We’re starting a unit on the Middle Ages and of course feudalism is at the center of this time period in Europe. So rather than sit down and read from the textbook about it, I showed them. I split them, the serfs, into two groups, each run by a Lord or Lady. Then I had everyone go outside and pick as many 1″ pieces of grass as they could in five minutes. I told them that each piece of grass signified a week’s worth of food. And I told the Lord and Lady that by the end of the five minutes I needed to have 250 pieces, that whatever was left over they could keep half for themselves and they’d need to give the other half to the serfs.
I won’t bore you with the details of the lesson plan, but I’ll give you a couple of highlights. First, I was the Queen. Of course I was the Queen. And the kids were more than happy to declare that they hated the Queen and wanted to run away. I told them that phrase was punishable by death, and they giggled. “Could a Queen ever love a slave?” one boy called out romantically to me while he bent down to pick grass. It was my turn to giggle then and reply with a sharp, “Don’t talk to me, Serf. Get back to work.” It was fabulous. This activity today did nothing for my own royalty complex which, at school anyway, is larger than life. But we totally fed off of each other’s energy and by the end of the day, my 7th graders were calling me “Your Majesty.” “Ms. C–” they’d begin, “I mean, Your Majesty.”
After class was over, two kids–the Lord and the Lady I’d chosen for the day–stayed for several minutes to talk about their experience of getting the other kids to work for them. They critiqued the work ethics of the “serfs” and admitted their frustration with the serfs not understanding how important it was that they produce the “food.” And even an hour after class, four kids came in to talk about the activity. I was so excited about the fact that kids were thinking about what we’d done and it occurred to me how much trust a teacher has to earn from her students to be able to do an activity like that. Naturally, 7th graders tend to welcome energetic activities, but rarely do they sink in with the weight this one did today. I’m eager to hear what they have to say tomorrow in class.
How much fun did I and my 7th graders have in History today? Like, SO much. Duh.