Class 11: Role Play

actors on broadway
The goal of this class is to experience the role-play as teaching method. Students will be introduced to (and receive) a hands-on curriculum (from Choices Program) that uses primary sources, case studies, videos, and role-play simulations to engage students in an exploration of the concept of human rights and the challenges of international enforcement. The curriculum also introduces students to various human rights actors, and examines the current debate on U.S. human rights policy. Emphasis is placed on helping students develop the skills and habits needed for active citizenship.

Choices ProgramChoices Program ~ The program’s curriculum units draw upon multiple primary source documents and culminate in a rigorous student-centered role-playing activity. Students will take part in a Choices lesson entitled Human Rights: Competing Visions of Human Rights – Questions for U.S. Policy.

Working cooperatively, students will examine the evolving role that human rights has played in international politics and explore the current debate on U.S. human rights policy.

The lesson was delivered by guest  – Tim Graham. Tim is currently a teacher at Cleveland High School in Portland, OR. He has taught social studies for 12 years in the Portland Public Schools district, working at Roosevelt, Benson, and Franklin high schools in addition to his current placement at Cleveland.

Tim is an excellent role model  – innovative, lifelong learner, veteran educator. We’ll have a chance to pick his brain on the challenges and opportunities for teachers in PPS.

He has attended teaching seminars with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. He is currently a Choices Teaching Fellow. Tim maintains two class blogs – IB 20th Century  and IB HOTA.

Role Playing
Participants in role playing assignments adopt and act out the role of characters in particular situations. They may take on the personalities, motivation, backgrounds, mannerisms, and behaviors of people different from themselves.

Closely related: simulations (which may have a game element) and reenactments (which may employ costumes or other theatrical elements).

When creating role play activities, we are often focused on making the experience memorable. This can lead to lessons that are fun – “we dressed in togas” – but from which students gain little academically.

The most impactful role-playing activities (like Choices, above or Zinn, below) feature debate, decision-making or problem solving from the perspectives of historical figures. 

Good role play activities found here:
From Zinn Education Project Link
From Thinking History (primarily in European history) Link

A document-based lesson can be enhanced by role-playing the documents’ creators or audience. For example, these SHEG lessons could easily be modified to add a role play.

Assignment: Next week we will be exploring a variety of student discussion group techniques. Your mission:

Explore the discussion techniques I have assembled on our edMethods Toolkit: Student-Centered Prompts
Be sure to follow links to  Teachers Toolkit | OETC PLN Strategies

Choice a: Use one of the discussion strategies with your student before our 11/14 class, and come prepared to share how it went. (Could be a serious or frivolous topic)

Choice b: Pick one of the strategies and lead class in using it (should be in abbreviated form – and take no longer than 15 mins.)

Image credit:  Library of Congress: Actors on Broadway Miss Phyllis Gordon

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“Gone In A Day” – The Vanport Flood 1948


Target Students: 3rd Grade

Historical Thinking Skill: Corroborating

Guiding Questions: How did the people of Vanport react to the flood? How did the Government react to the disaster?

Lesson Context: This lesson is intended to to be an introduction/exposure to primary sources for my class of third graders. Students will be given two videos to watch: one deals with personal interviews about the people living in Vanport, and the other is video of the flood. Students will also be given one primary source textual document to read. Students will use these three sources to discus the reliability of each source and the idea of what constitutes a source.

vanport people

Video Sources: 


Guided Question related to the video:

  1. How can we tell that the interview from the video reflects what happened on that day?
  2. Can we trust the video?
  3. What are your thoughts about the flood?

Purpose: The purpose of the video guided questions is to get students to think about what a primary source is and how it can be used. Since this is students first introduction into primary sources it is important to stop after each video and discuss as a class the above questions letting students guide the conversation as much as possible.

Primary Text: 

vanport pdf

Scaffolding Questions: 

  1. When was the video made? When was the document written?
  2. Which source is more reliable?
  3. What don’t we know from the reading and the video? Where else could we look?

vanport map

The scaffolding questions are the meat of the lesson. The overall goal is getting students to compare the information that is in both videos versus the information that the text document gives them. The lesson is primary based on conversation rather than product. For a product have students write down their own answers to the scaffolding questions before conducting the conversation.


The combination of videos and the text document is to show students that primary sources can come in all forms and that just because something is not a written text it can still be used as a primary source. As technology advances our sources will too. I did not want to overload my third graders with a bunch of long text, and spend half of the day going over every piece of information in the text. Instead I wanted them to see what information they could pull out that was related to the question.  This lesson would follow the water cycle unit in science so that students will have a base knowledge of how a flood works and where on all the water came from.

I found the design process for this mini lesson a bit challenging. I wanted to do something related to my current student teaching; however, third graders do not have the skills or base knowledge to do anything advanced with primary sources. If I could get them to just be exposed to a primary sources and show them how to compare them that it would be about the right starting point for third graders to get exposed to historical thinking. I anticipate that I would have to spend a lot of time front loading different aspects of a primary source.



Abbott, C. Vanport (1st ed.). The Oregon encyclopedia. retrieved September 25, 2015  Link

[guruburgess]. (2014, 12 6). Oregon’s Memorable Century 1948 Vanport Flood [Video File]. Retrieved from  Link

Map [online image]. (2015). Retrieved September 25, 2015 Link

Peski, Brain Van. (2008). Vanport: Oregon’s Lost City [Video File] Retrieved From Link

Portland Flood, with switching trains [online image]. (1948). Retrieved September 25, 2015 Link

Vanport, Vanport Flood of 1948 [online image]. (1948). Retrieved September 25, 2015 Link