Blunders on All Sides: The Battle of Bunker Hill

Blunders on All Sides: The Battle of Bunker Hill
Abigail Adams: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


On June 17, 1775, Abigail Adams took her son, John Quincy, to the top of Penn’s Hill near their home to watch the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Abigail Adams later wrote to her husband, John, who was in Philadelphia, about the battle, particularly about the loss of their dear friend, Dr. Joseph Warren.  Her letter is among several that have survived describing the battle and its aftermath.


After participating in this activity, students will know more about the Battle of Bunker Hill, will gain experience in interpreting primary documents, and will gain experience in synthesizing and restating arguments and reports in a contemporary context.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet.  An example of a newspaper editorial and op ed page. 


1.  Divide the class into groups of five; in each group one student should take the following roles:
  • reporter
  • geographer
  • editorial writer
  • columnist for the “op ed” page
  • feature writer

2.  Each group should have sufficient time to explore the Massachusetts Historical Society’s “web exhibition” of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  In particular,
  • The reporter in each group should read Bernard Bailyn’s essay and the Broadside;
  • The geographer should concentrate on the maps and views section, tracing out (with the help, perhaps, of the Timeline on the site) the lines of battle;
  • The editorial writer should read the contemporary accounts by Peter Brown; William Prescott, and Nathaniel Ober;
  • The columnist should read the letters by J. Weller and General John Burgoyne; and Joseph Palmer;
  • The feature writer should read the contemporary accounts by Abigail Adams; John Quincy Adams, and James Warren

3.  Having read this material, each group should reconstitute itself as an editorial staff, to write and “publish” one editorial and one op-ed/feature newspaper page. Included on these pages should be the following:
  • An editorial, laying out the facts of the battle, and asking the question, “What can we learn from this experience?”
  • A “Pro” editorial, praising the colonists for their bravery
  • A “Con” editorial, defending the British failure to use the sea to land troops north of the colonists
  • An editorial cartoon, reflecting an opinion on either side
  • A guest column, a feature on the hardships being endured by people such as Abigail Adams and the Otis and Warren families
  • Letters to the editor from participants and watchers of the battle
  • Opinion poll: one person in each group is responsible for compiling statements from each person in the group about what the colonists (or the British) should do next.

4.  After each team member has completed his or her tasks for the editorial and op-ed pages, he or she should trade with another person in the group for editing and comments.
5.  Type or neatly print each of the articles.  If students have access to computers, students may lay out their pages on the computer, using different fonts, etc.  If not, use large pieces of paper to lay out the pages.  Be sure to include credits and sources for the articles.  At the top of the page, put the name of the paper and the date of publication.  Other graphic elements may be added.
6.  When finished, student teams should present and share their pages.    

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by producing a whole newspaper—a special edition—about the battle, or by producing a TV broadcast program—a “you are there” segment—such as CNN often does.

Sources & Resources:


       “The Decisive Day Has Come:” The Battle of Bunker Hill

        "Patriots," A Novel about the Battle of Bunker Hill
This lesson was inspired by a lesson on Shay’s Rebellion, by Jane Ann Craig, Westlake High School, Texas.  It was adapted by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.