Social Sundays: Keep Teaching Fresh

It's the middle of the year.  And let's be honest, it can be difficult to keep the classroom feeling fresh.  By this time of year we have done it walks, interactive notebooks, station activities, student-centered projects, etc.  

I was talking with some of my social studies teaching friends, and we challenged ourselves to do something fresh and new in January...a little something to keep class feeling new for students and ourselves.  I played around with a few things, but I'll admit that in the end I came back to an old favorite, but something new to my students this year and something I haven't had (made) time to do yet this school year: the research and role play project.  

Now, full disclosure, we are in the middle of this project as we are getting ready for Black History month by preparing for an in-depth exploration of the Civil Rights movement but as I have done this with other classes in the past, I can still share what we do (did).

Overview: the research and role play project is a student-centered project that focuses on figures from a period in history or political or social issue.  Students select a figure of interest, conduct detailed research and the project culminates in a soiree or sometimes conference where students become the figure they researched and interact with each other.

Details: For this month's civil rights role play project, students each selected a major figure from the Civil Rights Movement.  As the issue of civil rights is front and center in the world these days, students could select a figure from the early days of America (abolitionists and such) all the way through present day civil rights activists.  I give students an annotate bibliography of names, but they can always suggest someone not on the list.  Student choices include Zora Neale Hurston and Maya Angelou; Malcolm X and John Lewis.  Our soiree, while focused on civil rights, will span centuries.  

To start, I provide students a project outline and guidelines for each step.  Students not only research their individual, but also they analyze the role that the person had in their day.  Who would their friends have been?  What would they have thought about major issues?  How did their background shape the person they became?  

Students plan costumes, look for quotes, gather photos or drawings, and more to embody the individual they selected.  At the soiree, students discuss major questions related to the civil rights movement.  I can't wait to see what this year's class will do.  

I love this project because:

  • It's student-centered
  • Students bring their "A" game when they are directly interacting with each other
  • Students LOVE role playing
  • It is the rare student who doesn't participate, because there is no way to really fake the role play.
  • It feels new to students and their is a renewed energy in the classroom.
  • The role play brings out deep and thoughtful discussions of major issues or periods in history.
Try it out in your class:
  • Set up the parameters  and timeline for the project
  • Give students ample time to select an individual that will be interesting to them.
  • Provide in class time to work on their research and analysis so that you can provide support and their is time for peer editing
  • Add an essay (optional) or other written assessment
  • Provide periodic journal prompts for students to answer as the individual they will be role playing.  This is key for students' understanding of what their individual thinks of issues before they have to do a full role play
  • Befriend the theater people in your school...they are the best resource for costumes.
  • Bring food for the soiree or conference (it's much more fun!)
  • Create ample opportunities for analysis and discussion for students to reflect on what they learned not only about their person but about the different perspectives during a time period or about an issue.  For example, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. adopted different tactics and perspectives during the civil rights movement.  How did these different tactics shape the narrative?
Want more ideas to freshen up your class?  Check out the links below for more ideas from some of the best social studies teachers around...

Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  



  1. This is a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I love this idea and especially love the idea of befriending the theater arts people!

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I love all the different components to this, students must get a lot out of it. I look forward to trying it one day! ~Stephanie


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