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Showcasing Tena Linsbeck-Perron and a "Historical Dinner Party"

Time has been adjusted and a unique dinner party is about to get underway. In attendance are young people who were part of our great American history

So begins the historical dinner party project, in which Tena Linsbeck-Perron asks her students to take on the roles of characters from Phillip Hoose's book We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History. This year, the multi-age class of sixth through eighth graders at Scarborough Middle School on the southern coast of Maine created costumes and props, and wrote monologues as part of the activity. The seventh and eighth graders even incorporated appropriate food items -- like hard-tack from the Civil War period -- into their scripts.

"When I discovered Hoose's book, I was excited to find that it actually presented history through the lens of young people rather than [through] the traditional renderings of adults," Linsbeck-Perron told Education World. "I knew I would share this great find with students in some manner."

As she contemplated a nonfiction activity similar to Reader's Theater, Linsbeck-Perron consulted an expert -- her twelve-year-old niece. Rachel advised her that in order to make the activity worthwhile and meaningful for students, they should be able to pick the characters they would portray. Rachel also believed that the "dinner party" should definitely include real food.

Next, Linsbeck-Perron involved her students in planning for the learning experience. Each student chose three characters they might like to portray, and very few had to be asked to revisit the text to find a final selection.

"Students conducted additional research online and in the library and found other resources about each character," explained Linsbeck-Perron. "Dress rehearsals proved extremely helpful, as students gave one another feedback. We created invitations and sent them home to parents and caregivers, and we invited our principal and vice principal, whose presence truly made the kids feel validated for all their hard work."

For an additional mini project, the students made a placemat with the character name, time period, one-sentence historical reference, and an illustration or symbol to help define the character. The class also determined the essential features of the placemats, and created a rubric. The placemats then were laminated and placed on the tables as place markers.

"On the big day, in addition to the kids, staff, and members of the administration, more than 40 people were in attendance," Linsbeck-Perron recalled. "We set up buffet tables with food common to the time periods of the historical characters being represented. The students had more than just character roles to play, however. They set up the tables and food, organized one another in chronological order, wrote and presented an introduction and finale, and typed and printed programs of their own design."

Linsbeck-Perron reports that every student seemed to "channel" his or her character for the presentation! Jay rose to the occasion with a Forrest-Gump-like rendition of "Teddy Blue Abbot: Cow Puncher" that, while historically accurate, had everyone in stitches. Jackie played Deb Sampson, a teenager who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War. Mitchell portrayed Calvin Graham, a twelve-year-old WWII soldier; he had everyone spellbound with his story of a child determined to serve his country well before his time. Julie, playing the incredible teenager and rabble-rouser Jennie Curtis, rallied the audience to strike!

When taking on a similar historical project, Linsbeck-Perron advises others to hold at least two dress rehearsals and, she adds jokingly, "Limit the cornbread!" She provides materials for clothing and props and, although she permits students to brainstorm together, requires each student to complete an individual "plan of action" form and provide an explanation of what he or she needs to do to complete the project.

"The parents were impressed with their kids, but they also related how interesting it was to meet all the characters," said Linsbeck-Perron. "Again and again, adults expressed how the students taught them a new and enlightening perspective on history!"

Scarborough Middle School doesn't allow students’ photos to be published online, so Linsbeck-Perron’s students provided illustrations of some of the dinner party’s famous “guests.” Illustrations courtesy Tena Linsbeck-Perron and her students at Scarborough Middle School.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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