John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” | Primary Source Activities



Great way to learn about the sermon given by John Winthrop to the Puritans as they made their way from England to the New World in 1630. Students will have a much clearer idea of how the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded and the way the settlers lived their lives. This lesson works for History and English classes!

Zero prep! Files are editable, if you desire to make some changes.

Materials include

  1. Primary Source Excerpts from John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity”
  2. Reading check questions (including historical thinking questions)
  3. Summary and Vocabulary activity sheet
  4. H.I.P.P.O.S. Analysis activity sheet (Historical background, Intended Audience, Purpose, Point of view, Other, So what?)
  5. ANSWER KEY for ALL activities

How to use this activity

Since this activity includes a primary source and three accompanying activities, it could be difficult to complete it all in one day. However, you could read the primary source (individually or as a class) and discuss. Then, students complete one (maybe two) of the activities. Finally, give the last activity as homework (or do it the second day).

Alternative activity ideas:

  • If distance learning: students read primary source and complete the activities at home (could discuss on Zoom if possible)
  • Read the primary source as a class and then conduct a Socratic Seminar (use the activities as homework)
  • Read the primary source in pairs, then have a round table discussion (student led, but teacher prompts historical thinking questions); do activities in class or as homework
  • Read the primary source for homework, discuss in class; do activities in pairs
  • Students read the primary source and complete activities; in pairs, present H.I.P.P.O.S.
  • Print the pages, annotate the primary source, take notes on the sides, and complete the activities
  • Students find another primary source that discusses the same historical event but is written from a different point of view; discuss (or write an essay)
  • Read primary source, then have a game show where the teacher asks questions (using the accompanying activities) and teams have to race to answer the question (with some modification, could be adapted into a Jeopardy-like game)
  • After completing the primary source and activities, create a simulation so students can understand how the Puritans felt when John Winthrop gave his sermon

Students will be able to…

  • Understand more about the early British settlers that founded colonies that would ultimately become states in the U.S.
  • Understand the ideology of the Puritans (activities include some information about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony)
  • The differences between Jamestown, Plymouth, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony
  • Think like a historian
  • Read, comprehend, and analyze primary source using textual evidence to support an argument
  • Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points
  • Summarize a primary source
  • Improve their vocabulary
  • Improve their ability to read and analyze AP US History DBQ documents
  • Also useful for AP English students

Additional information

Grade Level

9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Resource Types

Primary Source Activities, DBQs, Printables


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