One day I was reflecting on the unit I was going to teach and challenged myself to make it more engaging. We were looking at the beginnings of the U.S. Revolution, especially the events that occurred in Boston – the Tea Party and the Massacre. Up until then, the students were enjoying themselves and learning, but we were missing that “wow” factor. I really wanted the students to feel what the people of Boston were feeling at this time. I wanted the students to experience the passion. I wanted them to live in those times.
I decided to make them do the work. I challenged them to inspire their classmates to take up arms and join the Patriots in the revolt.
Here’s what I did:
- I showed students a number of inspirational/passionate speeches from iconic films. I chose Aragon’s speech at the end of The Lord of the Rings – Return of the King, and the President’s speech just before the climax of Independence Day. I found videos of these two speeches on YouTube and showed them to the students. Be sure to watch the clips before you show them. There are various versions available, but some are better than others in terms of sound and image quality.
- After the videos, I had the students throw out their observations about the speeches. What techniques did they notice that the speakers’ used? Note – I learned that it is a good idea to tell the students – prior to watching the videos – that they need to watch for the techniques and be prepared to discuss them. I didn’t do this for the first class and the discussion afterwards suffered.
Anyhow, the students really surprised me with their insights. Things that came up:
- Beginning with a low voice volume and gradually building the volume up towards a climax
- Connecting to past successes
- Instilling confidence (ie, talking about what will happen afterwards)
- Warning about consequences for failure
- Connecting with the audience (Aragon saying he shares the same fear his soldiers felt)
I jotted these ideas on the whiteboard.
- Then, I told the students that they were going to be taking these ideas and employing them in their own motivational speeches. They needed to write a brief (5-8 sentence) speech designed to convince/inspire Loyalists and fencesitters to join the Patriots in a revolution.
I allowed the students to work in groups of two.
- I patrolled the room, giving out suggestions and throwing out ideas (“Independence!”, “Why do we need a king? What does he do for us?”, “Passion!”, etc.).
- When the students were done, I had them come up and share their speeches with the class. I deliberately chose the most motivated/dramatic students to go first. This set the stage for the other students. I ramped it up for subsequent classes by handing out props and whispering suggestions.
The results were staggering. Instead of dragging students up to present, I had students fighting to go up next. Each one was more over-the-top than the one before. At one point one of the teams grabbed boxes marked ‘Tea’ (props I had lying around the room as decorations) and hurled them out of the window.
It was awesome!
This activity was pretty off-the-cuff, but effective as all get out. When we reflected on it afterwards, the students said it really helped them understand how words and events could infect a person and spark passions and excitement. Later, when talking about Patriot misdeeds, such as tarring and feathering or burying tax collectors alive, students really understood how a mob could get caught up in this kind of thing.
I videotaped the speeches, which may have contributed to the high energy level. Students love to put on a show! Be warned though, if you video the speeches, make time to show students the videos later. They will be relentless!