About Face! – and get your students moving!

It’s easy to fall into the routine of lecture/note-taking. After all, it guarantees that an expert is doing the talking, fortifies the ego, and it kinda prepares students for the kind of teaching they will encounter in college. But, you must resist this urge! You must resist it like Israel Putnam resisted the British charges up Breed’s Hill in 1775. Sorry, history nerd.

Anyway, to liven things up in my class, I challenged myself to make the students learn by doing. One activity I organized was to help the students explore the battle strategies of the U.S. Revolution, in particular, the organization of the British army.

Here’s what I did:

First, I had the students move the desks out of the way, to create a central clear space. While this was happening, I put on my outfit – an officer’s jacket and my trusty powdered wig.

Then, I told the students what we would be up to – recreating an army parade ground.

I shared some basic instructions with the students – their names and what they looked like. This included the commands of:

  • attention
  • at ease
  • about face
  • advance
  • halt

We practiced these for a few minutes and then we moved on to lining up. I have classes of 21 students, so I organized them into three rows of seven. Prior to lining up, I chose three students who would be the line boss – who stood at the beginning of each row and were responsible for looking down the row and ensuring the line was straight.

(At this point I have to admit that I was very lucky to have a student in one class who had actually spent time in a military school. They provided amazing support – helping out with the jargon and the actual instructions for how to stand, how to move, etc. If you can, ask to see what students know before beginning. It might save you time and save you from embarrassing yourself!)

Then, we repeated the above instructions, but this time in formation. Once ready, I then had them take steps forward, marching in unison. This was fun to watch as each student took steps of various stride lengths, causing a few collisions and bumping. Once we had these kinks settled, we tried again to advance together as a group.


One strategy you might employ here is to video the students as they move in unison so that they can see what it looks like and where any mess ups are occurring.

After this, we put the desks back in their rows and returned to our seats. At times like this, I am sure glad I put marks on the floor where the desks are to go – makes the old “put your desks back where they belong” thing go much smoother!


Here, you could show the students the video again and use the video to kick-start a conversation about the process – was it easy? What was difficult? You can also start a discussion about the value of having lots of soldiers organized and moving together as a group.

Then, to tie it all back to the revolutionary war, you could ask the students to strategize – how could an enemy force deal with such groups effectively? What weaknesses could they exploit?

I have used videos from movies in the past to help students explore these concepts. But, nothing beats actually doing it.

Hi 5!

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