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Setting the Stage for History

Students use visual literacy and creative thinking skills to collaboratively design pop up stage sets that dramatize historic events.

  • Grade 6
    Grades 7 and 8
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Discuss the connections between history and storytelling. Remind students that even in ancient times and primitive societies, people maintained their histories by telling their children stories of the past. The most memorable usually focused on dramatic incidents. Ask students to brainstorm a list of dramatic historic events to share with the class.
    2. Select one historic event and discuss it together. If the story were dramatized, what would be a particularly dramatic scene? What would an audience see on stage? The story of Lindberg’s flight across the Atlantic is a good example. Few people had seen planes in those days and to see one flying over the ocean was incredible. As Lindberg approached Europe, he swooped low over a fishing boat to ask if he was headed in the right direction. The fisherman was so startled he couldn’t answer!
    3. Have students form groups of 3-5 participants. Ask each group to select one historic event and discuss what scenes might appear in a stage production of the story. Have them select one scene and design a stage set for it. Encourage research for specific details. Where did the event take place? What should be painted on the backdrop? What objects and people will be onstage? Remind them that simplicity often heightens drama.
    4. Encourage students to use creativity and critical thinking skills to decide how to depict the scene with a small 3D paper pop-up illustration. Show them how to create a small tri-fold to use as a base structure by taping three pieces of heavy paper together.
    5. Then ask them to decide who will do what jobs. Who will create the “stage” and paint the backdrop? Who will create each paper cut-out object or character and how will each be added to the stage to create a 3D effect? Discuss various pop-up techniques for folding and cutting papers. Provide an assortment of Crayola® materials so students can choose the media most suited to their particular stories. Focus on the basics such as watercolors, colored pencils, and markers, but provide things like glitter glue, if available, for those who feel that will enhance their set designs.
    6. Ask each group to include a short written account of their chosen historic event on the wings of the stage.
    7. Once stage sets are complete, have students display them in the classroom. Invite them to tell the stories associated with their illustrations and reflect on the creative process.
    8. How did they decide which scene would be the best choice for this assignment? How did they initially visualize the scene? Did their ideas change as they discussed them? What problems did they encounter? How did they resolve them? What did they learn from this assignment?
  • Standards

    LA: Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

    LA: Read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grade level text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

    SS: Analyze a particular event to identify reasons individuals might respond to it in different ways.

    VA: Students will initiate making works of art and design by experimenting, imagining and identifying content.

    VA: Students will investigate, plan and work through materials and ideas to make works of art and design.

    VA: Students demonstrate how creative thinking and artmaking skills transfer to many aspects of life.

    VA: Students will intentionally select and analyze their artwork and the work of others when deciding what artwork to present.

  • Adaptations

    Working as a teaching team, integrate this assignment into multiple subject areas. Encourage students to look for ways their selected historic events relate to things they have studied in math, science, physical education, and other subject areas. How many miles was Lindberg’s flight and how long did it take him? What was his average speed in miles per hour? How did scientific engineering make flight possible?

    Invite students to write scripts to go along with the scenes depicted in their stage designs and encourage them to act out the scenes.

    Display the set designs in a prominent part of the school such as the library and encourage other students to guess what historic event each one depicts.

    Discuss storytelling techniques. Encourage interested students to learn to tell the stories associated with their projects. Hold a storytelling festival and invite other classes or parents to attend.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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