Indisciplinary Project (Museum Spoof)

The museum spoof requires students to draw upon previous knowledge to essentially produce a fictional historical artifact.  In this activity, the teacher gives out small items to individual groups of students.  Each group is required to both find and create texts that, together, help justify why that particular item should be in a museum.  The goal here is not for a perfectly accurate account, as none of the items handed out will ever be museum worthy.  However, students can draw on what is plausible (That spoon has a shell on it.  Maybe it was owned by the Royal Dutch Shell Company) to set themselves down a path of historic research and writing.

This activity even got us old and wrinkled 20 somethings excited when we were asked to do it.  As the “true identity” or the item before us were for up to us to decide, it gave us limitless options to flex our creativity muscles.  That process made the writing of the fictional documents (but based on real events) all the more exciting.

For students, it may be necessary to root them within a particular unit, but it is bound to be a cause for enthusiasm.

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Semiotic Play

Semiotic play involves the translation of a text from one medium to another, whether it is from a book to a video, from a poem to a song, etc.  It is designed to make students locate the core meaning of something, but all the while flexing the creativity muscles in their brain.  Can students turn the concept of mutually assured destruction into a Doctor Seuss book?  Well, Dr. Seuss already did (Butter Battle Book), but by all means, if it’s an activity that both makes key ideas easier to consume, and is fun at the same time, there should be no reason not to.  The following are two videos that I wish to use for the purpose of semiotic play.

This trailer, the perfect example of semiotic play by students, not only turns the Butter Battle Book into a movie trailer, is also done by the Ottawa Public Library.

This is a video from the Japanese cartoon memoir “Barefoot Gen”.  I hope to use in a semiotic play lesson where students would be asked to convey the imagery presented in this video into text.  The imagery is grotesque defies description, making this assignment a potentially very interesting one.

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Silent Conversing

As the title implies, silent conversing involves students interacting with each other through only written text.  If for whatever reason, the teacher desires to create a discussion while keeping noise control entirely at zero, this is one such alternative.  Silent conversing itself works best when students have had time to already digest the topic at hand.  This technique, unlike the many discussed before it, serves as more of a reflection than a pre-assessment or primer.

The process is as follows: the teacher will provide one (or more) passages based on the topic previously discussed.  The first student will write a response to it on the page, and pass it to the next student, who will write another response, and direct it at either the initial passage or the response of the first person with an arrow.  This cycle will continue for as long as the teacher deems it necessary.  The following are a pair of possible passages taken from textbooks.

Textbook A

Upset by the fast and astonishing growth of the power of the Republic, the

American invaders hastened the preparation of an aggressive war in order to

destroy it in its infancy….The American imperialists furiously carried out the war

project in 1950….The American invaders who had been preparing the war for a

long time, alongside their puppets, finally initiated the war on June 25th of the

39th year of the Juche calendar. That dawn, the enemies unexpectedly attacked

the North half of the Republic, and the war clouds hung over the once peaceful

country, accompanied by the echoing roar of cannons.

Having passed the 38th parallel, the enemies crawled deeper and deeper into the

North half of the Republic…the invading forces of the enemies had to be

eliminated and the threatened fate of our country and our people had to be


Textbook B

When the overthrow of the South Korean government through social confusion

became too difficult, the North Korean communists switched to a stick-and-carrot

strategy: seeming to offer peaceful negotiations, they were instead analyzing the

right moment of attack and preparing themselves for it.

The North Korean communists prepared themselves for war. Kim Il-sung

secretly visited the Soviet Union and was promised the alliance of the Soviets

and China in case of war. Finally, at dawn on June 25th, 1950 the North began

their southward aggression along the 38th parallel. Taken by surprise at these

unexpected attacks, the army of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) fought

courageously to defend the liberty of the country….The armed provocation of the

North Korean communists brought the UN Security Council around the table. A

decree denounced the North Korean military action as illegal and as a threat to

peace, and a decision was made to help the South. The UN army constituted the

armies of 16 countries—among them, the United States, Great Britain and

France—joined the South Korean forces in the battle against the North.

This activity works best in groups I’ve discovered so that students are not either overwhelmed by too many different passages floating around, or bored due to the time spent waiting for the one or two passage sheets to get to them.

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Anticipation Guide

This is yet another pre-assessment technique.  The anticipation guide involves giving students a list of statements related to the topic they will be studying, and having them decide whether they agree or disagree.  While simple, this pre-assessment technique is good at determining any preconceptions students may have, particularly incorrect ones that may cause them to stumble during the unit itself.

The following list I have compiled is derived from the idea of Foxes and Hedgehogs, a topic central to the study of historiography.   (Hedgehogs are core ideals that someone holds as truth.  Foxes are those that have no hedgehogs.)

  1. When groups with conflicting hedgehogs meet, the end result is the destruction of one group by the other.
  2. All people have hedgehogs.
  3. The American dream is a hedgehog.
  4. Foxes are inherently better than hedgehogs.
  5. It is possible for a fox to become a hedgehog and vice versa.
  6. One must acknowledge their own hedgehogs in order to be a historian.

These questions are there to set the discussion on personal biases, and a student should approach history in order to find the truth as opposed to their personal deep seated opinions.

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Proposition/Support Outlines

Proposition / Support outlines are designed to help students create a proposition from a factual statement.  Given the how commonplace it is for history essays to utilize position papers to demonstrate a point of view, something to help students get a grasp on this process is important to historical literacy.

First, we begin by distinguishing between facts and opinions, specifically that only the former can be proven, and does not change regardless of the passage of time or change in the viewer.  Students are then provided with examples of historical facts, and divided into groups to create a position statement that utilizes the fact as supporting evidence.  For example, the fact “The Civil War was won by the North” can lead to the proposition “Because the Civil War was won by the North, it lead to the domination of the South during the subsequent period of Reconstruction.”  Lastly, the students will take their new proposition and find more supporting arguments for it through the use of an established outline seen below.

U.S. History

Mr. Yang










Expert Authority:


Logic and Reasoning:


Not every aspect of this outline can be met, as some information may be lacking depending on a student’s proposition.  However, particularly if the teacher has control over the minimum amount of information students are made privy to, minimum requirements can also be made.

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Creative Ranking

Creative Ranking is a personal assignment where students are given a list of terms from the topic that they will so be introduced to, and asked to list them based on a given scale.  Each student completes their rankings individually, and can use it as a discussion tool for the topic itself.  The assignment is not meant to be graded based on the ranking itself, but rather allowed to act as a primer.


My personal usage of this has been with the Urbanization unit, listing the following problems urbanization brought about, and asking students to list in order of severity from most to least.



Child Labor

Low Wages

Poor Housing Conditions

Poor Worker Safety

Lack of Public Sanitation



Discussing the students’ lists allowed for an easy way to introduce them to the causes and consequences of these problems within the unit itself.

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PACA is an activity that focuses on drawing in student attention and interest through making predictions of the text they are going to read.  Then, as more information is given to them about the text by the teacher, they are asked to reassess, and create a new, more detailed predictions based on the new information.  Lastly, a final review of the veracity of their original predictions compared to what the text actually was is used to conclude the exercise.

For its purpose, acting as a primer to jump start student interest and discussion within a subject, this activity can succeed marvelously.  However, that success is dependent on the information the student is given, or comes to the assignment with, as that determines the quality of discussion they will create.

The following is an assignment using this technique that I created an implemented in a high school US history classroom, selecting a video on the Cold War as opposed to a physical article as the text.

Name: ________________________

Mr. Yang

U.S. History

Carefully consider the following questions:

  1. List two things you know about North Korea
  1. List two things you think about its people.
  1. What do you think about its government?
  1. What do you think North Koreans think about you as an American?

Answer the following questions after watching the clip from Drew Returns From North Korea.

  1. What are the historical factors that have shaped the North Korean world view?  (What are the factors you have heard about in the US?  What factors are mentioned in the video?  How do they match up?)
  1. How does the North Korean viewpoint support or counter your preexistent knowledge of relations between countries in the area?
  1. Do you believe this information from Drew?  Why or why not?
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