Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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Of Plymouth Plantation Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Of Plymouth Plantation Include:

Begun in 1630 and completed in 1647, William Bradford’s account of the Pilgrims’ journey, survival, and flourishing in the New World is considered by historians to be one of the most accurate historical accounts of the Plymouth Colony. The manuscript was passed down through the family, lost, and eventually recovered in England. It was not published until 1847.

Bradford’s narrative is unique, because his focus was not on himself, as other writers trying to drum up excitement about the New World often did in their own writings. Instead, Bradford focused on how the Pilgrims, as a community, overcame many obstacles together, with their faith as the focus of their survival. Bradford wrote with a Providential view; that is, he saw their struggles and their accomplishments as being guided by the hand of God.

Throughout his narrative, Bradford highlights many important themes still near and dear to the hearts of Americans today, including the importance of faith, the strength of a united community, perseverance, and the rewards of hard work.

Of Plymouth Plantation Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Timeline of Key Events for Of Plymouth Plantation

Have students keep track of a timeline of up to ten events from Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford. Using the narrative, along with their history textbooks or online resources, have them plug in the dates of the major events, including the history of the Puritans before their voyage, the voyage, their first winter, their interactions with the Native Americans, etc. See the following timeline example below:

Example Of Plymouth Plantation Timeline

July 1608

The Separatist movement decides to move to Leiden (near Amsterdam) in Holland.

September 1620

After departing from Holland in July for Southampton, England, the group boards the Mayflower, and sails for the New World.

November 1620

The Pilgrims spot land, drop anchor, and sign the Mayflower Compact.

December 1620

The Pilgrims set foot in Plymouth, Massachusetts. An illness hits the Pilgrim group, and by March, over half of the group had died from the illness, starvation, and the elements. Bradford’s wife Dorothy May dies aboard the Mayflower.

March 1621

The Pilgrims negotiate with the Nauset tribe, establishing a peace treaty and later setting up trade relations.

October 1621

The Pilgrims have the first “Thanksgiving” with Massasoit and his men.

August 1623

William Bradford marries his second wife, Alice Southworth, a widow.

November 1623

The first official Thanksgiving is declared by Governor William Bradford, as the Pilgrims celebrated the arrival of more people and supplies that began to arrive in July.

March 1629

A royal charter for Massachusetts Bay Colony is issued. Plimoth Plantation and the Pilgrim settlement is later absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

September 1638

The Pequot War with the colonists ends in a treaty.

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Of Plymouth Plantation Themes

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Themes come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify key themes in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation and support their choices with details from the text.

Of Plymouth Plantation Themes and Ideas to Discuss

The Importance of Faith

An important theme in Of Plymouth Plantation is the importance of faith. William Bradford and the other Puritans were firm believers in Providence, or the hand of God guiding all things. When a particularly nasty shipman was knocked overboard in a storm on their Mayflower voyage, Bradford wrote that it was because of God’s will. The Pilgrims’ faith is always at the center of Bradford’s writing, and unlike some of his counterparts who were writing at the time, he credited all of the colony’s successes to the strength God gave the Pilgrims in their endeavors, rather than himself.

The Strength of A United Community

Another important theme raised in Of Plymouth Plantation is the strength of a united community. Bradford writes about the first winter, with all of the diseases and starvation that afflicted many of the Pilgrims. He mentions six or seven “sound persons” who did everything for the ill and infirm. He says they did all of it “willingly and cheerfully without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren...” This is the sense of a united community that Bradford highlights throughout his narrative, a community that was united not only in turmoil, but in their faith, and as a result, they survived.


An additional important theme in Of Plymouth Plantation is perseverance. Despite the first harsh winter, the many skirmishes with the Native American tribes (especially the Pequot), the diseases, and the struggles of building something from nothing in a New World far removed from Europe, the Pilgrims survived and began to flourish. This is due to their resolve to persevere in spite of the obstacles they encountered. Part of this is also due to the fact that they knew there was no place for them in England, or in Holland anymore. With nowhere else to go, and wishing to remain separate from the settlement in Jamestown, the Pilgrims’ perseverance helps them to survive and still keep their faith.

The Rewards of Hard Work

A final important theme found in Of Plymouth Plantation is the rewards of hard work. Because of the Pilgrims’ perseverance, Bradford writes about the many rewards: they establish a peace treaty with the Nauset tribes, including Squanto and Massasoit, who provide essential aid and important commodities to the settlers; the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which increases the number of settlers and supplies; Harvard University is founded; the New England Confederation is formed; the settlers are free to practice their religion as they wish, even to the exclusion of others. All of these things come as a result of the settlers’ hard work, perseverance, and common faith in God.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Of Plymouth Plantation . Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Of Plymouth Plantation you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Promoting a New World with Mayflower Compact

*This activity is especially useful at the beginning of the school year*

The Mayflower Compact is arguably one of the most influential documents for the Founding Fathers drew upon as they drafted the U.S. Constitution. The Compact emphasized important agreements with the settlers, including cooperation, consensus, allegiance, and a common belief system. Have your students (in groups, or as individuals) create their own Mayflower Compact for the school year. Have them include:

  • Their allegiance
  • Their purpose in setting goals
  • Their goals
  • Who will enforce or enact these goals
  • Their redress in case goals are not met

After they have crafted their own Mayflower Compacts, have them storyboard the above portions of their writing.

Example Adaptation of the Mayflower Compact

We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of Mr. Diamond, by the Grace of Principal Long, of USA High School.

Having undertaken, for the glory of our success in this class, and advancement to the next grade, a voyage on the school bus to this classroom, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of Mr. Diamond, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a group called The Sovereigns. We set forth our goals of academic achievement on quizzes and tests, teamwork on presentations and in-class assignments, and mutual support for each other as a group. We pledge to SnapChat, email, or text each other to remind ourselves of major assignments; to provide a study group hour at least once a week after school to go over important material before tests and quizzes; and to make sure we support each other positively in class. This is all for the general good of our class and our group, unto which we promise our submission and obedience, with the final say from Mr. Diamond. If we do not meet these goals, we agree to add an additional hour each week to our study group, and to set up an email system that begins with our parents.

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at USA High School on the 14th of September, in the year of the reign of our sovereign Principal Long, of USA High School, 2016.

Elias Westlake
Frederick Taylor
Shawna Smith
Myrna Martinez

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Determining a Reliable Narrator by TWIST-ing Of Plymouth Plantation

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that examine Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, and Theme. This activity is referred to with the acronym “TWIST”. In a TWIST, students focus on a particular paragraph or a few pages, to look deeper at the author’s meaning.

Using an excerpt from Of Plymouth Plantation, students can depict, explain, and discuss Bradford’s voice and purpose, along with his tone, to determine his sincerity. The more sincere Bradford seems to be, the more reliable he should be regarded, as a narrator.

TWIST Example for Of Plymouth Plantation

In these hard and difficult beginnings, they found some discontents and murmurings arise amongst some, and mutinous speeches and carriages in others, but they were soon quelled and overcome by the wisdom, patience, and just and equal carriage of things by the Governor and better part, which cleaved faithfully together in the main. But that which was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months’ time, half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts…



Bradford’s tone is neutral like a reporter, until he comes to the part where he must report that over half of the company died in the first winter.


difficult, discontents, murmurings, wisdom, patience, faithfully, sad, lamentable


"... in two or three months’ time, half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter…”


Bradford uses third person to impart a sense of community, focusing a level of admiration on Governor Carver as someone who was able to quell rebellion and maintain control.


This passage highlights the many struggles that the settlers faced in the first winter, including the initial rumbles of rebellion, the deaths of friends and loved ones, and the depths of winter which are cold and harsh without such simple things as a house. To know that despite all of this, they survived, is admirable.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Perform a TWIST analysis of a selection from Of Plymouth Plantation. Remember that TWIST stands for Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, Theme.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TWIST.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Of Plymouth Plantation Vocabulary Activities

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from Of Plymouth Plantation. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the narrative, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Of Plymouth Plantation Vocabulary

  • peril
  • profane
  • sundry
  • brethren
  • adversity
  • skulking
  • staunch
  • mutinous
  • sachem
  • scurvy

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in Of Plymouth Plantation by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the text and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Who were the Pilgrims?

The Pilgrims were formed from a group of people called Puritans, who had officially left the Church of England because they believed it to be corrupt. [Note for students: Remember, the Church of England was formed when Henry VIII couldn’t get permission from the Pope to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Lady Anne Boleyn.] The Puritans also believed that the Anglican Church hadn’t gone far enough in severing its ties with Catholicism. The group emigrated to Holland in 1608, but as Bradford writes in Of Plymouth Plantation, there were concerns about the younger people in their group being corrupted by the turmoil of the Dutch fight for independence from Spain. The group was also concerned about a lack of economic opportunities, and the loss of their English identities as they continued to settle into the Dutch society.

Not all of the Pilgrims were Puritan Separatists, however. Of the 102 passengers, only about half were Puritans. The Puritans referred to themselves as “Saints” and the others as “Strangers.”

The Mayflower Compact

The leaders of the small band of people aboard the Mayflower realized that before they debarked, they needed to have a game plan for their government since they had landed without a patent. In particular, William Bradford realized that not every person in their group was willing to respect their desire to establish a new society with their own rules (i.e., the Strangers), which made the Mayflower Compact a necessary document. The Mayflower Compact was signed by a majority of the males on the ship, and is often called the first written constitution. It was viewed as an important precedent for the later writing of the U.S. Constitution.

The Mayflower Compact outlined the following important conditions for the Pilgrims:

Essential Questions for Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford

  1. How can faith be essential for survival?
  2. What makes a community unified? Why is a unified community important?
  3. Why is consensus important when establishing a new government?
  4. How is the idea of hard work reaping rewards an important facet of the American Dream?
  5. What aspects of a narrative makes the narrator reliable? What makes a narrator unreliable?

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