Paul Revere: Fact or Myth?

Let me preface this post by saying that what we did here in this lesson is HARD.  There is no way around it.  It was just hard.  But, that didn't stop the kids from not only learning the intended objectives, but really learning it well.  I am so ecstatically over the moon about the outcomes in this lesson, that I am practically bursting at the seams here!

So what is this hard lesson, you ask?  The midnight ride of Paul Revere.

Paul Revere is an American legend.  He is one of the first "super heroes" born out of our quest for independence and freedom from England.  But the inherent nature of being a legendary superhero is that much of the story we love and cherish are, in actuality, myths.

Myths?  Paul Revere?  WHAT???

As I approached this idea with the students, they honestly had no idea what I was talking about.  Paul Revere is the guy who rode in at midnight, alone, screaming "The British are coming!  The British are coming!"  I mean, that is what we saw on School House Rock (here is a school tube link to the song "Shot Heard Round the World"....which is a great intro to the beginning battles of the American Revolution)  I told them that, no, actually a lot of what we now accept as fact about Paul Revere is really from a romanticized poem called "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Listen my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.

Super famous.  But super full of factual inaccuracies.

We began by reading the actual poem together, annotating as we went along.  Now, this poem was written in 1860, on the eve of the civil war (in an effort to drum up patriotic feelings amongst the union soldiers) and isn't exactly the easiest read.  So we did a choral read, stopping to summarize and "translate" after each stanza.  Once the kids got the hang of the language, even my English Learners were making some connections and understanding what was written.

The next day, we watched this video here, which is about 7 minutes, and really lays out the idea that the poem is full of many lasting myths about the Patriot.  What I really liked about this video (aside from the fact that it was short) was that it is "history channel style" with experts, lots of visuals, and connections back to the poem that we had just read.

So how do historians know that the poem isn't exactly accurate?  Paul Revere himself wrote a letter, revealing all of the major players and events of the night, in 1798.  I made a copy (the link above is an abridged version of the letter, as much of the beginning of the letter doesn't deal directly with this night) of this primary source for each student, and we began annotating it together.  Again, this letter was written in the standard English of the time...much different than we are used to today.  But again, after a little getting used to, my students rose to the occasion and really seemed to understand what was being said.  The kids annotated important information as we read.

I then asked the kids to create a T-Chart, labeled "Myth" on one side and "Fact" on the other.  The kids were to pull myths from the poem and then the corresponding fact from the letter.  For example, the poem makes it sound like Revere was the lone ranger in this entire operation, however we learn in the letter that he is just one of the THREE people who actually rode.  The kids wrote down all of the myths and facts they could find.  For some, there ended up being three pages of stuff!

Once they did that, I had them pick four of the most enduring myth (in their opinion) and write the exact quote from the text.  Then, they quoted the text and wrote the fact in their own words.

Finally, we looked at the letter and the kids tried to map out the route taken that night as best they could.  (the map is on the second page of the link.  I did white out the actual routes that were drawn before I copied it for the kids) There are a lot of details in the letter that mention landmarks and cities that were visited that night, so the kids tried to follow those.  This, again, was HARD, but working in pairs, they really seemed to get it!  Some even were able to tell where Dawes and Prescott (his two fellow riders) traveled based on the letter!

All in all, the kids learned a lot from this series of lessons.  They can now tell you just what happened that night, dispelling any and all myths surrounding this infamous night!  They also feel crazy successful and smart because even they realized that they tackled this hard hard task.

As a teacher, I found this website to be really helpful in easily helping me digest the history of it all.  I didn't show this to the kids, as I wanted them to come up with this based on the letter, but it did help ME.  

(click the links above to get all of the resources I used....I just found them all over the web.)


  1. That is AWESOME! Seriously awesome! I love all the connections and learning - and love even more how you kept your expectations high because the students will rise to those expectations. In reading, we tackled "The Raven" last year in much the same manner, and watching the students really dig into the text for comprehension was amazing.

    1. I can only imagine. That is another hard, hard text!

  2. Awesome! This is the exact same texts that I used with my 4th graders this year. We focused on figurative language. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! I will totally use this next year when we et to this text withy new class!

    1. Oh, figurative language would be a great take on it too! So many things to do with literature....makes my heart smile thinking about it!

  3. What a great lesson! You just gave me a great idea for my next unit where we compare primary and secondary sources.

  4. This is a great lesson! It's so amazing that Paul Revere wrote down the events and sites of that night. He saw a body hanging from a tree; this was written in another document so historians could verify the accuracy of what he wrote. They even reenact the whole Paul Revere Ride every year around here and try to recreate the whole event exactly as it happened. There are signs that mark his ride. (I live near Boston). There's even a city named after him = Revere, Massachusetts!

    1. I visited Boston last summer and LOVED the markers around the city. I was in social studies teacher heaven there!

  5. You are a phenomenal teacher! I may try this with my "big kids" in 9th grade!

  6. This is a great idea. My classes watched the History Channel video that leads into the Second Continental Congress. I'm impressed with your students' writing.

  7. This is a fabulous lesson! I love it!


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