Propaganda and the
Grievances Listed in The Declaration of Independence
By: Jessica Tensmeyer, Wasatch Range Writing Project Teacher
Burning Question: Can the grievances listed in The Declaration of
Independence be viewed as propaganda? How can we recognize if something is
propaganda? Why is it important to recognize propaganda?
- Students will become familiar with the list of grievances listed in
The Declaration of Independence.
- Students will be able to define the term “propaganda” and give
examples of propaganda.
- Students will indentify how to recognize propaganda and will be able
to tell why they feel it is important to recognize propaganda.
- Students will write mock obituaries for the British governance of
its 13 colonies and identify the propaganda in the writing (based on the
point of view of the obituary).
This lesson is intended not only to help students become familiar with a
part of The Declaration of Independence that many of them are not familiar
with, but also to teach students the meaning of propaganda, how to recognize
propaganda, and the importance of recognizing propaganda. Discussions of
propaganda can connect to many different content areas in many different
units. NOTE: teachers need to be careful when teaching this subject that
they keep their own opinions at bay and allow students to form their own
opinions. Teachers must create an environment for very open discussion.
- A copy of The Declaration of Independence for each student.
- A sheet of plain white paper for each student
- Markers, colored pencils, and/or crayons
Time Span: Approx. two 90 min class periods.
- Tell students to imagine that our principal of our school lived in a
different state, but that he and the people who worked under
him made all the rules for our school and then sent detention officers to
enforce those rules. No one from our school was ever allowed to be a part of
the rule making process. Why would that be a problem? Explain to students
that the British subjects in the 13 colonies had created their own
governments. England had not directly governed them for over 100 years
until after the French and Indian War, 1754-1762. The British government
than began to directly govern the colonists. Colonial legislators
began to protest. "No taxation without representation" was one of
the protests from the colonial legislature of Virginia
- Take the list of grievances against King George III from
the Declaration of Independence and assign one to each student. Give
students each a plain white sheet of paper and crayons, colored pencils, or
markers to work with. Ask students to draw a graphic representation (as they
would see in a graphic novel) of the grievance they have been assigned. May
use The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation as a sample
of what a graphic novel looks like.
- When the students have finished creating their graphic representations,
have each student show his/her picture, explain what the grievance was and
how the picture represents it, and then post the picture on the wall. Allow
a few minutes for students to walk around the room and look at all of the
- Define propaganda:
- the spreading of ideas, information, or
for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.
- ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further
one's cause or to damage an opposing cause.
- Discussion-Was the Declaration of Independence propaganda? Why or why
not? What are some other examples of propaganda that you can think of? (You
may want to show some other examples of propaganda). Why is it important to
recognize whether something is or is not propaganda?
- Divide students into 2 groups. Tell all students that they are going to
write an obituary for the British rule over the United States. Show some
examples of obituaries and have students help create a list of features
needed in an obituary (example- brief biography, list of interests, how the
person died, list of relatives still living, etc.). Now, specify the
perspective. Tell group 1 that they are writing the obituary from the
perspective of the British. Tell group 2 that they are writing the obituary
from the perspective of the revolutionaries in the U.S. Allow
the students time to work on their obituaries. Teachers may also want to
consider dividing students into three groups for this activity: the
revolutionaries, the loyalists, and those living in Great Britain who
opposed the revolutionaries.
- As a class or in small groups, ask some of the students from each group
to share their obituaries. Talk about the difference between the two sides.
Is their propaganda on either side? Both sides? Explain.
- After discussing what propaganda is, ask students to bring in an example
of propaganda to discuss the next class period
- Look at examples of propaganda from opposing sides about the same issue
- Have students write an essay about the effects of propaganda in a
- Have students write a newspaper article about a certain issue. Ask
different students to write it from different points of view.
- Ask students to find both a very biased news article and an unbiased news
article. Have them compare the two.
- Examine Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.
Students are often bombarded with many different opinions from a great
number of sources. It is important for students to
recognize when those sources are working to further their own cause or harm
the cause of their opponents (propaganda). It is also important that
students become familiar with The Declaration of Independence, all parts of
it. This lesson helps them to become familiar with a section of The
Declaration that is often overlooked, while exploring other issues at the