Common Sense by Thomas Paine

Teacher Guide by Matt Campbell

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Common Sense Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Common Sense Include:

Thomas Paine's political pamphlet Common Sense was an enormously impactful document of the Revolutionary Era. Written and reasoned in an easily understood style, the pamphlet became wildly popular. It stoked the fires of revolution and provided intellectual ammunition to revolutionaries across the the colonies.

Common Sense Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

5 Ws for Common Sense

In this activity, students will create a spider map that defines that 5 Ws (Who Where What When Why) of Common Sense. This activity can be done prior to reading Common Sense, as it will allow students to understand the historical significance of this book before they analyze Paine's specific arguments.

Example Common Sense 5 Ws

WHO wrote Common Sense?

The pamphlet Common Sense was written by the English-born political philosopher, Thomas Paine. Although Paine wrote this influential pamphlet, he originally published it anonymously, for fear of being charged with treason.

WHAT was the impact of Common Sense?

Common Sense became a call to arms for many colonists, as it quickly became a best-selling publication. Paine's work motivated many to prepare for a conflict that would shape the course of American history.

WHERE was Common Sense read?

The Common Sense pamphlet quickly made its way to all areas of colonial society, including the secretive meetings of the Sons of Liberty in taverns throughout Boston.

WHEN was Common Sense published?

Common Sense was published in January of 1776. The pamphlet was released during the American Revolution and became a strong source of motivation for many soldiers in the Continental Army.

WHY did Thomas Paine write Common Sense?

The main argument of Common Sense revolves around the need for the colonies to break off entirely from the British government. Common Sense stressed that independence was no longer just possible, but essential.

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Common Sense Vocabulary Lesson Plan

This activity can be used throughout the reading of Common Sense, as it will require students to define a word that Paine uses that they may not be familiar with. In order for students to comprehend Paine's arguments, it is essential they understand the vocabulary he uses. Students will create a list of terms they are unfamiliar with as they read, and create a storyboard grid that will include the context of the term from the passage, a definition of the term, and a representation of what the term means or how it is used.

n. an organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes

n. the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states

adj. arousing disgust or aversion; offensive or repulsive

Extended Activity

For an extended activity, students should take each vocabulary term and create a modern-day representation of each term. Depending on teacher preference, the extended activity can reflect modern issues in society, or popular culture references.

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Common Sense Analysis | Arguments

This activity will require students to select one of the sections from Common Sense and create a spider map that reflects Paine's major arguments in it. Students must summarize the main argument below each representation.

Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession

Long History of Incompetent and Corrupt Monarchs

According to Paine, an argument for independence comes from the history of incompetent and corrupt British monarchs. Paine believed that not only a change in power, but also a change is government was necessary for the colonists.

All Men Are Equal

Paine believed that the rules of nature dictate no man is greater than another. Despite monarchy being in place, Paine believed that only God can have supreme authority over another and the current form of government was invalid.

Hereditary Succession is Not Valid

Paine viewed hereditary succession as an illegitimate form of power. Even if the present king is beloved by his subjects, the next king in line may be incompetent and lacking of his father's traits.

The British Monarchy Produced a History of Instability

In order to persuade colonists to commit to the American Revolution, Paine argued that under the British monarchy there have been eight civil wars and 19 rebellions. A representative government, according to Paine, would promote peaceful debate rather than violent rebellion.

Extended Activity

For this extended activity, students will create a spider map that represents what they found to be the four strongest arguments for independence. Students will be able to create a similar storyboard from the activity.

  1. Of the Origin and Design of Government in general, with concise Remarks on the English Constitution
  2. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession
  3. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs
  4. On the Present Ability of America, with some Miscellaneous Reflections

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Common Sense Quote Analysis

This activity will allow students to select their favorite or the most significant Common Sense quotes and visualize the meaning using the T-Chart layout. Depending on the guidance of the teacher, students can create a translation of the quote’s rationale, or use Textables to include word or thought bubbles that convey the central idea or theme of each quote. As displayed in the example storyboard, students will create a T-Chart that has the “Direct Quotes” and the “Meaning of Quote” columns side by side. For students that may find the activity challenging, encourage them to create modern day examples of the central message, e.g. the Tooth Fairy in the final storyboard.

Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.

Meaning of Quote

Kings, or any leaders that are guaranteed the right to rule, quickly become detached from their subjects and the society they govern.

Small islands, not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.

Meaning of Quote

It doesn't make sense to have the island of Britain ruling over the continent of America from thousands of miles away. In order to run a country decisions have to be made quickly and a continent cannot wait on a foreign king.

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

Meaning of Quote

Just because people have done things a certain way doesn't mean it is the correct way to do it. People become comfortable with the tradition of an activity rather than the purpose of it.

Extended Activity

In order to understand perspective, students should consider the antithesis to each quote or argument selected in the activity. Students will have to create a storyboard that attempts to discredit Paine's argument through the perspective of either the King of England or a loyalist in the colonies.

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There are certain events, documents, and speeches that have an enormous impact on the public opinion and actions of the citizenry. While many colonists were unhappy with the treatment from their government across the ocean, there was a limited number of people willing to commit treason against their king and country to make change. Common Sense was a document that incited many people to join the revolutionary movement.

Published on January 10th, 1776, the Common Sense document quickly became both a best-selling pamphlet throughout the colonies, and a call-to-arms for permanent separation with Great Britain. Paine's work not only summarized many of the arguments that Patriots had been proclaiming for years, but also convinced many colonists not to remain indifferent to this revolution.

In this teacher guide, students will examine one of the most significant political writings in American History, Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Students will be able to summarize the main arguments Paine had in his work and connect them with how this pamphlet became a catalyst for revolution.

Essential Questions for Common Sense

  1. Who was Thomas Paine and how did he contribute to the American Revolution?
  2. What was Common Sense and why was it so influential to the American colonists?
  3. What were the main arguments of the Common Sense pamphlet?

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