
  Primary Source Analysis: Strengths & Weaknesses of a Primary Source 18