5 Immersive Ways to Make History Come Alive
By Anna Warfield
No one has clued me in on a working time machine yet, so there must be other ways to make history more enticing than names and dates. Historians of all sorts know that there is plenty of juicy stuff in the annals of history, hidden in some document, painting, sculpture, or building. However, many students see history as boring. We need to make history come alive again.
Here are a few ideas on how to make that happen!
News footage, television, and film provide true examples of historical events or styles for roughly the last hundred years. For the thousands of years of the rest of history, movies, television shows, and historical documentaries can still be extremely instructional. Do not discount fictional videos! Many directors and producers work hard to create accurate period clothing, vehicles, household goods, speech, and more.
Use a movie clip as a start to a lesson or attention-grabber. Movies should not be used just for end of the unit wrap-ups or rewards: make your kids work! Show a scene or clip with no introduction so students can watch for the sake of watching. Then have a discussion and use questions to guide their thinking during a second viewing.
Time is precious, so select scenes from period movies and television shows with care. The focus should be on the historical setting, events, or whatever aspect you want your students to pick up on. With DVDs, YouTube, TeacherTube, and more, you can select scenes and have them cued up before class.
Storyboard That is an online digital storytelling tool with different layout options.
Students can create their own storyboards on computers or tablets, or you can project the Storyboard Creator onto an interactive whiteboard and have students come up to add characters, items, text, and scenes.
- Create a historical narrative as a traditional storyboard
- Answer the 5Ws of significant events
- Create a connective grid of different groups of people
- Recreate great battles with drag and drop technology
- Make an illustrative timeline leading up to important events or people’s lives
Photos for Class
Photos for Class is a search engine that finds photographs that are safe for school. While Photos for Class may be best suited to more current topics, documents and paintings also come up when searching for older history topics. Photos for Class pulls from Flickr, The British Royal Archives, and The Library of Congress, and – the best part – it automatically cites for you!
Filming videos is extremely time-consuming, and a great alternative is piecing together images in a slideshow or iMovie presentation. Have your students write and record voiceover narration to accompany the presentation! With Photos for Class, you can also find images of historical documents and historical photographs for printing or embedding into student-created documents.
An additional benefit to using Storyboard That is that you can pull photos from Photos for Class into your storyboards, and the citations appear at the bottom!
There are plenty of history buffs, living history groups, and performance educators who would be willing to come to your school for a special presentation. These guest speakers or reenactors arrive in historical dress, give a speech or performance, and have great knowledge in their subject area to answer student questions. Go ahead, have a Roman centurion, Confederate general, or suffragette come to your classroom!
Get your students to recreate historical events! Depending on your objectives, this recreation might be:
- A scripted presentation of a debate or speech
- A mock trial of a famous court case
- Reader’s theatre from a historical play
- Full theatrical performance of a historical play
- An original play about an important event or person
STEM Structure or Experiment
Team up with a teacher in another subject for an interdisciplinary project or concurrent teaching. If you teach multiple subjects, then the partnership should be pretty easy. Combine history with physics, engineering, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, mathematics, and anything else you can think of!
Give students tasks that require them to design, build, or experiment using representations of tools and materials, and/or knowledge from a certain era. Almost certainly there will be a lot of trial and error (“The Pilgrims could not use flashlights… try again!”), but it will get students thinking about limitations, causes leading up to certain events, social and political change, technological advances and their effects, etc.
- Use a scaled-down pulley system to lay bricks for a miniature pyramid.
- Build catapults or trebuchets to launch marshmallows at a tower or paper wall.
- Teach an entire lesson with student slates and no electricity.
- Represent the spread of the Black Death or other disease with water and spray bottles or a tainted water supply with food coloring.
- Estimate the time it would take for a letter to reach a destination by sending a student with a note to someone in the main office or another classroom and scale using multiplication.
Because recorded human history covers thousands of years from the entire world, there are nearly endless possibilities for recreating famous science experiments, cooking techniques, writing implements, and more!
You are an amazing educator and you want only the best and most engaging ways to teach your students. Let us know what activities you come up with to make history come to life for your students!
Anna Warfield is a former elementary school teacher with a passion for learning and teaching. She is now the Head of Curriculum and Content at Storyboard That. History is one of her favorite subjects, and she is always looking for new ways to engage students in and out of the classroom. Connect with Anna at @storyboardthat on Twitter.
Photo credit: storyboardthat.com
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