Grade K-2, 3-5

Trouble is Brewing in Boston – “Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak”

Updated: May 10 2016,
Author: Lynne Stover

It's December 16, 1773 and many of the citizens of Boston are furious with King George's new tax on tea. Young Ethan, a printer's errand boy, has been given the task of conveying information concerning an upcoming protest meeting. As he makes his rounds through the city the reader is introduced to the goods and services provided by colonial merchants. [NOTE: These lessons are based on the book "Colonial Voices Hear Them Speak" by Kay Winters. However, it is not necessary for the students to have read the book to successfully complete the activities.]


The printer’s errand boy, Ethan, knows that Boston’s 18th Century merchants work hard to provide the growing city with its many goods and services.  He also knows that they have many problems and must make choices.  If the merchants make the choice to throw the highly-taxed tea into the harbor, will this cause an unsolvable scarcity situation?  Will it be possible to meet the wants of the Boston citizen?  The solutions to these problems have many possible outcomes as each merchant has his own incentives for dealing with this unique and history making situation.  Each time a choice is made an opportunity cost isincurred.  Opportunity cost is the next best alternative that is given up when a choice is made.  This lesson, based on the picture book “Colonial Voices Hear Them Speak” by Kay Winters, allows the reader to visit the past and discover the while goods and services may have changed, the concepts of opportunity cost, scarcity, incentives, and wants have remained a constant.  

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate an understanding of goods, services, and specialization by completing the activities
  • Utilize information to make decisions.
  • Define opportunity cost as the most valued alternative that is given up when a choice is made.
  • Define scarcity as occurring when there are not resources (goods and services) to meet the demand.
  • Define wants as goods and services people would like to purchase and needs as things necessary for survival.
  • Define incentives as rewards or penalties that influence the choices and behavior of people.
  • Define specialization as being an expert in one job, product, or service.

Resource List


1. Introduce the lesson, if possible, by reading the book by Kay Winters. [NOTE: Reading the book takes about 12 minutes. It is not necessary to read the book to successfully complete these activities.]

2. Inform the students that the merchants in Colonial Boston had to make some very important choices. For example, if they chose to help the Sons of Liberty dump the highly taxed tea in the harbor they would give up the possibility of drinking a favorite beverage.

3. Display the visual "Colonial Voices Opportunity Cost Visual" . Read the introduction on the visual to the students. Then ask them toBaker vote, using show of hands, as to what they think the errand boy will choose to drink with his hot apple pie. Tally the results and record them. Ask the students how they came up with the vote they did. What was their decision-making process? Review incentives as any reward or benefit, such as money, advantage, or good feeling, which motivates people to do something. Ask if they had any incentives to vote the way they did. If so, what were they? Stress to the students that the most voted on option is the errand boy’s choice and that the option that came in second is his opportunity cost. Define opportunity cost as what is given up when a choice is made. When deciding how to spend a resource it is one’s second best alternative; the alternative given up. In other words this is the beverage he would choose to purchase if the he could purchase his first choice.

4. Explain to the students that they will now assume the role of three different merchants in Colonial Boston as they complete and opportunity cost activity. “Colonial Voices Opportunity Cost Cards” and “Colonial Voices Opportunity Cost Student Question Sheet.”

5. Instruct students to complete the interactive activity.

6. Check for understanding, stressing the economic concept of opportunity cost and acknowledging answers will vary.


Upon completion of these activities students should be confident in their understanding of the featured economic concepts of opportunity cost, goods and services, producers, specialization, and scarcity. After this lesson, students should also have a better understanding of decision making, incentives, and wants/needs. This interdisciplinary lesson has the potential to combine the content areas of literature, history, and economics. 

Extension Activity

Ask students to check out Life in New England to learn about productive resources in Colonial New England. This is an enrichment activity for students who complete the lessons ahead of others in the class. Here “Colonial Voices Jobs”  the students test their knowledge of the types of jobs that were popular in Colonial Boston but may not be well known today.

[1. E, 2. D, 3. F, 4. g, 5. B, 6. H, 7. A, 8. C.]


1. Economic Concepts Anagrams and Definitions

Read the directions to the students concerning the printable activity assessment.

Allow enough time for students to complete the 10 questions.

Check for understanding.

[Part I 1. B, 2. C, 3. D, 4. E, 5. A

Part II 1. Specialization, 2. Good, 3. Scarcity, 4. Opportunity Cost, 5. Service]

2. Extension 1. The students will demonstrate an understanding of goods and services and specialization as they complete the “Goods & Services Activity.”  You may wish to quickly review the definitions for the concepts as:

Goods- Tangible things such as food, shoes, books, and toys

Services- Actions such as medical care, music lessons, and


Specialization – Being an expert in one job, product, or service

[1. service, 2. service, 3. good, 4. good, 5. good, 6. service. 7. service, 8. goods, 9. good, 10. service.]