Ten Most Popular People’s History Lessons in 2018

In 2018, teachers across the United States downloaded people’s history lessons from the Zinn Education Project website a total of 50,000 times. Here are the ten most frequently downloaded lessons.

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1. Reconstructing the South: A Role Play

This role play engages students in thinking about what freedpeople needed in order to achieve—and sustain—real freedom following the Civil War. It’s followed by a chapter from the book Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution on what would happen to the land in the South after slavery ended. 

2. Constitution Role Play: Whose “More Perfect Union”? and The Constitutional Convention: Who Really Won?

The U.S. Constitution endorsed slavery and favored the interests of the owning classes. What kind of Constitution would have resulted from founders who were more representative of the entire country—including enslaved people, workers, and farmers? That is the premise of this role play activity.

3. The Color Line

A lesson on the countless colonial laws enacted to create division and inequality based on race. This helps students understand the origins of racism in the United States and who benefits.

4. The People vs. Columbus, et al.

A trial role play asks students to determine who is responsible for the death of millions of Taínos on the island of Hispaniola in the late 15th century. (Roles available in Spanish.)

5. ‘If There Is No Struggle…’: Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement

In this role play, students become members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, facing many of the real challenges to ending slavery.

6. The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play

What led up to the Trail of Tears? Students role play the decision to remove the Cherokee and Seminole people from their lands.

7. U.S. Mexico War: “We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God”

An interactive activity introduces students to the history and untold story of the U.S.-Mexico War. (Roles available in Spanish.)

8. ‘What We Want, What We Believe’: Teaching with the Black Panthers’ Ten Point Program

How students can use the Black Panther’s Ten Point Program to assess issues in their own communities and to develop Ten Point Programs of their own. (Available in Spanish.)

9. The Election of 1860 Role Play

A role play based on the election of 1860 allows students to explore the political debates of the time and the real reasons for the Civil War.

10. COINTELPRO: Teaching the FBI’s War on the Black Freedom Movement

Through examining FBI documents, students learn the scope of the FBI’s COINTELPRO campaign to spy on, infiltrate, discredit, and disrupt all corners of the Black Freedom Movement.

Here’s why teachers use these lessons:

I've used the Zinn Education Project's materials since my first year teaching.

Nine years later, my students can speak to the power of deconstructing the narratives of Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln's efforts that have replicated white supremacy and marginalization of people of color in historical discourse.

For many of them, it is empowering to learn from multiple perspectives and invigorates their desire to learn and disrupt the status quo.
—Corey Winchester
High School History Teacher, Evanston, Illinois
Rachel Toon at NCSS 2018 (Event Photo) | Zinn Education Project
The Zinn Education Project has delivered time and time again the most impactful experiences for my students. They will not remember the PowerPoint info on the Articles of Confederation, but they will remember when they wrote the Constitution from the perspective of an enslaved African America or a member of the Iroquois nation using the Constitutional Convention role play. They understand the problems embedded into the way our country was founded AND the remarkable opportunities we have to reshape the conversation in our nation.
—Rachel Toon
Middle School History Teacher, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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