Common Sense Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

With this lesson plan and activity, you'll have everything you need to help your students better understand the role that Thomas Paine played in persuading the United States to declare independence.

Lesson Objectives

After this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Discuss what lead up to the writing of Common Sense
  • Describe Thomas Paine's work Common Sense
  • Analyze the impact of persuasive writing on the colonists


1 hour

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Key Terms

  • Continental Congresses
  • Olive Branch Petition
  • Common Sense


  • To activate prior knowledge, start by reviewing with your class the issues faced by the colonists after the French and Indian War.
  • Explain to students that they will be learning about Thomas Paine's Common Sense.
  • Then watch the lesson The Second Continental Congress and Thomas Paine's Common Sense, pausing for key terms. Have students write down key terms in a notebook or write them on the board.
  • Pause at the following points to discuss as a class:
    • 1:26 - What role did economics play in motivating the colonists? How did the Quebec Act factor into this economic argument?
    • 2:46 - Do you think other states would have been so emboldened had it not been for successes at Concord, Fort Ticonderoga, and Bunker Hill? Why or why not?
    • 5:14 - The colonists were clearly planning for war, but still would accept rights from Great Britain. Put yourself in the shoes of the British government - why would it be unwise to grant these people more rights?
    • 5:52 - How did religion influence Common Sense? How did it turn people in favor of the patriot cause?
  • Now watch the lesson Thomas Paine: Common Sense and The Crisis, pausing for these discussion questions:
    • 3:24 - Discuss what each section of Common Sense argued. What do you think the reason for this ordering was?
    • 5:19 - Who did Paine target in The Crisis in America? How do you think his style helped him target his message?


  • Drawing on knowledge from past events leading up to the publication of Common Sense, have your class write pamphlets from numerous biases.
  • Divide your class into three groups, each tasked with producing a pamphlet. Here are the groups:
    • Patriots
    • Loyalists
    • Those who wanted to negotiate
  • Have each student be responsible for writing one 2-paragraph story from the topics chosen below:
    • Independence
    • Intolerable Acts
    • Introduction of Continental Currency
    • Publication of Common Sense
    • Negotiating with Britain
    • The Continental Congress


  • Most history classes don't focus on Thomas Paine's later years. Have your students learn more about his life.
  • What role did Benjamin Franklin play in the early printing industry?

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