Around the World in Thirty Minutes
This lesson was written to support a second-grade unit on the countries and continents of the world. I think it could be easily adapted to the study of the provinces or states of a country. I am also including a variation-appropriate for older kids-that addresses history over time. The lesson uses pantomime skills, research skills, and information sharing, as well as knowledge of the subject matter.
This is a basic teacher-in-role exercise. I have written this plan in the form of a narrative-a description of the class-rather than giving you step-by-step instructions, because it makes better sense. Every teacher has her or his own style-you can use whatever of mine works for you. (A note about pronouns: since I teach in a boys' school, all of my students are male, but obviously the lesson would work just as well in a coed or all-girl group.)
I told my students the name of the lesson-"Around the World in Thirty Minutes." I explained that we would shortly be enacting a whirlwind tour of the world. I asked each student to choose his favorite country or continent in the world. I told them that they would be pretending to be someone or something in that country. I, and a friend, would be making the tour of the world, and in each country we visited, the students in that country would pretend to be animals, people, or things that a visitor in that country would be likely to see.
Many of the boys chose countries about which they knew little. Some chose countries from which their ancestors emigrated. Some chose places that just sounded exciting. But the long and short of it was that most of them didn't know what a tourist would be likely to find in the country of their choice. That was exactly what I had hoped would happen. We had a class discussion about the problem. Each boy in turn told the group what country or continent he had chosen, and I asked if anyone knew what kinds of things might be found there. In many cases, the boy's classmates had great suggestions. But some of the boys had chosen countries nobody knew much about. So I brought out some reference books. (I have an excellent children's atlas, which includes maps with pictures of animals, landmarks, industries, etc that the boys loved looking at.) The group researched the countries enthusiastically, and after about ten or fifteen minutes, every boy had decided what or who he was going to pretend to be.
I arranged the boys around the classroom. Some countries were represented by more than one boy, but that was fine. Each country or continent had its own place in the room. I explained that it would be impossible to travel to all the countries in thirty minutes, if it were not for my Supersonic Transport. (I used a wheeled swivel chair.) I brought out a Muppet-style puppet which I use in other lessons, and which the boys love. I explained that "Oliver" and I would be making the trip together. (Obviously one could do this lesson without the puppet.)
I sat in my chair and wheeled myself and Oliver to the first country. The puppet and I Ooohed and Aaahed at the sights we saw there. Usually I was able to correctly guess what the boys were pretending to be, but when I wasn't, they were not offended, and were quick to give me hints until I did. After I had finished in the first country, I asked the boys which other country was the closest. They had to think about this one, but we always came to a decision. In this way they learned and used their knowledge of geography. Sometimes I had to help-as when I pointed out that it was quicker to go over the Arctic to get from Canada to Siberia-but that was more learning. Once we decided which country was closest, I moved on to that country and continued in this way until I had visited every boy. Then I "came home."
After the trip was over, we sat in a circle, and I asked each boy to mention one thing he learned that he hadn't known before. Every one was able to come up with something.
This lesson worked extremely well. The boys frequently ask me if we can do it again. I think that it could work with students much older-with a corresponding increase in the sophistication of the information we learned about the countries, and possibly also the level of interaction between the traveler and the natives of each country.
I haven't tried this-mostly because my students are not ready-but I think it would work. Instead of travelling from country to country, we would travel from time period to time period. The people in each period could interact with the travelers-who could be students, rather than the instructor-as much or as little as time and the sophistication of the students allowed. (After I try this, I'll let you know how it worked.)
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