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E x p e r i e n t i a l

E x e r c i s e

What Is History?
H A P T E R

What is history, and why should we study it?

Overview
In an Experiential Exercise, students witness a staged event that they then reconstruct to help them understand the challenges historians face in interpreting and communicating information about the past.

Materials
Student Handout: The Getting to Know You Game (1 per student)

Objectives
Students will investigate the Essential Question: What is history, and why should we study it? reconstruct the details of a staged event to learn about the process of writing history.

Vocabulary
Key Content Terms evidence, primary source, secondary source, point of view,

historical interpretation
Social Studies Terms artifact, bias

What Is History? 1

P r o c e d u r e s

Experiential Exercise
1 Before class, prepare for the activity. Make copies of Student Handout 1: The Getting to Know You Game. This game will keep students engaged as a staged event occurs. Arrange to have a teacher or student from another class come in while students are playing the game and steal something valuable from your desk, such as your grade book or a set of graded papers. Make sure you plant this item clearly on your desk before class begins. Tell the thief that he or she should walk in, pick up the item, and walk out. He or she should also make eye contact with at least three students in the classroom. 2 Introduce the game. Distribute copies of Student Handout 1. Select volunteers to be the five feature students. 3 Conduct the game. Have the feature students go to another classroom to complete the handout with one another. These students must not witness any part of the staged event about to take place. Encourage the remaining students to gather as many interesting details as they can about the feature students. 4 Monitor the classroom while the staged event occurs. Once students are settled into the game, signal the thief to perform the staged event. Ignore or redirect any students who try to call your attention to what is happening. Continue the game for a few minutes after the person has left the room. 5 Stop the game. Walk to your desk and announce that the game must stop immediately. Tell students that something has happened and something is not where it was before. Ask the class to help you figure out what happened. 6 Ask students to return to their desks and quickly write an eyewitness account of the event. Explain that you want to get all the facts correctly, because it is important that you handle the situation appropriately. Expect students to have different versions and to be eager to share many details. Make sure student accounts include specifics about the following: Who? (name, height, clothing, facial expression) What? Where? (location in the classroom) When? (approximate time) How? Students should complete their accounts individually. If students do not have certain information, they should not include it in their account.
Student Handout 1

What is History?

P r o c e d u r e s

7 Divide the class into five groups. Have the feature students return to the classroom. Assign one feature student to each group. Tell the feature students that something has happened and now something is not where it was before. Their job is to listen to the eyewitness accounts and come up with a more detailed summary of what happened. 8 Have students share their eyewitness accounts with other members of their groups. The five feature students should take notes. Encourage them to ask clarifying questions, such as Who? What? Where? When? and How? 9 Ask the feature students to give you their accounts. Read aloud from each account. Call attention to differences and model confusion or disbelief. Encourage students to raise questions and provide alternative information. 10 Discuss why students think this event happened. Tell them that they have heard many pieces of information. Some information came from students who were in the room at the time, but other information came from students who were not. Some information was more detailed, while other information was lacking in detail. Have several volunteers share their interpretations of why this event happened. 11 Debrief the experience. Invite the thief to return the missing item to your desk. Have that person share his or her reason for taking the valuable item. Explain that the purpose of this activity was to give students an opportunity to reconstruct an event to learn about the process of writing history. Ask, Who was in the room when the event occurred? Who was not in the room when the event occurred? How did they learn what had happened in the classroom? Which source of information about the event was betterthe students who were in the classroom at the time or the students who were not? What information were you able to agree on? What information were you not able to agree on? Why do you think there was disagreement? Did any of you change your account in any way? Why? Did everyone agree on why the staged event occurred? Why do you think there may have been differences between interpretations? 12 Tell students that their experience is similar to that of historians as they try to reconstruct and interpret the past. Students who were in the room during the event were primary sources who provided eyewitness accounts. Students who were not in the room were secondary sources. Both sources had value in reconstructing an account of what happened. Each student also had his or her own point of view about what happened, which made it more challenging to develop a single interpretation of why it happened. There was disagreement between interpretations, just as there are often disagreements between historians.
What Is History? 3

S t u d e n t

H a n d o u t

The Getting to Know You Game


The goal of this game is to gather as much information as possible about five feature students. 1. Write the name of each feature student in a different oval below. 2. Ask a classmate if he or she knows something about one of the feature students. You may only ask about one feature student at a time. If your classmate does not know anything about that student, you may not ask him or her about any other feature students at this time. You may not speak to this classmate again until after you have spoken to every classmate at least once. 3. As you learn about each student, take notes by extending the lines from his or her oval and recording what you have learned. Record one fact for each line. 4. Continue gathering information until your teacher says time is up.

Chapter 1

Teachers Curriculum Institute