Events in world history are seldom black and white.
The sheer scale of world history can be overwhelming for students and teachers alike. Instead of trying to assimilate a mass of general knowledge, explore a range of activities that focus on specific parts of history.
Have students write an entry in the journal of a historical figure.
Talk about important historical documents and authors, then assign each student the role of a well-known historical figure. Assign one student to be Jesus and write an imaginary letter to his mother, Mary, just before he dies. Another student could be Joan of Arc and write a speech explaining her motives to the British. Read the finished products as a class and discuss them.
Or, split students into small groups and assign each a period of world history, or a specific country during the same period. Tell them to create a newspaper summarizing the events of the time and include news stories, editorials, obituaries, entertainment and even cartoons. You can encourage students to use their imaginations with a diary activity. Tell them to choose a historical figure from a given theme or period and write a diary entry from the worst or best day of that figure’s life.
Film and Drama
Dramatic activities engage students with the characters and events.
Declare “World History Week” and watch a film every day that pertains to a studied period of history. For example, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” covers the French Revolution. Discuss the film afterward and let the students critique its accuracy. Or, choose a short historical novel (“Number the Stars” is a short novel about World War II in Europe), split students into teams and assign each team a chapter. Each team reads their chapter and puts on a short play acting it out. Continue until the entire book has been dramatized. Discuss differences in how teams interpreted the characters.
You could also split students into pairs–one to be an interviewer from modern times, the other to be a controversial historical figure. Have them create a script of questions and creative answers, then perform it for the class.
Constructive and Artistic Activities
Painting is a creative activity that helps the past come to life for students.
Give students a taste of life back then for every unit of world history. Teach them to make butter or cheese like the American pioneers or bricks for building like the ancient Mesopotamians. Put students into groups and have them design an attack-proof castle. You can stop at a simple drawing or challenge students to use papier-mache to bring their design to life. Or, hang sheet paper on the wall, supply paint and tell students to imagine they are Neanderthal men and women living in caves millions of years ago. Ask them to leave a picture message for future generations. You could also finish up a unit on ancient Egypt with a mummifying activity with dolls and let students design a royal tomb using shoeboxes, paint and “jewels.”
Let students be world-class architects for the day.
Pass out clay and tell students to create a replica of a famous Greek or Roman statue, or take inspiration from ancient epic poems (such as “Beowulf”) and re-create a famous monster (Grendel, for example). Or, split students into groups and tell them to plan a party from the past. Assign different time periods and tell them to create a guest list and menu, design costumes, plan activities and pick a venue. Vote as a class on which party is the most authentic.
You could also choose a religious or political ideology from world history and have students design a propaganda poster encouraging people to embrace it. For a unit on church architecture, have students design a new style of column or arch.