Teaching the Declaration of Independence usually results in groans and eye rolls. This year I wanted to engage my students right from the get go, so I did what I do best when planning to teach concepts in a new and exciting way, troll the internet. I stumbled across an idea to introduce the Declaration of Independence in a unique way. It is called "The Break-Up Letter."
Here is what I did...
After I greeted the kiddos as they walked in the door, I instructed them to review the Content Objective on the board and complete their warm-up activity. I asked them to list what they know ( or think they know) about the Declaration of Independence as the warm-up. After a few minutes I had them draw a line under the last thing they wrote, asked them to get up and talk to at least 5 different people and record the new ideas below the line. (More on this activity another time). While they were happily flitting from person to person I pretended to find a note on the floor. I made a big production about paper on the floor and asked all of the kiddos to return to their desks. I told the class that I was very annoyed and tired of picking up their stuff off the floor, after all I am not their mothers. As I was saying this, I unfolded the paper and read what was on it to myself. Insert dramatic acting here. Some how the kids "convinced" me to read the letter aloud.
As I read this letter, there were lots of gasps, giggles and groans. Well groans is not quite the right word but it fit alliteratively with what I was going for. In all reality the groans were more like "Oooooh". Once I finished reading the letter, I refused to say who it was from at first. After some begging and groveling from the eighth graders, I relented and said " The American Colonies." At first there were many looks of confusion until one bright little chippy student said, "She's talking about the Declaration of Independence." Love, love, love that the connection was made!
Boy it sure is easy to pull of a practical joke with eighth graders. And it is not even April Fool's Day, although that would have made the joke that much better. I deserve an Academy Award for best performance of an annoyed middle school teacher. Well maybe not an Academy Award, but I thought my performance was pretty convincing!
So class continued as we built some background information by reading and annotating an article on the Declaration of Independence and answering some comprehension questions. We discussed how the Declaration of Independence is the first document of its kind, but many other people have modeled their declarations after ours. We talked about how Thomas Jefferson was part of a committee of five men selected to draft the document. We even learned that Jefferson made about 80 revisions and looked at the original draft, complete with cross outs and mistakes. You can see that document here. Through out the discussion there was the occasional ,"Wow she got us good," comment!
So where do we go from here? Next we will read the actual document and break it down into its different parts. After that I want to have the students read and analyze the deleted passage on slavery.
You can view a brave soul, far braver than I with his video of the break up letter to his class here.