Discovering the Roots of America: Teaching Jamestown Colony to Fifth and Sixth Grade Students

Hidden within the folds of time and obscured by the pages of history lies the origin of a tale that forms the very heart of America. It is the responsibility of those who have journeyed before to illuminate this story for the young, eager to learn. Jamestown, the foundation of an empire, took root in the rich soil of a new world in 1607—a date forever etched into our nation’s tapestry, a full 169 years before the United States came to be.

This was the inception of what would eventually become the United States of America, the story of which is profoundly ingrained in the soul of the American people and will be carried down to succeeding generations as it is the country’s lifeblood. Teaching history to young pupils can be challenging since they frequently struggle with understanding abstract concepts and may find history boring or unimportant.

In this blog, we will explore the captivating narrative of the Jamestown Colony and its significance in molding American history. Following this brief history, we will present valuable lesson plans tailored to support educators of fifth and sixth-grade students in successfully conveying this pivotal chapter in our nation’s past.

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Background of Jamestown Colony

In the second half of the 16th century, England underwent significant changes as its global reach expanded. As the population grew, the nation’s economy transitioned from being primarily agriculture-based to one centered on trade and commerce. However, England faced difficulties in meeting the increasing demand for cotton, sugar, and tobacco. As a result, the English explored the prospect of colonizing the Americas, aiming to obtain new markets and resources to bolster their expanding industries. Additionally, England observed the wealth being amassed by its rival, the Spanish Empire, in the Americas and sought to share in the prosperity.

King James I gave a nod of approval to a group of investors in 1606, allowing them to establish a colony in North America. The Virginia Company dispatched three vessels – the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery – carrying 105 souls to the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia. And on May 14, 1607, they founded the Jamestown Colony on the banks of the James River.

But the colony faced a multitude of challenges. The settlers were inexperienced and lacked the skills to thrive in the inhospitable terrain, and the Powhatan tribe, who at first welcomed the strange newcomers, eventually grew hostile as the colonists encroached on their land. Harsh winters, food shortages, and inadequate supplies claimed many lives.

Yet the Jamestown colony persisted, and through resoluteness and adaptability, they overcame these obstacles. The settlers learned from the Powhatans and developed a flourishing tobacco economy, resulting in a vast community of over 1,000 by the 1620s. The Jamestown Colony was an attestation to the resilience of the human spirit, and a reminder that even in the face of great adversity, we can achieve great things.

The Significance of Jamestown Colony in American History

The establishment of Jamestown Colony marked the starting point in American history, signifying the first English settlement in North America and laying the groundwork for the future United States.

The colony’s influence on the interactions between Native Americans and Europeans in North America was equally noteworthy. At first, the Powhatan tribe graciously welcomed the settlers and generously shared their resources. However, as the colonists pursued their territorial aspirations, conflicts arose, ultimately laying the foundation for enduring disputes between the two cultures that would echo throughout history.

Teaching Jamestown Colony to Fifth and Sixth Grade Students

Teaching about the Jamestown Colony to fifth and sixth grade students can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can make this history lesson more understandable and engaging.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Create a Simulation

Using a simulation that lets students feel what life was like for the settlers during that time period is one method to make the history of Jamestown Colony more interesting. Assign diverse roles to the small groups in the class, such as settler, Native American, or governor. Give them scarce resources—like food and supplies—and instruct them to cooperate in order to adapt to and flourish in the new setting. The difficulties that the settlers experienced and the value of cooperation and resourcefulness in forging a community can be better understood by pupils through this simulation.

2. Use Primary Sources

Use primary documents from the time, such as letters, diaries, and maps, to help students better understand the history of Jamestown Colony. These resources can give students an understanding of the settlers’ daily challenges as well as Native Americans’ viewpoints and experiences. You can discover primary materials online or in history textbooks. In class discussions or writing tasks, have students study and interpret the sources.


3. Create Interactive Projects

Create interactive projects, such as dioramas, timelines, or virtual tours of the colony, to interest students in learning about Jamestown Colony. For instance, students may utilize web tools to build a virtual tour of the colony or build a diorama of the Jamestown fort. These assignments can encourage teamwork and creative expression while also assisting students in visualizing and contextualizing the colony’s history.

Hint: if you want to make a diorama, always have a plethora of popsicle sticks handing around!

Example of a diorama of Jamestown made by young students

4. Connect History to Current Events

Connecting the history of Jamestown Colony to current events or issues will help pupils understand it better. You may, for instance, talk about how colonization affected Native American cultures and how it still has an impact on them now. You can also talk about how tobacco production affects society and the economy and how that relates to the current tobacco industry. Students can better understand the value and relevance of learning history by making connections between the history of the Jamestown Colony and current affairs.

5. Read a Jamestown Cartoon with Accompanying Questions

To make learning about Jamestown Colony more dynamic and engaging, using cartoons or comics can be a useful strategy. These visual aids can help illustrate the events and people involved in the colony’s history.

For instance, “William’s Journey to Jamestown,” a cartoon created by Lessons in Humanities, provides an informative account of the founding of Jamestown, including the challenges faced by the settlers and the conflict with the Powhatan tribe. To use this cartoon in the classroom, teachers can distribute copies to each student or project it onto a screen for the whole class to see. By reading the cartoon, students can gain insights into the history of the colony, while teachers can pause and ask questions to encourage comprehension, discussion, and critical thinking.

Excerpt from “William’s Journey to Jamestown”

By incorporating cartoons and accompanying questions into their lesson plans, educators can make the teaching of Jamestown Colony more interactive, engaging, and accessible for their students, while also helping them to develop critical thinking and comprehension skills.


The history of Jamestown Colony is a crucial chapter in American history, and it is important for fifth and sixth grade students to understand its significance and impact. By using pragmatic teaching strategies such as simulations, primary sources, interactive projects, and connecting history to current events, we can make the teaching of Jamestown Colony more engaging and accessible for students. Through this understanding, students can gain a deeper appreciation for the complex and fascinating history of our nation.

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