Reliving the past

Learning history means much more than just recollecting facts, figures and dates. In this article, we suggest some ideas to help you take your students into the past and give them an unforgettable experience in assimilating lessons in history with a lot of enthusiasm.

reliving-the-past-1 To most of us, history is just about recapitulating facts by stretching the faculty of our memory. But the truth is that history is not just a part of the curriculum to be covered in class and drily reproduced on answer sheets during exams. Lessons in history often seem uninteresting to students because they are full of facts and, hence, do not seem to offer any intellectual challenge. So teaching the subject should involve helping them to have a ‘total history experience’.

Enable your students to inculcate the very spirit of history right from the basic level, to be able to use and develop their skills and understanding to build up an awareness of the past, and the people and events that made it.

Life in olden times

Before you begin to teach actual lessons in class, give your students the task of finding out from their parents and grandparents about their lives and times, e.g., the clothes they wore, the kind of houses they lived in, the fashions and trends in their days, the means of transport and communication, the modes of entertainment, their food habits, their system of education, the books they read, etc. Some of them would have even witnessed the World Wars. Students can find out these details from any senior member of the family and then write a brief narrative on the life and times of their previous generation. Discuss some of the write-ups in class and then ask the students to compare their own lives with that of their predecessors. This would spark off the enthusiasm of youngsters in relating to history beyond the realm of the textbook.

Also ask them to look at any of the old family photographs to see what the older generation looked like.

Time capsule
Tell your students to put some objects that they use – clothes, toys, photographs, perfumes, books – one item each into a box. Ask them to put the box away into a corner of the attic to be opened ten years later. It would be a nice experience to see one’s own past!

Educational history resources help students to compare and contract their own lives to that of people in the past and, thus, help them to learn better. So begin the topic with a few relevant photographs or pictures from various books and encyclopaedia which are indicators of what you are going to teach. Ask the students to tell you what thy feel about the event(s), person(s) or period that the photographs or pictures are related to.

A little more demanding task would be to take the children on a visit to the local museum where they could see a lot of artifacts related to what they are taught in class. This will not only enable them to establish a correlation between what they already know and what they will come to know, but will also help them remember facts and concepts for a long time.

Students should be made aware of the reasons and consequences of the historical events they learn about. They have to be explained that history is make up of interpretations of the past events. For this purpose, discuss with them the causes and effects of some events. For example, ask them questions like this: Why did King Ashoka turn to Buddhism? The responses to such questions can be extended to teach lessons in history.

reliving-the-past-2 HISTORY ON SILVER SCREEN
It is a good idea to organize sessions for watching moves based on history. It wil not be very difficult to find video cassettes of movies about important international events like the World Wars, or those based on Indian history, e.g. Mughal-E-Azam. Though these may contain a little fiction along with the truth, they will certainly arrest the students’ attention and provide some idea of the past and its people.

Role-playing is one of the most effective teaching aids. You could ask the students to work in groups. Select a few topics from a particular period in history. Ask each group to work on each of the topics. First of all, there should be a session on shared reading of one of the topics in class. The groups could write down their own opinions about it. Give them three or four days’ time to put together a brief play inclusive of the mail characters, the principal events, the background, etc.

At some point of time, help your students to put up these plays in the school or in class. This will be an enjoyable and effective learning experience for the children.

Reversal of roles is another effective method to be used in the history class. Each student can prepare well on a topic assigned by the teacher. He/she should be allowed to take about two days’ time to do so. After that, he/she should play the teacher or a guest invited to the class for a special lecture on the topic, and make a 20 minute presentation. This will certainly add to the child’s confidence in expressing his ideas in an organized form. At the end of the session, a brief question hour can be held.

You can organize puppet shows on select events or personalities in history. In this case, it is essential to take help from an expert in puppetry. The children can talk to and work with this person to find out the details of the show and organize one themselves. Make sure that you supervise whatever they do.

All of these are possible ideas and methods that can make the history class come alive. When you have worked together with your students on some of these, you will find several eager minds waiting to engage in a new set of activities, as soon s you step into the class. This is the enthusiasm that all learning demands for the fulfillment of its ultimate goal – gaining wholesome knowledge.

This article first appeared in Teacher Plus, May-June 2000, No.66.