One of the great mysteries of teaching a class like history, is how to get your students involved and interested in the material. Although the trend is towards “group work” which, in all honesty, tends to lead to “group-think”, there are other ways to get your students out of their chairs, and yourself away from that golden podium. Here’s a few tips I like to use:
- GET ON YOUR FEET. Make them sing and dance. Whatever age you teach, students love to come out of their shell when there is music in the classroom. Make them sing the rap cabinet battle in Hamilton when discussing the Federalist period, the lyrics to Oklahoma when you’re teaching about the expansion of the west, or Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds when teaching about the suburbs. Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is a big hit for the Cold War. Finally, you can even show your students how to Charleston in the 20’s , Conga through the 80’s ask them to teach YOU how to”Dougie” for a modern twist.
- BAKE! I’ve already spilled the beans on the idea in my blog post on My Great Cookie Challenge and updated it with a special holiday version called The GREAT “HOLIDAY” Baking Challenge! I had students from other grades and other classes come find me after this lesson to tell me how they wished their teachers did this in their classes. TRY it, it’s a HUGE success in the classroom!
- Make students SELL you items from the industrial revolution in a game of SHARK TANK. Pick three “Robber Baron investors” to imitate Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Rockefeller. Ask them to sell you investment ideas like the Erie Canal, the railroad, the telephone. Teach them how to make a three minute pitch and calculate how much they need for their investment. Check out my other teaching marketing ideas here.
- SPEED NETWORK. Along with the marketing idea of Shark Tank, students should know how to “sell themselves”. Teach them how to make business cards and resumes of historical figures and do a speed round of networking. This will set them up for when its time to interview for college and other jobs! They should come dressed up as their character and stay in the character the entire period. Students LOVED this when I had them sit with figures from the Progressive Era and Gilded Age. Think Teddy Roosevelt sitting across from and chatting it up with John Muir or Jacob Riis. What kind of conversations would they they be having? Wrap it up by having students pick their favorite “date” for a follow up study session or a follow up lesson the next day of Spill the Tea!
- SCARE EM- when teaching the “Red Scare”. Tell students you have randomly selected a few students to be the “reds” in the room (but don’t actually pick anyone)! Tell them you’re taking names – and make a list on the board of who they accuse and why. At the end, ask the “red” to stand up. When no one does – they get they idea, thats how heightened accusations were during the era of McCarthyism.
- Perfect Pop Up Cards – A Valentine’s Day BONUS! Whatever unit you are working on during Valentine’s Day have your students create historical pop up Valentine’s Day cards. The task is to create a positive valentine or negative (vinegar) valentine for a historical figure on a poster or piece of paper. Students should include a picture either drawn or printed and the historical figure should be easily identifiable from the valentine. Hang up in your classroom to spread the love!
Example: To: Andrew Carnegie who loves steel, wealth and philanthropy. “You’ve STOLEN my Heart” this Valentine’s Day.
These are some of my favorites. How do you unravel histories mystery of getting your students intrigued in your classroom?