Colonial America Simulation Game

October is such a fun month for us in 5th grade. We spend the month learning about what life was like for the early settlers. We begin each month by establishing our colonial families. I arrange the kids’ desks into groups (their “family” for the rest of the month) and each student then chooses a colonial first name, and the family chooses a last name. We make journals out of special, old-looking paper and yarn where the students write entries throughout the month. Their first journal entry always describes why they chose to come to the New World – maybe they are in search of gold? Or maybe they’d like religious freedom. Whatever the reason, they describe it in their journal.

The families then must decide what they want to bring to the New World with them. I have them first make a list of EVERYTHING, prompting them to remember things like clothing, food, water, and other essentials; however, I do tell them to be specific (not just “clothing”, but “3 wool sweaters, 5 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of leather shoes”). After they have created their lists, I send each family to a rectangle taped on the floor in the dimensions of 48″ by 36″ (the height of 24″ is just imagined). This represents their chest that they must pack their belongings in – they will have two for the journey. Of course, I always have the group that asks if they can still bring their livestock 🙂

After the families have narrowed down their list of belongings, we then get ready for the voyage. We travel to a different area of the school, somewhere that the kids can be tightly packed in. I read them a paragraph describing their 3-month voyage on the ship, and when we “get off” the ship, we always pretend to have shaky legs from being on the ship so long!

We make our way to land (aka the classroom) where the students are asked to find a place to settle. Each family usually chooses a different corner of the room. They are then given 4 resource cards. These cards may include things like berries that allow them a few meals, an abandoned wig wam to sleep in tonight, or an unlimited supply of water. They are allowed to trade cards, but only going through the “governor” (me!) first.

That usually gets us through our first day of Colonial America. The students love being actively involved and are still learning about what life is like in the process. Soon I’ll describe the next day of our simulation which is the kids’ favorite – hunting!

Here is one family deciding what to bring in their trunks!

28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stacey
    Nov 10, 2011 @ 19:45:42

    Hello! This sounds like an activity out of the Past Ports binder. Unfortunately, I had to leave this great resource behind when I changed schools! Do you by chance have a list of the resource cards you’d be willing to share??? I want to have my students do this simulation activity because it leaves such a lasting impression! I would greatly appreciate anything you are willing to share!!

    Stacey Sawyer
    5th grade teacher


  2. wordsiwouldsay
    Nov 10, 2011 @ 20:21:34

    I would be happy to! Send me your email address and I’ll get them to you sometime tomorrow or early next week 🙂


  3. Erica
    Jan 26, 2012 @ 20:12:22


    I am a fifth grade teacher in Chicago and love your ideas! Is there anywhere I can get a copy of the program or resources you use? My kids hate history, and I am trying to excite them!



    • wordsiwouldsay
      Jan 26, 2012 @ 21:27:25

      Hi Erica!

      I believe I still have some digital files. I’d be happy to email them to you – just let me know your email address! I will also look tomorrow at the name of the programs and resources I use. Hope I can help!



  4. Krista Bendell
    Jan 30, 2012 @ 21:41:54

    I was wondering if I could get the files as well. I teach fifth grade in Florida, my class has also read Sign of the Beaver and we are going through American History as well (we are currently studying about the Revolution).



  5. Kelly Berry
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 07:38:37

    I’m a first year teacher and am about to start teaching colonial america. I saw your blog this morning as I was looking around for some resources and was wondering if you could send me the digital files as well. I have a very active classroom and I think they would love this type of thing!



  6. Teresa Mudrow
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 13:45:36

    I would love a copy as well….we are studying about the colonies.
    My email is
    I would greatly appreciate it!


  7. marilyn
    Apr 21, 2012 @ 15:50:37

    What a great resource you are! Do you mind emailing me the digital files also?

    New to teaching American History!


  8. Kim Hartmann
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 17:02:43

    I would also be really grateful if you would pass on any information you have. 🙂 Thank you for your willingness to share!


  9. Brigette
    Jul 03, 2012 @ 19:57:52

    This sounds like a fantastic simulation. I would love to use this activity with my fifth graders. Currently, I tape out the size of the space people had to live on their trip over on the Mayflower. Each student then pulls the name of a Pilgrim on the trip and reads their background. This is who they are for the day. SOme don’t make it far! I make them eat, keep backpacks, etc. in the space for the day. They are miserable by last bell. I would love to add on your activity to the beginning! Is there anyway you could email the files?
    Thanks for any help!
    My email is:


  10. Mary
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 20:26:35

    Hi Kim – I am a 4/5 teacher in a private school just outside of DC and I have also taught in NC, but in both places I have done a colonial simulation – I would love to swap information and ideas with you! My email is
    Thanks, Mary Akeley


  11. Robert Owen
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 16:25:05

    Hi Kim,
    I’d love a copy for my 5/6th grade class as well! Would you mind emailing me the files? Thanks!


  12. JIll Steffens
    Aug 25, 2012 @ 14:15:33

    Hi! I just found this entry while searching for ways to improve my colonial unit. I can no longer buy the Past Ports binder from Demco, apparently, which is a bummer because it sounds like just what I need. Would you mind emailing me any files that you’d be willing to share, particularly the resource cards you use?


  13. Alicia
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 20:01:13

    Hi, this sounds great. Would you send me the files for this activity? Any help would be greatly appreciated!


  14. Mary Young
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 17:23:30

    I would also love a copy of those files. I’m always looking for ways to improve my colonial american unit.


  15. Debbie Slais
    Feb 12, 2013 @ 14:20:18

    Hi. I have taught a similar simultation unit on the pioneers and the 1800’s. Unfortunately, my district is now leading us to specifically do Colonial America. Would you be able to share your resources with me too. Thanks.


  16. Kristen
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 14:13:24

    Can you send me your files for this, as well? I did something like this in my student teaching and I can’t get ahold of it anymore. My team would be so grateful if you would share!


  17. Charisse Grant
    Mar 25, 2013 @ 22:56:11

    Am I too late to get a copy of the resources? I would love to use this.


  18. Ann
    Dec 17, 2014 @ 14:27:27

    Am I too late to get a copy of the resources? I would love to use this with my gifted 4th graders and encourage other teachers.


  19. Trackback: Investigating Early American Settlements

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