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Grades 3-5
What do students know about Lexington and Concord, the Old North Church, or the historical poem Paul Revere's Ride ? The poem tells of the effort to warn 18th-century Boston-area colonists of the approach of British forces. This lesson introduces various places and an event associated with the American Revolutionary War.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, social studies, history, literature
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 17: "How to apply geography to interpret the past"
Three to five hours

Materials Required:
  • Copy of Paul Revere's Ride , by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Current and historical maps of the Boston area
  • Drawing materials
Students will
  • be able to use a map and a narrative to trace a historic event in a spatial context.
Geographic Skills:

Organizing Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Ask students how they get their news.

Introduce this lesson by telling students about the movement of British troops from Boston Harbor into surrounding communities. In 1775 how would American colonists have learned about this? Radio and television had not been invented, so no one could just broadcast the news!

Read Paul Revere's Ride to the class. Ask students to give their impressions of the poem. What is the task that Paul Revere must complete? Is it a quick, easy ride? Does Revere cover a great distance? Do students sense any urgency?

Reread the poem or distribute copies to small groups. Give students copies of both a historical map and a current map of the Boston area. As you work through the poem, note the landmarks that Longfellow has included.

Explain to students that there were really three riders that night. (You may need to spend a moment explaining the poet's right to base a story on fact but to make it seem more exciting by using just selected facts.)

Point out geographic features on a map of Boston: Boston Harbor, the Back Bay region near the Charles River, the Mystic River, and the towns mentioned in the poem. Discuss possible reasons why Revere and his comrades chose to use more than one messenger to warn the colonists and take different routes. Reasons may include shortest routes, quickest routes, terrain, and British troop placement.

Reread the narrative and follow the map, finding various places mentioned: Old North Church (Why is it named this?), Charlestown shore, Medford town, Lexington (What took place there the day after Revere's ride?), Concord.

Today we can just pick up the telephone and call someone 17 miles (27 kilometers) away, or for that matter 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) away. How long did it take riders to travel to Concord from Boston? Was a courier on horseback the most effective means of communication at the time? Was it successful?

Using current maps of Boston, help students retrace Paul Revere's route . How has the Boston area changed since 1775? Is Boston still located on a peninsula? What happened to the Back Bay area? (Back Bay was a marsh until the city's landfill project created solid ground for a residential neighborhood in the mid-1800s.)
Suggested Student Assessment:
Present this mission to students. You are a British spy in Massachusetts in 1775 and have been asked to describe in writing the possible routes taken by the three riders. Include a sketch map of these routes in a secret letter to your General.
Extending the Lesson:
Have students, in pairs or small groups, create a map of a colonial village. What businesses or occupations should be represented? What religious denominations may be represented? Students may want to add geographic features such as rivers, harbors, or green areas (e.g., Boston Common, Lexington Green).

Teaching Note:

Longfellow's poem has Revere riding the entire trip to Concord. In reality, Revere was one of three riders who rode portions of the route. William Dawes rode through Cambridge to Lexington, where he met Revere. Samuel Prescott continued the ride to Concord after Revere and Dawes were stopped by British troops.

In contrast to Dawes's route around Back Bay, a driver today making the same trip could save considerable time by taking Commonwealth Avenue from Boston Common to the bridge to Cambridge.

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