Historical Simulations as Learning – Classroom Role-Playing


Classroom Role-Playing Activities Enhance Educational Goals

Historical simulations, as part of learning in the history classroom, are one of the best ways to interest and excite students. Simulations teach students to research methodology and provide one of the broadest forms of classroom interchanges that teach speech, debate, parliamentary procedure, and document analysis. Simulations are a fun way to achieve educational goals within the standard course of study.

Choosing the Right Simulation

Teachers can find many simulations on the internet and there are books and teacher guides that offer a variety of simulations as well. The best ones, however, may be those that the teacher develops from scratch. Ideally, each student will be given a unique role to research and portray. Simulations are like drama: each student will become the person he has been assigned and address the overriding issues from the historical perspective of that role. Thus, it is important to develop simulations that allow for easily accessible research and to include enough roles for every student in the class. Students that may not be adept at research or that fear public speaking can be assigned roles that are less demanding.

Although American History offers many good simulation topics, some feature opportunities that fit well into central themes covered in the curriculum:

  • The Boston Massacre
  • The Constitutional Convention
  • The debate on the Compromise of 1850
  • The Congressional debate on the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment
  • The Senate debate on the Spanish-American War resolution
  • The debate on the League of Nations
  • The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution debate

Each of these topics allows the teacher to assign multiple individual roles and gives students the opportunity to address many sub-themes. Some simulations might take the form of Congressional hearings with students playing the part of Senators and witnesses.

Time, Research, Rubrics, and Feedback

Simulations should be structured within the curriculum to span several days, but not more than a week. Rubrics should include student knowledge of the issues discussed, the level and depth of research and preparation, and the degree of classroom interaction. Students can be required to submit position papers that detail the perspective of their assigned roles on the issues under discussion.

Feedback is important and can be graded as a separate assignment. A post-simulation “reflection” essay should address what the student thought of the exercise, how it contributed to learning, and what was liked or disliked. These essays will help the teacher in creating other simulation assignments. Additionally, they give students an opportunity to help shape curriculum.

Creativity and Realism

Certain simulations may lend themselves to a greater degree of creativity such as the use of period costumes. During a four day simulation on the US Senate inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, students dressed in costumes reflective of the time period. These added enhancements broaden student understanding of social and cultural elements associated with the general topic.

A simulation on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution might involve a press conference while a simulation on the Boston Massacre can take the form of a court trial with students role-playing the Redcoat defendants, attorneys, witnesses, and a jury.

In class end-of-term evaluations, students rate simulations highly, identifying them as fun activities that bring key historical concepts to light in an understandable fashion. Teachers that incorporate simulations into their course planning will be richly rewarded with an activity that inspires and involves every student in the class.

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