A few years ago I could just sense the restlessness in the room as our year was coming to a close. We had 8 actual days of school left and two of those days were going to be taken up with final exams.
We needed a little friendly competition while I tricked them into reviewing important concepts we covered throughout the year. Then this idea for an American history end of the year activity came to me; The American History Tournament of Champions was born!!
This has been a hit in my classes because it is something that every student is able to do. There is public speaking involved, organization, argumentative writing, persuasion, teamwork, and logic involved. Everything you would want in an American history end of the year activity that doesn't involve you just lecturing on those last days.
Here's how it works. My 5 classes usually consist of 30 students. I have 100 different images and terms taped up in the hallway for my classes to look through based on topics/people/events we've covered. Before we go out to look, I tell the students that they have the option to present on their own, or they work with up to one other person.
I then release students to the hallways for them to look through all of the topics and tell them they should choose 5-10 that they think had the greatest impact on American history. Not that they were necessarily a good thing (example: slavery), but that the impact cannot be ignored. I tell them 5-10 because they will be choosing their topic on a lottery system.
Once all students are back in the room I have students come up to my desk and select a folded up piece of paper in a hat. Each piece of paper has a number between 1-15. Once everyone has their number, I start with number 1 and ask, "What is the topic you will be fighting for to be the champion?" Then I move my way down the line.
I will put the topics on the screen in the tournament bracket in a way that seems like there could be a good argument made either way. Example: George Washington vs. Thomas Jefferson, Cotton vs. Tobacco, The Civil War vs the American Revolution, etc.
Once students see how the bracket board has been laid out, they now not only know who they are competing against, but who the two possibilities are that they would be competing against if they advance to the next round. They end up using their time to divide and conquer, and here's the miracle that came out of this - every student in the room was excited, engaged, and talking about history! I sat back in awe that I was able to make this happen.
How I ran this in my classroom was I set the topics up in a way that would combine students who were stronger speakers with stronger topics with each other. Once both sides shared their informative/persuasive speech, I had students write the name of the topic that they felt had the strongest defense. I know its hard in middle school, but I really emphasized maturity and that they weren't voting for a person, but for the information given.
I set up my tournament so a coin toss determines who speaks first. One side speaks for up to 90 seconds, then the other side speaks for 90 seconds. Then the other side can speak for 60 seconds, and the other side gets to speak for 60 seconds. Then the class applauds for both, I take the ballots, and count up the votes.
At the end of the hour I let the class know who will be moving on in the next round and who they will be competing against. The thoughts these kids have, the discipline they exhibit, and the fun we have talking about history makes this American history end of the year activity a sure-fire way for those kids to come back in the future and see if their topic won again!
You can find this in my Teachers Pay Teachers store as well as one for:
Famous Scientists in History
Have a great end to your year!
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies