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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

George Washington and the Battle of Trenton


In this lesson, students will read a narrative of the Battle of Trenton and then view three well-known paintings of Washington and the Continental Army.  One painting depicts the preparation for the crossing, one during the crossing, and the last one after the battle.  Students will answer questions about each slide, based on "evidence" in the painting as well as knowledge gained from the reading.  Finally, students will each choose one of the painting and write a caption and a short newspaper article about the crossing or battle.


Lesson Plan:  George Washington and the Battle of Trenton

Learning goals:

TSWBAT view and take notes on three famous paintings of George Washington and the Battle of Trenton.  TSWBAT ask and answer questions about each painting as both a work of art and a depiction of an actual historical event.  TSWBAT write a caption and a newspaper article on one of the paintings.

Anticipatory Set  

 Explain to students that this lesson will focus on one of the most important battles of the American Revolution  as well as a favorite subject for artists.  Ask the students what they already know about the battle and if they've seen any paintings of the battle.

Focus Lesson

1. Distribute the reading on the Battle of Trenton (included at the bottom of this lesson plan).  Give students time to read and annotate.  Discuss.  

2. Show the three slides of the Battle of Trenton.  The teacher may choose to have the students discuss the questions and answers as a whole-class, pair-share, or write the answers in the notes. 

Conclusion/Independent Work:  

Distribute handouts (below) on writing a newspaper article.  Give students time to work.  Conclude with a group share. 


Reading (to be used as a handout):

Background on the Battle of Trenton

     Because the Patriots and Continental Army (with 2,400 men) faced defeat at the hands of the British Army in previous battles, General George Washington knew he needed a decisive victory.  The winter had only begun, and Washington had his eye on not only winning a battle but also replenishing much-needed supplies and inspiring more Americans to enlist in the army – and keep the current soldiers from leaving.

     Washington decided to attack the 1,200 Hessians encamped at Trenton, New Jersey.  (Hessians were well-known mercenaries from the German state of Hesse.  Americans were already angry that the British were using mercenaries against them).  Washington shrewdly decided to attack on the night of Christmas 1776, since he deduced  would be sleeping from their holiday revelries.   He needed to cross the Delaware River (in Pennsylvania) to Trenton with his army, his horses, and his artillery (18 cannons) at night and during a terrible winter storm of high winds and snow.  The crossing itself would be treacherous since visibility was lacking, the men were poorly dressed (in fact, the only two American casualties from the battle froze to death!), and the sleet made the muskets useless as guns.  Instead, the muskets could only be used as clubs and bayonets.  The famous crossing was aided by the Marblehead fishermen under the command of General John Glover. 

     The crossing was over by two in the morning.   However, Washington and his men still had to march through ten miles of snow to reach the Hessian camp.  The Continental Army surprised the sleeping Hessians and won the battle. Washington had achieved his objective; thirty Hessians were killed, 900 captured, and many supplies taken -- and an important victory for the Americans when morale was low.


Newspaper Article Handout

Washington and the Battle of Trenton

United States History I



 Name _________________________________________________ Date _________________


Choose one painting of Washington and the Battle of Trenton.  Then, write a short caption (no more than one or two sentences) for the painting.  Then, write an article about the battle based on what you have learned and observed in one of the paintings.  This article will appear in a newspaper, so be aware of content, sentence structure, and vocabulary!


The painting I have chosen is:_________________________________________________


The artist is: ____________________________________________________________________


My caption is: __________________________________________________________________




Remember, every good newspaper article contains these elements:


Who: ____________________________________________________________________________


What: ___________________________________________________________________________


When: ___________________________________________________________________________


Where: __________________________________________________________________________


Why: ____________________________________________________________________________


How: ____________________________________________________________________________


Use this information to write your article on a separate sheet of paper!









Created By

Jeanette Maria


History/Social Studies

Grade Level

6-8, 9-12