Monday, August 24, 2009

History Week, Day 2: Four Skits For Students to Act Out

In Texas, the 8th grade U.S. History TAKS test contains a lot of names, dates and and other vocabulary. There really isn't any problem solving or higher-order thinking involved. If you can get your students to remember the key vocabulary of American history up to 1865, they'll be all set to pass the big test. 

One method I used to make my lessons memorable and easy to understand was having students act out short plays or skits.

In February of 2005, I presented two straight days of skits about tariffs, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. I can vaguely remember that the first skit did not go as well as the second, because it was not written as a script. I gave my students character notecards with the most important points on them and had them improvise. Part II had a script and focused mostly on the debate over protective tariffs between Calhoun and Webster. 

Later, my department chair gave me a skit about the first two political parties. It was basically a Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists debate pitting Alexander Hamilton vs. Thomas Jefferson. I rewrote the skit to inject a little humor and write it in a conversational tone that my students would understand better. 

Finally, as a review heading into the TAKS, I basically took a list of important figures we were reviewing (George Washington, Lewis and Clark, Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Andrew Jackson, James Monroe and Henry David Thoreau) and created a talk show where they explained their significance. It isn't my best work, but it was certainly better than the alternative (boring notetaking). Everything is on Google Docs: Give your students the graphic organizer before you start, so they know what to be listening for. You don't need any costuming for this either, although anything you might already have is worth using. 

To identify the characters, I borrowed the idea of making a large name tag visible from anywhere in the classroom: Take a sheet protector and run twine between the top and bottom holes, long enough so that it will hang at chest level. Slip the paper with the character's name into the sheet protector. Write it with a big permanent marker or use a really big font and landscape mode in your favorite word processor.