The First Great Awakening

The First Great Awakening
Abigail Adams: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Two to three class periods


The religious movement known as the First Great Awakening, dating from the 1730s to the 1770s, first appeared in the mid-Atlantic colonies, transitioned to New England, and reached a culmination of sorts in the South.  It left in its wake a legacy of debate and division.  This entire movement played out during Abigail Adams’ life.


There are several objectives for this lesson.  First, this is an excellent opportunity for students to connect the social studies with American literature.  Second, in order for students to understand the causes and impact of the Great Awakening, it is necessary for them to draw comparisons with events in England.  The social studies skill of timeline construction is also emphasized in this lesson.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print reference materials; First Ladies Timeline link, KW = Great Awakening. 


1.  On the day prior to this lesson, assign students any materials contained in the textbook that addresses the Great Awakening.

2.  Begin the lesson with a discussion of the characteristics of the Great Awakening.  Some students may begin to discern differences between the events in the mid-Atlantic colonies, New England, and the South.  Encourage the distinctions but continue to look for similarities. 

3.  Ask the question, “Why did this movement happen at this point in time?”  Here you may need to assist students in looking at events in England (which also experienced a Great Awakening) and here in the colonies.  Students should, in time, be able to point to the enormous social, political, and economic upheavals taking place on both sides of the Atlantic due to the Industrial Revolution and other events.  It’s little wonder that people sought fellowship, solace, and emotional release in such trying times. 

4.  As students explore the lives and activities of the following people, have them answer the question, “What did they contribute to the Great Awakening and how did their work usher in what has been called a new age of faith?”

  • Solomon Stoddard
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • George Whitefield
  • James Davenport
  • Charles Chauncy
  • William Tennent
  • Silbert Tennent
  • Samuel Davies
  • Shubal Stearns
  • Devereux Jarratt
  • David Brainerd
  • Eleazer Wheelock
  • Samuel Kirkland

5.  As students familiarize themselves with one or more of these individuals, have them develop a timeline of each person’s life.

6.  Have students report on each individual and place the work within the time frame of the period.  Look for patterns of activity and location.  What were the major ideas of the Great Awakening?  Can students trace the movement of these ideas?  Are there connections between specific events here in the colonies and the ideas?

7.  Have students write a summary of the ideas, events, and impact of the Great Awakening.  Have them speculate about a connection with the American Revolution.

Extending the Lesson:

The teacher may wish to assign reports and timelines on the individual participants in the Great Awakening rather than having a group activity.  However, the final questions need to be carefully considered and discussed.

Sources & Resources:


          The Great Awakening

         More on the Great Awakening

         George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin

         Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening              


This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.