In this modern age of technology, it becomes more and more difficult to hold students’ attention in the classroom. This is particularly true of some subjects, one of them being history. But there are some creative methods you can use to teach history to students of all ages.
Method 1: Student involvement
One creative method is to have students write a letter. Choose several groups, preferably some specific to the period in history or idea you are covering. For example, if you are working on the French Revolution, the groups might be the lower class male, lower class female, upper class male, upper class female, the royalty, the church, and the artists. Using the male/female roles allows students to see the differences between the genders through history. Write the various groups on pieces of paper and distribute them as evenly as possible.
The instructions are for students to research their group at this time in history and in a particular place (in this case, France 1789). They should try to find what daily life is like, what their complaints are, what life has been like in the past, and so on. Then students should draft a letter from a person of that period to a dear friend. It should, of course, include some information about the most important events going on for that person at the time. A French Revolution letter from a lower class male might discuss the fight for freedom from tyranny, the anger over years of repression, and the hope for the future.
When the papers are due, have the students with the same types of people get together and compare letters. They should choose one they think is the best to share with the rest of the class. Allow time for questions and comments after each group, and you have created a teaching experience with real potential for learning about history.
Method 2: Presentations
A second creative way to teach history also involves groups and topics from the period, but these topics are broader, and the paper/presentation involved are more complex. For a unit on the history of Greece, topics might include government, architecture, drama, religion and daily life. Students should break into groups, ideally of about three, and sign up for (or be assigned) a topic. They should research and then present their information to the class as creatively as possible, definitely using visual aids. The government group might present a power point show, the daily life group might come in dressed from the period and with some kind of food from the time, and the drama group might present a short piece of a play. Any period in history lends itself well to this kind of group teaching activity.
Method 3: Using movies students will actually like
Many teachers use films in their classes, but these are often stuffy, “educational” films that don’t interest most students. Using films in a more creative way, such as using popular films, can teach aspects of history just as well and with better attention from students. For instance, The Name of the Rose is a murder mystery set in a medieval monastery starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater. While students ponder the mystery, they see the impact of the church during this period in history, the domination of religion over logic, the living conditions of both churchmen and the lower classes, and the creation of books, just to name a few of the ideas covered in a creative manner.
Method 4: Using modern books by modern writers
Similarly, a creative method of teaching history is to use popular books. There seem to be some available for nearly every period in history and for every reading level. One example of a novel that can teach history is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Set in the Middle Ages, the novel explores the various social classes including the church, the political intrigue of powerful leaders and families, the place of women at that time in history and the process of building a cathedral, to name a few points.
Using creative ideas to teach history makes both the teaching and the learning more fun. Students remember ideas better if they are more involved in the process, and these methods of teaching history help get them more engaged. Creative teaching does not require money or tons of effort, and the outcome is well worth any extra time.