Lesson Plan

Battle of Cowpens – Reader’s Theater Script for Classroom

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
State Standards:
SC SS 3-3 (3-3.3)
SC SS 4-3 (4-3.3)
SC SS 8-2 (8-2.5)
SC RL 6.1, 10.1, 13.1


The student will be able to:
● Identify key people in the battle and in the Revolutionary War
● Summarize the immediate and long term outcomes of the battle
● Summarize the role of geography in the battle
● Identify the effects of Morgan’s leadership style
● Summarize backcountry attitudes towards the British (in late 1780/early 1781)


Teachers need a general overview of war events, prior to January 1781, as well as a general understanding of the battle. It is strongly recommended that teachers see last note below, regarding the “dramatic effect” of the script.  

For specific information referenced within the reader’s theater, see below.

  1. General Daniel Morgan BIO - General Daniel Morgan had served in the British Army during the French and Indian War.  His role was that of a wagoner, moving supplies for the army.  It was during that time period when he gained his nickname, “The Old Wagoner.” Morgan spent subsequent years in and out of the British Army.  When the Revolutionary War broke out, there was no doubt, he’d stand with the Patriots.  In the early days of the war, Morgan was captured by British troops in Quebec, Canada in December 1775.  Because Morgan was an officer, the British released him under “parole” eight months later with the promise that he would not fight the British again.  He, however, quickly rejoined the Patriots fighting until 1779, when he resigned.  But by October 1780, Congress offered Morgan a promotion to the rank of Brigadier General, which he accepted to once again take up the Patriot cause.  He is most well-known for his role at the Cow Pens, where under his leadership, his men defeated the formidable Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton, giving a much-needed victory to the Patriots.  For his leadership, he was awarded a gold medal by Congress in 1790.
  2. 17th Light Dragoons - The 17th Light Dragoons were British soldiers with a long and proud history of service.  Their helmets struck fear in the men they met, as upon them was a skull and crossbones, beneath which read “or glory.” (An image search may also benefit you and your students.)
  3. “Cracking his whip” - In the reader's theater script, Morgan mentions “cracking his whip” over Tarleton.  This is merely a figure of speech, but was an actual quote Morgan stated before the battle.
  4. “Fired Up” - In correspondence prior to the battle, General Nathanael Greene instructs General Morgan to “Spirit up the people.” Greene knew that Morgan was a frontier man himself and the militia would relate well to him. Morgan was indeed very talented at motivating and encouraging his men.
  5. Thomas Young - As noted in the script, Thomas Young’s brother, John, died at the hands of a loyalist militia.   In 1780, Thomas and John served in the same regiment and were attacked.  Thomas watched his brother die and swore to one day avenge his death.
  6. James Collins - Similarly, James Collins heavily resented loyalists.  Collins had witnessed them plundering rebel (Patriot) Americans homes for clothing, food, etc.  He recalled the loyalists taking rebel men (stricken by smallpox) out of their homes and killing them in their front yards, all while their wives and children watched in horror.  
  7. Colonel Andrew Pickens BIO - Colonel Andrew Pickens had equal frustration with the British and/or loyalists.  After being paroled by the British in 1780, Pickens took an oath of neutrality.  In the months that followed, Pickens was offered officer positions in both the Patriot and British armies.  He was however, a man of his word and refused both offers. The British threatened to punish him for refusing to join them and in turn, Pickens saw this threat as voiding the agreement they had previously made.  Now, he had the opportunity to keep his word, while joining the Patriots again with a clear conscience. Upon knowledge of Pickens’ stance, General Cornwallis ordered the seizure of all of Pickens’ property, followed by the destruction of his plantation and all homes on the property.  Pickens’ wife, Rebecca, and their children watched as their home was completely destroyed.
  8. “Tarleton’s Quarter” - “Tarleton’s Quarter” became the Patriot rallying cry following the Battle of Waxhaws in 1780.  After the battle, news spread that Tarleton ordered his men to murder the surrendering Patriots.  This was not exactly the whole truth.  Near the battle’s chaotic end, some Patriots pleaded for quarter, while other Patriots continued firing.  One shot hit Tarleton’s horse, causing the horse and Tarleton to fall to the ground.  With this, British soldiers bayoneted or sabered over a dozen Patriots who were attempting to surrender.  In later writings, Tarleton defended the actions of his men, stating that they believed he had been fatally shot and were merely avenging his death.  In all, over one hundred Patriot soldiers died in the battle.  The American colonists considered it a “massacre,” assuming Tarleton ordered the actions taken that day.  “Tarleton’s Quarter” was forever after a reminder to Patriot soldiers of the atrocities at Waxhaws.  

Dramatic Effect of Script - It is important that students understand that the Battle of Waxhaws and the personal situations of Thomas Young, James Collins, and Andrew Pickens are just a few personal stories of people and places in South Carolina.  They are indeed factual, yet they are used here to show personal reactions during the battle script.  The British Army was not all bad, as the Patriot Army was not always good.

These were exceptions to the generally “gentlemanly” British forces and are used here to add dramatic effect to the script.  


Download Battle of Cowpens Reaters Theater

Extension/Enrichment Material

Download Illustrated Storyboard

Extension/Enrichment Material

Download Found Poem

Extension/Enrichment Material (RAFT)

Download Newspaper Report Information

Lesson Hook/Preview

Forget the book, the PowerPoint, and the video! Teach the Battle of Cowpens with a readers theater!

In this lesson, students will gain an understanding of the events and outcome of the battle. They will also understand how the geographic features of the land played into the decision to stand and fight, as well as how those features helped the Patriots win the battle. Students will furthermore better understand the role of Daniel Morgan and how his leadership style further cemented a victory. Students will practice reading and speaking skills as well. 


  1. The teacher will provide an overview of the events in the Revolutionary War, including more specific information on the battles in SC.
  2. The teacher will review any necessary background information.
  3. The teacher will pre-teach any vocabulary he/she deems necessary.
  4. The teacher will assign character role.
  5. The teacher will review stage directions in the script.
  6. The teacher will facilitate a class read aloud of the script.
  7. The teacher will facilitate a second reading, if time allows.
  8. The students will complete series of events chain. 


Quarter - merciful consideration of an opponent

Scout - a soldier, airplane, etc., that is sent to get information about the size, location, equipment, etc., of an enemy

Militia - a group of people who are not part of the regular army

Regulars - trained soldiers in the army

Huzzah - a sound of jubilation, similar to “Hooray!”

Epaulets - a decorative piece on the shoulder of a uniform

Parole - the release of a prisoner temporarily on the promise of good behavior

Commission - a certificate conferring military rank and authority

Bayonet - a triangular-shaped knife that is attached to the end of a musket and used as a weapon in battle

Saber - a long, heavy sword with a curved blade (those used during the Revolutionary War were mainly intended to crush bones, not for slashing or cutting)

Assessment Materials

Series of Events Chain

The series of events chain will serve as an informal assessment. Other assessment options can be found below, under Extensions.

Battle of Cowpens Series of Events Chain

Download Assessment

Rubric/Answer Key

Series of Events Chain

Battle of Cowpens Series of Events Chain KEY

Download Rubric/Answer Key

Enrichment Activities

Have students complete any or all of the following:

  • Play a review game - quizlet
  • Narrative Summary: Summarize the Battle of Cowpens. In one to two paragraphs, answer the following questions:
    • Characters - Who’s involved? List both sides. Include the three battle formation lines on the Patriot side. Include the KEY leaders.
    • Setting – When? Where?
    • Conflict – What caused the battle?
    • Plot – What happened in the battle? Be sure to include the resolution. 
  • Illustrated Storyboard – Students create a comic strip for the events of the battle (Instructions & rubric are in materials.)
  • Write a newspaper report to be published in the colonies, highlighting the Patriot victory at Cowpens. (Instructions & rubric are in materials.)

Create a found poem from the Reader’s Theater Script. (Directions for the poem can be found in materials.)

Contact Information

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Last updated: August 20, 2016