Lesson Plan: Thomas Paine and Common Sense

Events Surrounding the Publication of Common Sense

Scott Stephenson gave a tour of the Museum of the American Revolution and spoke about the events and perceptions surrounding the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense.


Thomas Paine's Common Sense was published anonymously on January 10, 1776, plainly laying out arguments for American independence from Great Britain. This lesson has students view video clips providing a background of the pamphlet before reading and interpreting excerpts. Students will be able to explain why Thomas Paine's Common Sense is important to the formation of the United States.


  • WARM-UP:

    Before beginning class, have the students list the reasons for and the events that led to the American colonists declaring independence from Great Britain.


    Review the answers the students provided on the warm-up question. Use the following videos to introduce Thomas Paine's Common Sense and its importance. Students can also use the handout linked below.

  • VIDEO CLIP 1: Events Surrounding the Publication of Common Sense (4:07)

    • Describe the different viewpoints surrounding the relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain around this time.

    • What events were occurring around the time of the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense?

    • What did Thomas Paine's Common Sense propose?
  • VIDEO CLIP 2: The Importance of Thomas Paine on the Founding of the United States (2:54)

    • Who was Thomas Paine and how did Thomas Paine contribute to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence?

    • Why was Thomas Paine's Common Sense effective?

    • Describe the distribution of Thomas Paine's Common Sense.
  • VIDEO CLIP 3: The Use of Language in Thomas Paine's Common Sense (2:19)

    • How did Thomas Paine redefine the concepts of "democracy" and "republicanism" in Common Sense?

    • According to Mr. Hedges, what was unique about the language that Thomas Paine used in Common Sense?

    • Why was it important to relate to "everyday people" in Common Sense?
  • VIDEO CLIP 4: Loyalist Response to Thomas Paine's Common Sense (1:37)

    • What arguments did loyalists make in response to Thomas Paine's Common Sense?

    After reviewing the background information and addressing any misconceptions, have the student read excerpts of Thomas Paine's Common Sense and summarize key arguments using the handout. Students can also opt to read the entire pamphlet. Students should be able to explain how Thomas Paine views the following concepts.

    • Role of Government
    • Equality
    • Monarchy and Republicanism
    • British rule over the Colonies
    • Self-Governance
    • Colonial Unity

    To apply what they have learned, have the students answer the following prompt using examples from the video clips and the text of Common Sense:

    • Why was Thomas Paine's Common Sense important to the formation of the United States?

    Modern Application- View the following clip comparing the Age of Paine and the modern United States.

    VIDEO CLIP: The Age of Paine (2:33)

    • Based on what you know about Thomas Paine and Common Sense, do you agree with John Ferling's opinion on how Paine, Jefferson and Monroe might view the current United States?

    Loyalist Perspective- Similar to the video clip discussing the loyalist's response to Common Sense, develop a list of reasons why the colonies should not declare independence.


    Common Sense in Common Language- Rewrite a summary of Common Sense in modern language to make it more relatable to your generation. Consider the following:

    • Which mode of communication is most effective?
    • What specific style of writing would you use?
    • Which of Paine's arguments are most important?

    • How was Thomas Paine's Common Sense a natural progression in what was already occurring at the time?
    • How did Thomas Paine's upbringing impact his views included in Common Sense?
    • Why was Common Sense so popular at the time of its publication?
    • Why was it important for Thomas Paine to redefine how people viewed a "republic"?

Additional Resources


  • American Revolution
  • Common Sense
  • Declaration Of Independence
  • Loyalist
  • Monarchy
  • Pamphlet
  • Pejorative
  • Republic
  • Scottish Enlightenment
  • Superpower
  • Thomas Paine


Constitutional FoundationU.S. History


High SchoolUniversity