Thursday, February 5, 2015

Engaging Students through Debate and Role Play: Simulating the Election of 1860

I have found one of the best ways to create enduring understanding in students is to let them take the roles of others. Simulations, role play, and drama are excellent tools to make this happen. There are lots of great resources out there for teachers wanting to bring these elements into their classrooms.

As my eighth grade students began to study the years leading to the Civil War, I like for them to see the political issues. I discovered a great resource on the web site www.teacherspayteachers to help with this objective. The Election of 1860- Student Debate Simulation was purchased and adapted for my uses.

First, I broke the students into four groups, one for each candidate: Lincoln, Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge. While I used the debate script and candidate bios from the purchased resources, but  I changed the assignment to accommodate my class size and the tasks I wanted my students to complete.

Each group was instructed to read the bio for their candidate and outline his views on the key issue of slavery. Students then worked collaboratively to answer the questions on the debate script. This was important to me. Even though when it came time to debate, one student would play the role of the candidate, I wanted every group member involved in creating the answers to the script. The reading of the bios and answering the script took approximately one class period. Students divided the remaining questions and finished for homework.

 On the second day, the students created campaign signs and slogans for the candidates. In addition, students created fictional characters who would support each candidate and wrote testimonials for the candidates. Each member of the group was responsible for these tasks. They really enjoyed attempting to decide campaign ideas for these candidates. This also reinforced their candidates views on the issues.

On the last day, we held the debate. Each group selected a spokesperson to represent each of the four candidates: Lincoln, Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge. During the debate, group members were allowed to cheer and jeer as points were made. Things tended to get a little chaotic. In addition, students posted their signs and slogans around the room and group members posed as supporters and read the testimonials for each candidate.

When the activity was completed, I led a class discussion, making sure the students understood where each person fell on the issues in the election. The final class period was spend on students coloring a map with the election results and answering questions which helped them see how this election led to Southern secession and eventually the Civil War.

I love activities for this because it does a number of things. First, as students play the role of others, they have to critically think about what that person would do or say. The creation of the posters allow the students to use their artistic talents and creativity. The collaborative element helps in understanding and the performance creates a more interesting and engaging method for me to teach the ideas without lecturing or requiring a lot of reading of the students.

So, how do you use simulations, drama and art in your lessons? Anyone have lessons to share?

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