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(African American and U.S.) I teach African American and U.S. History at a predominately African American school and I have found that one of my students’ favorite activities occurs when we reach the Civil Right Era. After studying slavery and discrimination during WWI, WWII, the Great Depression, etc. I notice that my students actually give the appearance of feeling downtrodden and once I get to the Civil Rights Era they began to appear empowered; uplifted. I have the students re-enact scenes from the Civil Rights Movement in full costume, make-up, music, and scenery. In addition, they write the plays. I find this activity to offer differentiated instruction, scaffolding, cover various levels and styles of learning and it’s fun. The students are compassionate, compromising, hardworking, and helpful to each other. Their performances are serious and well-acted and witnessed by the principals and other classes. The students make me feel so proud of their performances; I feel like all of the other activities have led them to this place of excellence-- like taking baby steps and then finally standing and walking alone.
One academic experience that was especially memorable to me was the Renaissance project that we did in history class in sixth grade. In this project, we reenacted the Renaissance for the elementary students. We were given a famous Renaissance historian, for example, Catherine of Aragon, and had to dress up like, talk like, and tell the biography of this person. The teachers played Renaissance music and gave out food commonly eaten in the Elizabethan Era. I have always loved the Renaissance period so you can only imagine how excited I was. It is probably the most memorable project to me because we, the students and I, felt like we were actually a part of the Renaissance!
In my sixth grade history class, at the end of each unit we had to write a song or a skit. The song had to have about five or six terms and briefly explain them. Each song was about a different subject matter and was to the tune of a popular song. For example, some subject matters might be war, people, religion, or art. Our groups were then filmed and shown to the rest of the grade. We had to have some movement and costumes/props. This experience stuck out to me because as we would write the songs and listen to other groups, the songs would become stuck in my head. When we would have a test after this I would use the songs to help me answer the questions.
When I was in eighth grade, my history teacher was trying to teach us about the myriad of Roman figures that were important in the Roman Empire. To effectively teach us these figures, he took advantage of the laptops that we have at our school. He basically made Facebook accounts, but on our school website. He then assigned each student one Roman figure to “pretend” to be. My figure was a prominent figure in Roman society, and he ran for senator multiple times. After we were assigned a figure, we were required specific things we had to post on the website. It was something like: 8 status updates, 1 description of an important personal item, 10 pictures or statues of your figure, make 5 friends, 8 comments, and 1 detailed biography. When writing status updates, one had to go to primary sources, my figure wrote a sort of history of Rome, along with an autobiography, and we had to make it sound like a story. This aspect made us have to think hard about what our figure did with his life, and put some motivation into his actions. The comments and friends were to ensure that we focused on other Roman people on the website. To make sure we didn’t get shy with our responses, he made who our figures were a secret, and threatened major point deductions if we let it slip. This made class interesting as all of us split up our desks and covered our books, sending glares to other people in the room to make sure they weren’t trying to see who we were. The concept of friends was to make sure we knew who our figure liked and disliked. Although it wasn’t official, we also sent enemy requests, and this counted as our comments. The biography, personal item, and pictures weren’t as engaging as the others, but the research done to acquire this information could be used in our comments and status updates. One of the most engaging parts of this activity was that we could really pretend we were that figure, living in ancient Rome with friends and a villa or pretty necklace that belonged to us, talking to the other people in Ancient Rome. It put a nice creative spin on the project, while ensuring the facts about Roman figures really stuck into our minds.