Salem Witch Trials Unit
Grade 5
by Jill Christensen and Wendy Williams
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Learning Goals
Background Information
Children's Literature

  Learning Goals

1.  The children will understand that differences are valuable and should be celebrated.
2.  The children will understand that judgements should not be made only on appearances.
3.  The children will understand the need for multiple sources of accurate infomration.
4.  The children will understand the value of good leadership.

  Background Information

In the summer of 1692, nineteen men and women were hanged after having been convicted of witchcraft.  The hysteria began the previous winter and was over by early autumn of 1692.

To pass the cold winter days of 1692, several girls began meeting at Rev. Parris’ home.  Tituba, the Parris’ slave from Barbados, entertained the girls with her stories of witchcraft and demons.  Tituba also told the girls’ fortunes.  Soon, Rev. Parris’ daughter, Betty, and her cousin, Abigail Williams, became frightened by the stories and fortunes, and they began to act strangely.  They had terrible fits, darting around the house, screaming and crying and writhing as if they were in pain.  Rev. Parris called Salem Village’s doctor, Willam Griggs because he thought the girls’ behavior might be an illness.  The doctor failed to find any medical cause for their fits, so he concluded that the girls must be bewitched.
During that time period, most people believed one could make an agreement with the devil in exchange for evil powers.  This was considered a great sin, and the girls didn’t speak out immediately.  At the end of February, they began to accuse Tituba and other women in Salem Village of conspiring with the devil and practicing witchcraft.  Other girls in the village, including Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren, began to have similar fits, and they joined in the accusations.  Soon, many villagers were arrested and jailed on charges of witchcraft.  

Trials for the accused began in March.  In order to receive a lesser sentence, some of the accused confessed their guilt and also spoke out against others.  Because there were so many accused witches in jail, the governor set up a  new court, the “court of oyer and terminer," specifically for the witchcraft cases.  In the cases against the accused, “spectral evidence” (testimony that one was afflicted by someone’s specter, or ghost) was admitted, as were hearsay, gossip, and assumptions.  The testimony of the girls was given great weight.  If an accused person began to deny charges of witchcraft, the girls would immediately go into fits, claiming that the suspect was harming them.  

The accused were made up of people from all walks of life; some were rich, some were poor, some were well-respected by the community (one was even a former minister), and some were publicly shunned.  Overall, nineteen men and women were hanged as a result of their trials, one man was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to stand trial, four people died in prison, one to two hundred others were jailed, and two dogs were executed as suspected accomplices to the witches.  

The witchhunt in Salem Village ended, but today similar things happen: people are often unfairly ridiculed and persecuted for their differences.  We must learn from history so that we can be more understanding and logical, and prevent events like this from occurring.  

For more detail, visit these websites:
   Linder, Douglas.  An Account of Events in Salem,  from

   Sutter, Tim.  Salem Witchcraft, from

    Chronology of the trials, and Salem Witch Memorial
    Interactive feature of an authentic experience if you were accused.
    Documents, books, maps, archives, modern local sites, questions answered by     archivist.
    Museum dedicated to the witch trials and those accused. Teaching ,materials available.
    Days of Judgment: The Salem Witch Trials of 1692
   A curriculum for middle and high school students.
    Teacher and student resources. Education files; Quiz, teacher bibliography
    List of accused and their fates
    Essay and background of witch trials
    Essay on the witch trials
    Chronology of events and other links
    Article from 1997 about the witchcraft trials
    Salem Witch Trials: A chronology of Events
    Discussion from town crier, including bibliography
    A timeline of the witch Trial History
    The Salem Witchcraft Trials of Salem village, 1692
    Web Sites related to Witchcraft bibliography project
    Two stories of accused witches


The American Promise: A History of the United States. Bedford Books (pgs. 134, 136-137).     Contains spotlights of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
    Adele and Dale Young Educational Technology Center at Utah State University.

America, A Concise History (pg. 15)
    Contains a spotlight of the Salem Witchcraft Trials
    Adele and Dale Young Educational Technology Center at Utah State University.


Boyer, Paul and Stephen Nissenbaum.  Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft.     Cambridge, Mass. ; London : Harvard University Press [1978,c1974].

Chadwick, Bruce.  Infamous Trials.  Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, c1997.
Fremon, David K. The Salem Witchcraft Trials in American History.  Springfield, NJ : Enslow     Publishers, c1999.

Kent, Zachary.  The Story of the Salem Witch Trials.  Chicago : Childrens Press, c1986.

Wilson, Lori Lee.  How History was Invented:  The Salem Witch Trials.  Minneapolis: Lerner Pub.     Co., c1997

Zeinert, Karen.  The Salem Witchcraft Trials.      New York : F. Watts, 1989.

  Children's Literature

Clapp, Patricia. Witches Children. Published by Puffin Books, 1982.
    An account of the Salem Witch Trials as told my Mary Warren, who was one of the     ten “possessed” girls.

Ellis, Carol. A Cry in the Night. Published by Scholastic, 1990.
    Molly’s family stays in an old house that is haunted by the ghost of a sad young girl.     Molly tries to put the girl’s spirit to rest and discovers that the girl’s mother was     hanged     as a witch in 1692 in Lynnton, Massachusetts.

Rinaldi, Ann. A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials. San Diego:     Harcourt Brace Jovanich, c1992.
    Susanna English tells about the events that occurred in Salem, Massachusetts in     1692 from her point of view. Because of her family’s position in the gentry, Susanna     was not welcomed in the circle of girls that met with Tituba, and her father, Phillip     English, was later one of the accused.

Roach, Marilyn K. In the Days of the Salem Witchcraft Trials.
    Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
    A story about how it would be to live in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. A look at     the Puritan way of life and also the spread of the cries of witchcraft.

Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
    New York, NY: Dell Pub., 1987, c1986.
    A novel written for older children about the time of the Salem Witch Trials. A good     look as the way we view one another


Literature Circle/Jigsaw
Materials: Novels (see Literature list), whatever students need to create final project
Time: An hour two or three times per week over two weeks.
In cooperative groups, allow each group to choose which novel they will read.  Each group can decide their reading schedule, finishing the book in two weeks.  Groups have discussions throughout the two weeks.  After finishing the books, groups have a longer discussion and work together to create a project to share with the class.

Academic Controversy
Materials: Trial transcript from (Teacher can modify for easier student use.
Time: 45 minutes
In cooperative groups, assign half of the students to be A’s and half to be B’s.  While the transcript is read, A’s should find evidence that supports a Guilty verdict and B’s Not Guilty.  Have them present their ideas convincingly to the opposite side.  Then switch which group defends which decision.  After, discuss which side was easier to uphold using logic and reasoning that we use today.  Talk about Puritan beliefs and how this affected their decisions.

Guess Who
Materials: several large pictures of different children (not anyone your students know), large labels for the pictures that say "smart", "funny", "annoying", "likes to swim", etc.
Time: 15 min
Put the pictures on the board and have the class collectively decide which labels belong with each face.  This should lead to a discussion of how we don’t know much about a person just by looking at them.  Teacher should relate this to the Salem Trials and how the people who spoke against the accused witches didn’t always know them well.

Draw a Witch
Materials: paper and pencil for each student, witch costume for yourself if you want to add a little fun!
Time: 15 min
Ask the students to draw a picture of a witch.  When they are finished, have them create a list on the board of things typically associated with a witch, like green skin, warts, black pointed hat, etc.  Record on the board how many students included each item.  (*For an extension, you could use these numbers for a math activity.)  Talk about what a stereotype is, and how they aren’t always accurate.  Relate this to the Salem Trials and tell the children that the people accused of being witches were often normal people who didn’t fit any of the stereotypes.

Mock Trial
Materials: Description created by teacher of a fictional court case that tells the points of each side, a gavel for effect
Time: 1 hour
Divide the class into prosecution and defense and give them time to prepare an argument supporting their side.  With teacher as judge, let them present their arguments.  Then use illogical premises, possibly some of the same ones used in the Salem Trials, to come make a judgement.  This should lead to a discussion of logic and flawed logic, and to examine our justice system as compared to that of colonial times.

Mock Trial 2
Materials and Time: See above
Follow the same procedure as above, but only listen to one side of the story and pass a harsh judgement.  This could lead to a discussion of fairness and appropriateness of punishment.

Museum Field Trip
Materials: as teacher sees necessary
Time: allow time for preparatory discussions, travel, adequate time at museum, and post discussion
Take a field trip to a local history museum, focusing on their exhibits of what life was like in colonial America.

Guest Speaker
Materials: pencil and paper for each student
Time: 1 hour (or as long as children will remain interested!)
Invite a local history buff or expert on the Salem Witch Trials to speak to your class.  Have students record points of interest to them.

Materials: Statements of logic prepared by teacher (If...and....then)
Time: 15_20 min
Read Statements of logic, some true, some flawed.  Have students determine which statements show true logic, and talk about why the others didn’t work.  Relate this to Salem Trials and how people came to conclusions based on misapplied logic.

Materials: Paper and pencil for each student
Time: 10 min
Have students brainstorm everything they can think of that they know about the Salem Trials.  In small groups, have them share, and each student that has a unique item gets a po0int.

Mapping the Salem Witch Trials
Materials: Salem Possessed, maps of Salem from the internet, a blank map of Salem for each student or small group
Time:30_40 min
Use maps and lists of accusers, accused, and defenders to mark where the important people belong on a blank map of Salem.  As in  Salem Possessed, students should notice that accusers are generally on a different side of town than the accused and their defenders.  Teacher should follow with a mini-lecture about how people on different sides of the village had different opinions about whether Salem Village should separate from Salem Town.

Create a Colonial Town
Materials: paper and pencil for each child
Time: 45 min
Present to class a list and explanation of the important parts of a colonial town. Like a church, town meeting place, well/river (some water source), farms, merchants, etc.  Have each student create their own map of a colonial village, including all the important parts.  Have a few students share with the class why they placed each item where they did.

Radio Show
Materials: audio tape and tape recorder for each group, various items for making sound effects
Time: 1 or 2 hours
Divide class into small groups.  Have each group prepare a script and make an audio version/radio show of a possible trial. Each should be similar to what a real trial may have been like and each should include sound effects.

Time Line
Materials: long strip of paper (several sheets of computer paper would work), pencils, crayons, markers
Time: 45 min
In small groups or as a class, decide on the most important events of the Salem Witch Trials.  Create a time line including each event and divide up students to draw pictures depicting the events.

Wheel of Fortune
Materials: Black/white board and chalk/markers or chart paper, list of words
Time: However long or short needed
Students would play the game Wheel of Fortune, in teams.  Before points are given the team would have to say something about that word. (To be played before and/or after unit.)

Hollywood Squares
Materials: Questions
Time: however long or short as needed.
Each person in the square is a different person from Colonial America/ the Witch_hunts and the questions would be true or false, based on history. (To be played before and/ or after unit.)

Materials: Jeopardy game board and questions
Time: however long or short as needed
Jeopardy with related topics/ to be played before and after unit.

Jigsaw a book
Materials: book
Time: A week or so to read and 30-60 minutes to discuss
Use a historical account of the Salem Witch trials and jigsaw the book.

Materials: paper and pens for class, an example of a newscast
Time: one hour a day for one week.
Students will write their own newscast about life in Colonial America, the weather, sports, crimes, world and local news, human interest.

Whole day as Puritans
Materials: recipes for colonial food, slates and chalk, wash bin and clothes, etc…
Time: one day
Students will spend the day as Puritans, doing chores, cooking and eating food the Puritans would’ve eaten.

Quilt for homeless
Materials: material, batting, yarn, needles, pins, quilt frames and thumbtacks.
Time: 30 minutes a day for a week, or until the quilt is finished.
Students will learn how to quilt like they did in Colonial America and make a couple/three quilts and donate them to the homeless.

Journal entries
Materials: Journals
Time: 10_20 minutes a day
Give students time to reflect on what they have learned and write a journal entry about their feelings. Possible questions:
               How would you feel to travel on a boat for weeks at a time?
               How would it feel to leave your home behind?
               What would be the first thing you would do in a new land?
               What would you take with you?
               What would be the first thing you would do in your new home?
               How would it feel to be accused of being something you’re not?

Newspaper article
Materials: Example of an article, paper and pencils/pens
Time: 30 minutes for two_three days.
Students could write a newspaper article about a day in Salem.  Students could write an article about the new life they are beginning, the sports, the food, the entertainment, etc…

Write a story/play and direct it
Materials: paper and pens/pencils
Time: 20_30 minutes a day for a week.
Students will write a short one_act play about Colonial America or the Witch_Hunt and direct other students to perform their play.

Diorama of Village
Materials: Shoebox, construction paper, glue, scissors, toothpicks and anything else the students want to contribute to their diorama.
Time: one hour
Make a diorama of Salem or somewhere else in Colonial America.

Cookie State
Materials: Cookie dough (sugar), plastic knives, frosting, cake decorations.
Time: 20 minutes to cut out one day, and 30 minutes to decorate the next day.
Student will roll out and make their own cookies of Colonial America, or Massachusetts.

Guest Speaker
Materials: the speaker.
Time: one hour.
Have someone come dressed as a Puritan, a "Witch" or a judge.


Differences Celebration
Materials:  Something each student brings to demonstrate something different about himself
Time:  One hour
The students share their items and discuss how differences enrich our lives and experiences.

Write a Newspaper
Materials: paper and pencils
Time:  30 min per day for a week
Use the articles students wrote in above activity and create a newspaper about the Salem Trials.

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