Articles of Confederation & Shays' Rebellion Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students are going to learn about how Shays' Rebellion reflected the failures of the Articles of Confederation. They will articulate these ideas by proposing their own changes to the Articles of Confederation.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define Shays' Rebellion and its place in American history
  • Identify the weaknesses and limitations of the Articles of Confederation
  • Describe American attitudes of the 1780s and changing ideas about federal power


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.


Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


  • Copies of the quiz
  • Copies of the Articles of Confederation


  • Start class with a discussion on the US Constitution.
    • What kind of government is outlined in the US Constitution? What power does the federal government have?
    • The American Revolution ended in 1783, but the Constitution was not drafted until 1787. Why do you think it took Americans so long to decide what kind of government they wanted?
  • Begin the video lesson Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and Shays Rebellion. Pause the video at 1:47 and discuss this information as a class.
    • What was life like after the American Revolution? What issues were people facing?
    • What sort of government did the United States have at this time? What were the Articles of Confederation? How much power did they give the government? Why would the nation's founding figures have created such a weak central government? What were they afraid of?
    • Do you think all Americans at this time agreed on the future of the nation? Why or why not?
  • Resume and complete the lesson. Discuss this information as a class.
    • What was the purpose of Shays' Rebellion? Why do you think the people turned to Daniel Shays' to help deal with their troubles?
    • What did Shays' Rebellion demonstrate about the Articles of Confederation? How do you think this impacted people's ideas about government power in the early United States? How much power was necessary, and how much was too much?
  • You may test student understanding with the quiz.
  • Review the answers as a class.

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