“Enter a time of Roman soldiers, emperors, great empires and lion fights.” This could be the beginning of a wonderfully, engaging history lesson. Unfortunately, many students are not encouraged to use their imagination or interact during history lessons. They then end up thinking history is a memorization drill of names and dates that have little or nothing to do with them. There are some practical ways teachers can engage their students in order to help them relate to the subject matter.
First, teachers need to be aware of the history of the area and take advantage of it through field trips. Perhaps the county seat is in the area and the students can interview some of the people there such as the mayor, sheriff, or treasurer. The students could come up with questions that can help them see how each of these people touches their family’s lives every day. Some other field trips could include temporary exhibits in a museum or perhaps a local fort.
Role playing or simulations are other ways to bring history alive for the students. If studying Roman history, for example, allow the students to form a Roman senate in class, including veto power. Or if they are studying the stock market, begin each session, while studying the subject, with a time for students to buy, sell or trade make-believe properties. They can begin with the same amount of money for investing and, after several classes; they can see who has been a savvy investor and who did not do quite as well. The students then can relate how this exercise could be applied to people losing all their money before and during the Great Depression.
A tableau is when members of the class create a picture of an event. The students can use costumes and a narrator to relate the scenes or progressions of the events for their audience, the other students. When finished, the class can discuss why this scene was important, if it was realistic and what else they would like to learn about this time.
Artifacts and Postcards
Instead of asking students to write yet another report on the events discussed in class, invite the students to explore the time. They then can share what they have learned through authentic food, clothing, implements or even postcards to home. The students become involved with research and immerse themselves in the topic creatively to look for a unique way to share their “new” information with each other.
Many historical events have been converted into historical fiction or placed in a format that introduces students to little known facts about the time period. The teacher can read a portion of historical fiction to the class each day. An author who helps show students another side of history is Terry Deary in his series of “Horrible History” books. By sharing a work like this with the class, a student’s imagination can transport them to the time period. This can be taken a step further by inviting the students to create their own fiction about the events discussed in class.
There are many famous and not-so-famous people from the past. After looking at some obituaries in a newspaper, allow them to create an obituary or eulogy about someone from history. It does not even have to be someone famous. Perhaps it could be an actor from a Shakespeare play or a drummer during the Revolutionary War.
All of these methods allow for students engagement which helps them to go beyond the name and dates of history. These methods help bring history to life.