Educator Resource: Get Into Character for Humanities Class

A screenshot of a student's user profile on Nextdoor.com introducing herself to the digital community as her avatar persona.
Emily Storms

Try This: Have Students Get Into Character!

Try This is a series of blog posts geared towards educators that features smart but simple tips from KLS teachers. Our hope is that these bite-size ideas are something you can implement in your own classroom right away. We’d love to hear how it goes. Leave a comment or tag us on social media @khanlabschool if you try any of these strategies! 

To help her students learn about the American Revolutionary War, ELA Specialist Emily Ward asked her students to get into character. Read on for details and editable templates to use in your own classroom. 

Emily's main goal for this project-based learning Social Studies unit was to help her students connect with the perspectives of different people who lived during the time of the American Revolutionary War. They launched the unit by learning about primary and secondary sources. Students read about the effort it takes for primary sources to be preserved for hundreds of years. It didn't take long for students to notice most of the primary sources available from this time period featured the perspectives of white, wealthy land-owning men. Those were the voices that were valued enough to be preserved. 

After all of this background, Ward posed a question to her class: 

If people had the internet in the time of the American Revolutionary War, what other primary sources might we have had? 

Students developed four different characters from the American Revolutionary war era to use in their project for this unit. Of those four characters, all students developed at least one character who was a child, at least one who was a woman, and at least one that was not white. Students thought about how each of their characters would have felt about the rising tensions between the colonists and the British. They used these biography templates to record key details about each of their four characters. 

Then, they thought about what sorts of things these characters might have posted if the internet had existed then. The curiosity of the Humanities 4 students shaped the project's direction from there.

"We had a student-led discussion about how we could give voices to these characters," Ward said. "Most of the project ideas came from my students. This gave them ownership over the project and made it more fun for them. The final product was stronger for it!" 

Students decided they were most interested in writing emails and NextDoor posts from their characters' perspectives. After lessons on research writing, Humanities 4 students used these templates to create NextDoor posts from each character and these templates to write email exchanges where one of their characters persuaded another to change their views.

While the entire unit was impressive, we wanted to specifically highlight three tools that can be easily adapted for any humanities subject matter

  1. The first tool is this simple Character Bio Template. This document was where students recorded key details about each of their characters. It was helpful for students to have these to refer back to as they worked on other parts of the project. 
  2. These NextDoor Post Templates are another great tool. In case you're not familiar, NextDoor is a hyperlocal social networking site that connects people who live in the same neighborhood. In the Humanities 4 project, students wrote NextDoor posts from the perspective of their characters introducing themselves to their neighborhood. You could use the NextDoor templates to have your students get into character as a historical figure your class is studying, a character from a novel study, or really anyone else whose perspective you want your students to consider. 
  3. Similarly, this template for fictional email exchanges between characters is another great resource. Ward used it to have her students explore the reasons someone might choose the Loyalist side versus the Patriot side in the American Revolutionary War. Of course, you could edit the instructions to fit your specific class content. 

The point of this approach was to help students think about the Revolutionary War from more than one perspective, and Ward said it worked! 

"The project helped my students put themselves into someone else’s shoes and helped them think about what different people thought of the events of the Revolutionary War," Ward said. "It took a whole different level of understanding for my students to be able to research and write from someone else’s perspective. Plus, they had so much fun with the characters that didn't realize how much writing they'd produced." 

Congratulations to Ward and the Humanities 4 class on this outstanding project! Don't forget to tag us on social media @khanlabschool so we can see how you adapt these resources for your own classroom. 

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