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kitchen scene from Hinsdale house Everyday Life in a New England Town
An Inquiry-based Social Studies Unit for Fifth or Sixth Grade

Unit Central Questions:
What do primary and secondary sources teach us about the characteristics of "everyday life" of individuals living in Deerfield at the four turns of the centuries? What do these characteristics reveal about changes in the town since its beginning as an English settlement?

Primary Teacher-Authors
Mary Gene Devlin
, 6th grade Teacher
Bette Schmitt, school Librarian
Full Curriculum Credits

This unit is lengthy, encompassing 15 separate lessons, some of which have many parts. However, it is designed in such a way that smaller groups of lessons can easily be extracted and used independently. Use the lessons and accompanying materials to suit your teaching needs.

You can preview the teacher background material from Teacher Background Essays.

On this page: Unit At-A-Glance | Introduction | Unit Overview

Unit At-A-Glance (lesson titles link to lessons)

# Lesson Content Covered Skills Covered
1 The Topography and Geology of Deerfield Geological events, including glacial movement, formation of mountain ranges, and lakes and rivers, formed the landscape of New England.

• reading topographic maps
• reading comprehension
• creation of a timeline


Early Indian Inhabitants of Deerfield

Native Americans lived in the Northeast from time immemorial. Examination of Native American artifacts will help students understand everyday life in these societies.

• visual examination of artifacts
• interpretive writing
• creation of a timeline
• sketching

3 The Original Layout of the Town of Deerfield English settlers in New England distributed the land according to their cultural understandings.

• reading modern and historical maps
• analysis of drawings and photographs

4 The Homes, Possessions, and Way of Life of the Puritans at the First Turn (1680-1720) Remnants of the past indicate that this New England village was based on an agricultural economy, while religion was the foundation of daily life.

• reading comprehension
• visual analysis of artifacts
• interpretive writing

5 Native American Presence in Deerfield In this volatile period, colonial powers and Native groups competed for trade goods and land, coming into conflict repeatedly.

• reading comprehension and analysis
• interpretative writing
• analysis of art
• chronological ordering


6 African American Presence in Deerfield Although there were fewer African American slaves in New England than in southern colonies, they still played an important role in families and in the economy.

• reading comprehension (poetry)
• analysis of economic evidence

7 The Will of Ebenezer Wells (1691-1758) A primary source, in this case a will, can tell modern readers much about an individual's beliefs and his social circumstances.

• reading and analyzing primary source documents

8 Changes in Deerfield Shown in Maps at the Second Turn (1780-1820) Maps of the same area from different time periods show the ways in which the land stayed the same, and the ways this New England village changed over the years.

• reading and analyzing historic maps

9 Inventory of Ebenezer Wells (1730-1783), Nephew of Ebenezer Wells (1691-1758) Primary sources, in this case inventories, can tell modern readers much about the changing New England economy and differences among citizens of the same village.

• reading and analyzing primary source documents

10 Dwellings - The Message of Houses and Their Contents (1780-1820) Architectural styles of the times reflected the economic status and taste of the individuals who owned the houses. Changes in the landscape and in material wealth reflect changes in technology and in trade patterns.

• examining and analyzing house interiors
• reading and analyzing primary source documents
• sketching
• making informed inferences

11 Printed Materials-- Ads and Broadsides (1780-1820) The increased availability of printed material changed the way citizens of the new nation communicated with each other. The materials used in this lesson also reflect changes in politics and the economy.

• reading and analyzing primary source documents
• making informed inferences

12 Schools and Schoolbooks (1780-1820) Schools in this period flourished as the new republic required an educated and moral citizenry.

• reading and analyzing primary source documents
• reading and analyzing secondary sources

13 Dress, Dance, and Games (1780-1820) The leisure activities of this period were characterized by a desire for a sense of refinement, which was also reflected in dress and manners. With greater wealth more Americans could afford a growing variety of consumer goods.

• playing period games
• creating games
• reading and analyzing primary source documents

14 Indians and African Americans (1780-1820) Although many Native Americans left New England by the end of the seventeenth century, some remained in their traditional homelands. In 1783, Massachusetts abolished slavery; some freed African Americans remained in rural New England.

• reading and analyzing the census

15 Becoming an Historian -- Exploring 1880-1920 This is the culminating activity for this unit. Students pick a topic, research it at length, and write and revise their writing about the topic. They present their project to the community and their peers and analyze their peers' writing and presentations.

• reading and analyzing primary source documents
• researching historical topics
• writing
• presentation of a history project

On this page: Unit At-A-Glance | Introduction | Unit Overview

Students in fifth and sixth grades are eager to explore and discover. Imaginative, interested in the way things work, and aware of the world outside their own experiences, they are ready to learn new things. Sixth grade is an excellent time to study history in depth. Students are enthusiastic "time travelers," willing to ask questions about the past and follow clues to the answers.

The Turns of the Centuries: Everyday Life in a New England Town, 1680-1920, takes advantage of students' developmental readiness to explore the evolution of social history in Deerfield at three century turns. The unit is inquiry-based, focused on teaching students how to "read" an array of primary and secondary source materials. Learning to ask questions of these sources, and to think about what they can and cannot tell us, encourages critical thinking skills and academic independence. As the study progresses through the centuries, students gradually build a strong knowledge and skill base that enables them to do independent research using primary and secondary source materials. Through the study of Deerfield, students also learn about the causes and effects of change in daily life throughout the region and the country.

Above all, The Turns of the Centuries: Everyday Life in a New England Town, 1680-1920 unit makes teaching and learning about history interesting and engaging. The material culture of previous generations - the "stuff" that people made and left behind - is compelling. Students' own curiosity is engaged time and again as they immerse themselves in times past.

The unit was developed as a part of the Turns of the Century project, in collaboration with the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA). It makes use of source materials from the PVMA collections and library and other historic resources in Deerfield. Photographs of all of the source materials which are utilized in this unit have been digitized and stored in a digital library accessible through the PVMA web site. The unit builds upon the fifth grade Turns unit and prepares students for the eighth grade unit. All of the Turns of the Century curriculum units are designed to satisfy grade-appropriate requirements of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework.

On this page: Unit At-A-Glance | Introduction | Unit Overview

Unit Overview
In the The Turns of the Centuries: Everyday Life in a New England Town, 1680-1920, students learn the basic skills needed to "read" primary and secondary sources, including a broad array of documents, maps, images, and buildings, to see what they can reveal about the characteristics of everyday life in Deerfield, MA over three century turns. At the same time, they learn the historical background of each era so that the source materials will be understood in the proper context. Then, they use what they have learned to analyze the ways the town has changed since its beginning. The unit progresses chronologically through the three century turns, covering the periods 1680-1720, 1780-1820, and 1880-1920.

As they progress through the research at each "turn," students are required to be increasingly independent. They gradually build their research skills and knowledge base so that they are able, by the third "turn," to do independent research projects which utilize primary and secondary sources and draw conclusions which can be supported by the research.

On this page: Unit At-A-Glance | Introduction | Unit Overview | top of page

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