As both a historian and as a fairly new secondary school educator, I am constantly seeking new ways to engage high school students in the study of history. Out of the various strategies that I have tried in my classroom so far, role plays and simulations which immerse my students into a historical scenario have been both the most popular and the most transformative.
My students love role plays and simulations because they are fun and interesting. But I love them because role plays also provide a way to assess student learning in ways that a test cannot do. Specifically, role plays require students to demonstrate their reflective and affective learning, or, in other words, to demonstrate both critical thinking and historical empathy, morality, and ethics.
For many of my role plays and simulations, I’ve been using curriculum offered by the Zinn Education Project, which has some excellent role plays on topics such as Indian removal, slavery, and abolitionism. However, Zinn did not have a role play on World War I, which I recently taught. So, I decided to craft my own.
The WWI role play focuses upon the American home front, and immerses students in one of the most important political controversies of the war: how dissent should be handled. Students learn about the Espionage Act and its abuses, especially as they affected the civil liberties of Americans who opposed national involvement in Europe’s war. They then are asked to participate in lobbying for or against the Sedition Act, a bill that strengthened the already draconian powers of the Federal government to police free speech. The role play kept my students busy and engaged in learning about this most important of wars in American history that is rarely taught in much detail in our schools. You can find the role play here: World War I American Homefront Role Play.