Colonial Life Compare/Contrast

Students will view three prints, one from each of three colonial regions. They will then answer questions about each of the regions to help them differentiate between the three. As a culminating assessment, students will write a letter from a colonist in one region to a colonist in another region stating the similarities and differences between the two places.

Historical Background

Who, how, and why the colonies were settled made a big difference in the lifestyles amongst the three different regions. These differences were became more pronounced when it came time to create a government that would include these people with different beliefs and livelihoods.

New England came into existence with the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. Ten years later the Puritans came to New England for religious reasons as well. The climate and geography dictated the lives of the New England settlers. The rocky soil and cold winters enabled its residents to specialize in fishing, shipbuilding, and manufacturing metal goods.

The middle colonies were settled by several European nations in the middle of the 17th century. In the middle colonies there was much diversity in how the people lived, from the religion they practices to the food they ate to how they made their living. The middle colonies’ geography and climate dictated how the settlers lived there as well. The winters were cold, but the summers contained moderate temperatures, creating a great environment for growing many crops. The forests in this region provided timber. The land also contained many valuable minerals to be mined. Colonists who didn’t farm or mine, might become artisans who worked in the market towns.

The southern colonies were established early on after the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. At first, the south also relied on the forests and the water, but tobacco and cotton later emerged as cash crops. Initially these crops were harvested by indentured servants, but with the growth of plantations, planters started to import slaves from Africa. In the South, there was a great divide between the rich and the poor. The Church of England was the dominant religion and the center of life for southerners. Laws were made by county governments and the economy centered around the large plantations.

Lesson Objective

Students will compare and contrast life in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the  Southern colonies, with an emphasis on how people interacted with their environment.



  1. The teacher will introduce the idea of a primary source, giving tips for using this type of document. The students then will be given a handout with primary sources (pictures) accompanied by questions which require analysis of the source. At this point, the teacher will display the photographs on the Promethean board one at a time so that students will be able to view the pictures better. Students will answer the questions concerning the photographs in pairs. A short discussion will follow.
  2. The students will then begin the assessment part of the activity, which may have to be completed at home. Students will play the role of a Colonist from one of the three regions examined in class. They will write a letter to a colonist from another region drawing contrasts and comparisons between the two regions. Each student will receive directions and a template for the letter.


Corroborating Questions will be from the culminating part of this activity. A letter from a resident of one colony to another colony will form the graded assessment for this activity.

Letter Activity

Pretend that you are a citizen from one of the regions pictured in attached paintings. Write a letter to a friend living in either of the other two regions. In your letter, compare and contrast the two areas.

Structure your letter in the following format:

Paragraph 1: State the relationship between the sender and receiver of the letter.

Paragraph 2: Be specific in answering the question—How are the two colonial regions similar?

Paragraph 3: Be specific in answering the question—How are the two colonial regions different?

Paragraph 4: End the letter by stating upcoming plans between the sender and receiver.


Points Available: 6





Regions or sender & receiver stated

Both identified

1 identified

Neither identified

Similarities of colonies stated

At least 2 similarities given

1 similarity given

No similarities given

Differences between colonies stated

At least 2 differences given

1 difference given

No differences given

Total: /6

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