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Kimberly Wagner


When Kimberly Wagner designed an Alexander the Great project for her sixth grade social studies students, she hoped to prove an old adage: You learn best by teaching others. The activity gave every student the opportunity to be teacher for a day. What her young student "teachers" told Wagner afterwards both amazed and amused her:

"I loved this because everyone was involved and having fun."

"I learned that teaching is not as easy as it looks."

"I learned that it's hard to agree with other people."

"I learned that I can work in groups without getting nervous."

"I learned what it's like when you are the teacher and your students don't cooperate and get off task."

"I learned that I want to be a teacher when I grow up."

Wagner began the project with an introduction to Alexander the Great. She divided the class into four groups and gave each group a copy of the book Alexander: The Boy Soldier Who Conquered the World by Simon Adams. Each group was assigned one of the four sections of the book: "The Boy from Macedon," "The Young King," "Conquering the World," or "The End of His World." The groups' first task was to read their assigned section of the book and create a lesson plan with several components.

"I let the students decide what material was most important," Wagner told Education World. "They had to list what they would teach the class. They also had to decide how they would teach the material. They could do almost anything they wanted -- even a skit or play containing facts about Alexander. They could give a lecture or use graphic organizers. We discussed many possible teaching methods."

Next, Wagner's students at Hendersonville (North Carolina) Middle School had to create an actual lesson plan and prepare all the necessary materials. They had to prepare a means of assessment, ranging from informal an oral quiz to a bingo game, crossword puzzle, or test. After all the groups had given their presentations, they spent one period reflecting on their work. The students responded to several questions:

  • What went well?
  • What would you change if you had the chance to do it all over again?
  • What did you learn about Alexander the Great?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • Assign a grade to each person in your group, and explain why you assigned that grade.
Students also were asked to provide their own comments about the activity.

"In ways, the project was quite open-ended," observed Wagner. "Although I assigned material to the groups to teach, students themselves had to decide what exactly to teach, because they couldn't teach all of it. A lot of critical thinking went on during that phase! Then, they had to decide how they would best teach the material."

As a person who values organization and structure, Wagner found it challenging to give her students so much control over their learning. She did listen in on discussions and keep students on track, but she tried not to interfere with their creative process.

"I was astounded by their creativity," Wagner explained. "One group in particular -- one that I was a bit worried about -- actually ended up with the best presentation of all. They decided to do a funeral oration. They made a coffin out of Styrofoam boxes that they got from the art teacher, and then put one of the smaller students in the coffin to represent Alexander. The funeral speech included facts about Alexander's life and death. It was so amazing that they went on tour, traveling to the other sixth grade team and performing for them."

Wagner also was impressed by how much her students learned about Alexander the Great through the project. Months later, students still were making references to him. Their reflections impressed Wagner as well. Many participants mentioned that they learned that "making a lesson plan is harder than it looks." Another made her giggle. "I learned to give more respect to my teachers when they say, 'I stayed up all night last night to find out what we were going to do today,'" wrote the student.

"Before beginning a project such as this, briefly discuss what a lesson plan is and what an assessment is," advised Wagner. "Know that at times the process can be messy. However, the results are amazing. I definitely will do this again next year."

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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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