We read the poetry, we saw the pictures, we looked at the Zimmerman telegram. But what was The Great War like?

We didn’t hit that really hard until the day of the test.

For the most part, it was nothing special — write two letters as a soldier during World War I would have. One at the beginning of The War, and one at the end. Each letter was required to note which nation they were from, for which side they fought, which front they fought on and an appropriate date. Beyond that, it could be addressed to Mom, girlfriend, school friend or pet. We weren’t specific.

The catch? The classroom was a warzone, complete with Allied Powers, Central Powers and no man’s land.

Desks upturned on desks in two rows on either side of the classroom, modeling the trenches.

Small pieces of paper on the floor, each demarcating a “crater” or a “land mine.” Tire chains obligingly labeled as “razor wire.”

Garbage thrown haphazardly on the floor, thanks to the previous class.

And, thanks to the suggestion of my other master teacher, the coup de grace: the opening scene from “Saving Private Ryan” blasted at top volume.

Of course, we blocked the screen — all they heard was the battle chaos.


Or, it would have been had the RSP student in the after-lunch class not gone postal in such a way that my master teacher stepped in, yelled at him and told him to go the office. We always have problems with that class — my master teacher knew something was going to happen. He said, after the fact.

Otherwise, it went off without a hitch. Now I get to read the letters.

The best part getting them to throw wadded up pieces of paper at each other to simulate bombardment. It worked fine until they started throwing textbooks, simulating that WWI arms race.

Moral of the story? During tests, hit what really matters. In world history, the minutiae doesn’t really matter.

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  1. Pat

    It sounds like an awesome lesson. I hope they got a lot out of it.

  2. They did, at least those who were there.

    It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another to actually live it. There are limits to this approach — “living” the underground railroad got some educators in trouble — and we were careful not to pass into that area.

  3. Great idea.

    1. Would you do it again?

    2. Does it support state standards?

  4. 1. Hell yes.

    2. CA 10.5.4 or, a bigger stretch, CA 10.6.3.

  1. 1 Instructify » Blog Archive » Carnival of Education #158

    […] and a Movie: Benjamin Baxter at On the Tenure Track invites you to a live recreation of Saving Private Ryan in his own […]

  2. 2 OFF: My Name is Benjamin Baxter, and I’m Glad You Could Make It « On the Tenure Track

    […] haven’t fired any math teachers lately, nor have my students risked shell shock to write two letters home in the last month-and-a-half. And no, I don’t lie on my […]

  3. 3 Carnival of Education #158 - Instructify

    […] and a Movie: Benjamin Baxter at On the Tenure Track invites you to a live recreation of Saving Private Ryan in his own […]

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