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Measuring the Mayflower

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Short description of activity:  Students explore how much room passengers of the Mayflower had to live in for 66 days.

Type of activity: Content Connection

Minimum Time Needed for Activity: Multiple days of discussion, 1 hour of activity

Grade Level: 4th +

Subject Area: History, ELA, Science, Math, Health/Hygiene

Materials For each team:         

  • Large field or parking area (at least 80 x 25)
  • Large measuring tape (ask building maintenance or PE teacher)
  • 30-40 stakes (paint stirrers, fence posts, cones, etc)
  • Roll of surveyor’s tape
  • Print out of Inside the Mayflower

Set up:

  1. As part of the discussion about the Mayflower’s voyage and the Pilgrims arriving in America, discuss:
    • Technology- What were the developments and tools of the time period that made ship travel possible? What were the advantages and disadvantages?
    • Weather- What time of year did they travel? What were some of the weather conditions they faced during their voyage?
    • Basic needs- What was needed to be on-board to get the passengers and crew safely across? Think food, water, hygiene, etc.
    • What might it sound like or smell like sharing this space with so many people and animals in the hold? (seasickness, scours, birth of a baby, manure, etc)
    • Settling needs- What did the Pilgrims need to bring with them to begin to set up their society once they landed?
  2. One source of the passenger list and other relevant information can be found at
  3. Other links for discussion:
    • Scholastic interview with Desire Minter
    • Scholastic letter from a pilgrim child
    • Mayflower voyage


  1. If possible, use some of the existing lines on a field to establish the rear and midline of the ship. Locate a spot where two perpendicular lines meet.
  2. Have students measure the width of the boat at the stern (back) – only about 13 feet wide- marking the ‘corners’ at 6.5 feet from the center line with a stake.
  3. Measure up the midline 80 feet from stern to stem (or bow. The front, pointed part of the boat), and place a stake in the ground.
  4. Approximate the curve of the ship, measuring from the midline. At the widest, the Mayflower is no more than 24 feet, or 12 feet from the midline. Place stakes in the ground along both the port and starboard sides.
    • When looking forward, toward the bow of a ship, port and starboard refer to the left and right sides, respectively.
  5. Using the surveyor’s tape, draw the footprint/outline of the ship by connecting the stakes together like a dot-to-dot.
    • Have students stand “belowdecks.” How does that feel? Is it roomy enough for them? Could they do that for 66 days?
  6. Use stakes and tape to mark off other parts of the deck that are otherwise unable to be used, or used by passengers:
    • Hatches, windlass, capstan, gun room, mast (all of these would be approximations). How many cannons of what size were on the gun deck? Mark those off as well.
    • Have students stand “belowdecks.” How does that feel? Is it roomy enough for them? Could they do that for 66 days?
  7. Do the math:  if there were around 20-30 crewmembers who stayed in the crew and captain’s chambers, how many passengers were there belowdecks?
    • How many students are there belowdecks? How much space would the amount of students be allowed to use? (say you said 80 passengers and you had 20 students, they could only occupy one quarter of the available space)
    • Where would all of your personal luggage go?
      • What do students think they would be able to pack? Could they begin an entirely new life with what would fit in a small suitcase- knowing anything else they would need would have to be made in the new world, there were no stores.
    • Where would you sit, where would you sleep? Passengers were belowdecks, without sunlight, fresh air, gameboys or iPhones for many days at a time… what would you do to pass the time?
  8. Some families lived on the Mayflower for longer as the village was built and area explored. How long did some families stay onboard? What would life be like living onboard for that long? What personal or family milestones or holidays would have happened?


  • Have students create a game to pass the time that requires them to be fairly quiet, no room to move around and in dark quarters.
  • Have students write a letter home to family describing what the voyage was like.
  • Pretend Smartphones were available at that time, what would a text chat look like between:
    • passengers?
    • a passenger and a friend left in England?
    • a passenger and someone in the New World?
    • someone who lived in the New World who saw ships arriving and the leader of their village?
    • A passenger who stayed onboard for a few more months while others went ashore to build homes?


ELA Standards > Reading: Informational Text > Key Ideas and Details; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas; Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

ELA Standards > Writing > Text Types and Purposes; Research to Build and Present Knowledge;

ELA Standards > Speaking and Listening > Comprehension and Collaboration; Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

ELA Standards > History/Social Studies > Key Ideas and Details; Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

Math Standards > Measurement & Data > Represent and interpret data; Geometric measurement: understand concepts of volume

Math Standards > Geometry > Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume

NGSS > Earth and Space Sciences > Earth and Human Activity (Crosscutting Concepts: Interdependence of Science, Engineering and Technology; Cause and Effect; Influence of Engineering, Technology and Science  on Society and the Natural World); Earth’s Systems (Crosscutting Concept: Cause and Effect)

NGSS > Physical Science > Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions (Crosscutting Concept: Interdependence of Science, Engineering and Technology); Matter and Its Interactions (Crosscutting Concepts: Influence of Engineering, Technology and Science  on Society and the Natural World)

NGSS > Life Science > Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity (Crosscutting Concept: Interdependence of Science, Engineering and Technology); Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics (Crosscutting Concept: Cause and Effect); From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes (Crosscutting Concepts: Influence of Engineering, Technology and Science  on Society and the Natural World)

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