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Liz Sarles's picture
I fell in love with the subject of history when I was a sophomore in high school and that love has guided my professional development for the last 25 years. As much as I enjoy reading, researching...
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Teaching the French Indian War

I start this lesson plan with an admission: I love studying and teaching about the French Indian War. On a personal level, I find it fascinating – the multiple sides, the desire for land expansion, the connection to events on continental Europe and the significance of the outcome to British-American relations. For years, I struggled with how to make the war and its results come alive for my students and really stick for them. In the last few years, I have finally found a lesson plan that works for them and for me.

This lesson plan covers two days of class, with one class a short block (45 minutes) and one a longer one (85 minutes). The students enter class on the first day of the lesson having read a textbook overview of the French and Indian War: background, causes, sides, military engagements and outcomes. I open class by projecting two maps, one showing European land claims in America in 1754 and the other in 1763 (you can find an excellent map here).

I ask the students to study the maps and note all changes that occur as a result of the French Indian War. This task prompts the students to understand the significance of geography and land to the war itself. I then break the students into small groups and have them use the reading to make a list of causes of the war and sides fighting. The students share these as a group and we write them on the board.

After we have discussed causes and focused on the war in terms of geography, and ensured comfort with the reading in general, I assign the students various roles (British Parliament, French soldiers, members of the Iroquois nation, American colonists). Their task for the remainder of the class and for homework that night is to become familiar with their group and its interests circa the 1750s. They are encouraged to use their textbooks as well as research sites they find online. They spend about 20 minutes researching and planning with their group-mates, knowing they will return to class the next day ready to defend and debate their beliefs.

The students come to class on the second day ready for debate. I open the session noting that we are on the eve of the French and Indian War, and that all groups involved have opted to meet as a means of defending their right to the land in question and their stake in America. The students must then represent their sides and defend their views in oral debate. After 20 minutes of this or so, I ask the students to open their computers. I share them on a Google Doc, and explain to them that we are in the same session of Congress but have moved from oral conversation to debate via Twitter. Not all of my students are tweeters, but their knowledge of the medium meant that this was an easy activity for them to grasp.

The comments showcased the students grasped the material and the value of Twitter as a vehicle for expression (think #wewanttheOhioRiverValley or #colonistsareBritishtoo or #fightfortherighttosettle). At the end of the allotted time, we came back together as a group and analyzed the various tweets - and used the comments as a platform for discussion about the FI War in general. The students loved this and had so much fun together.

We closed the second day of class by returning to the map we used the day before, with focus on the European land claims in 1763. The students study this map for a moment, and then return to their debate groups. They have 5-7 minutes to come up with a “Top Ten List” that shows the primary results of the war. They use the projected map and their textbooks to build out the lists. They add their points to the shared Google Doc, and then pick their top three points to share with the class. We build a list together on the board, and then analyze it together. The final few moments of class focus on how and why the war is so important in the history of the world and the United States.

By the end of that second class, my students really grasped the French and Indian War. Perhaps more importantly, they enjoyed the process of learning about the war and felt like history could be fun, exciting and relevant.