Beacon Lesson Plan Library

The House of Burgesses

Thomas Lucey


The students will role-play a session of the House of Burgesses from colonial times to demonstrate how laws affect different people in different ways.


The student knows significant events in the colonization of North America, including but not limited to the Jamestown and Plymouth settlements, and the formation of the thirteen original colonies.


-Role Playing Descriptor Sheets (see Associated File)
-Assessment Checklist (see Assessment box)


1. Duplicate the role playing sheets and create any additional roles you may wish to include
2. Develop rules for -Parliamentary Procedure- that your HoB should follow, as dictated by the composition of your students.
3. If your students' seats are difficult to move in a timely manner, arrange desks at the start of class into three equally numbered groups. The HoB group should be arranged in the center of the room. The two observing groups should be situated around the HoB so that all House members may be observed.


1. Ask the students -What values do you think were important to the early colonists?-

2. After praising student responses, explain that it is possible to understand a society's values by considering the decisions and processes of their governments. Inform the class that the colonies' circumstances required a process for developing laws and addressing issues of concern. The House of Burgesses became the first elected lawmaking body in the colonies.

3. Inform the students they will role play to understand how the House of Burgesses may have resolved important issues for the colonists. In doing so, the students will understand what values colonists considered important.

4. Count off the class by 3’s. Follow this step even if you have arranged the seats for the role-play prior to class. The count-off will prompt spontaneity of the discussion and will deter canned or preplanned remarks.

5. Instruct one group to represent the House of Burgesses (HoB) attempting to resolve a problem. Each Burgess will be provided a role with a viewpoint to express. Provide them also with roles for -Parliamentary Procedures.- These can be quick oral ones that will help students to avoid shouting matches.

6. Instruct the two observing groups to observe and note the HoB group. One group will observe the HoB's attitudes. The other group will observe the HOB's comments. Inform the observers their comment sheets will be collected to account for their class participation.

7. Explain the process to the class. The problem for the HoB will be provided to all students. (See Associated File) The HoB will have 10 minutes to work towards a solution.

8. At the end of the exercise ask for and discuss the observations from the two groups.

Note: This lesson also addresses the Tennessee State Standards as follows:
State of Tennessee Social Studies Framework
Grades 3-5

Civics and Government
Standard 1: Students will understand and be able to explain the purposes and structure of governments with an emphasis on constitutional governments. To achieve this standard, the learner will: Explain why governments were formed at the local, state, and national levels.

Standard 4: Students will be able to explain the extent to which Americans have incorporated principles of the Constitution into their daily lives. To achieve this standard, the learner will: Understand why America formed its own government and how democracy has developed.
Explain how individuals from diverse cultural groups have contributed to ideas and institutions of American democracy.

Standard 1: Students will exhibit a knowledge of history identifying and describing major events, people, and trends. To achieve this standard, the learner will: Recognize how the thirteen English colonies developed and recognize how expansion of the new nation created conflict in North America.

Memphis City School Social Studies Standards.
Standard #1:
Students should be able to analyze and discuss different forms of government and the influences of government on the lives of people.
Note: This lesson also addresses the National Council of Social Studies Standards as follows:
Standard 3. People, Places, and Environment
Standard 4. Individual Development and Identity
Standard 5. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Standard 6. Power, Authority, and Governance
Standard 10. Civic Ideals and Practices


A quick composition written by students will be the assessment. They should respond to the following question:

Why was the House of Burgesses and its processes significant in America's colonization? Address this question from both the colonists' and the native American's point of views. Use the past reenactment to support your responses.

Assessment Checklist:
---- Explains the significance of the House of Burgesses
---- Explains the significance of the House of Burgesses' processes
---- Explains the importance from the Colonists' point of view
---- Explains the importance from the Native Americans' point of view
---- Uses elements of the reenactment to support the responses given

Since this is a formative assessment, students who do not demonstrate understanding of the critieria listed should have an opportunity to read/hear compositions that do meet the criteria. A student should be able to rewrite the composition and then compare it to the original to see the improvement. Teacher feedback is very important and necessary.


The following questions may be asked of the learners to extend this lesson:

Based on your observations/participations what values to you think the Burgesses held most important?

How do you think these values are evident in today’s US government?

Web Links

Web supplement for The House of Burgesses
Beyond Books

Attached Files

The Roles for the Burgesses worksheet.     File Extension: pdf

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