I used the lesson plan, “Reconstructing the South: A Role Play,” in my pre-AP 8th grade U.S. history course. I began the lesson by reading the short article titled “Freedmen and Women” and had the students number the problems African Americans faced after the war. I then explained that the students were all Freedmen and women on a committee formed to voice their concerns to their Congressmen. The students initially met with their shoulder partner to figure out how they would solve the problems from the perspective of a Freedman or woman. The students had great conversations. When a student said that Confederate leaders should be executed and others should be stripped of their political power, a group member replied, “But wouldn’t that only make Southerners hate us more?” Another student wanted to send troops into the South to protect the Freedmen and women, and someone pointed out that sending the military to the South would be expensive. She questioned where the Union would get the money to send these troops.
After meeting with their shoulder partners, I had the students meet as a class. I followed the lesson plan and told my students that they as a group needed to come to a consensus regarding these questions and that I would not interrupt or provide any assistance. I also told the class that they needed to decide as a group the “rules of engagement.” The students decided to pick one person to lead the committee, and that student did a great job. I do not think that this lesson would have gone as well as it did without the leadership of this one student. My students voted on the proposals, with majority-rule winning. Some of their winning ideas consisted of putting the Confederate leaders on parole and moving them to the North to “watch them,” redistributing small portions of the land so slaves could have some economic freedom, and passing an amendment stating that no state can secede from the Union. Although some of their agreed-upon proposals were a little strange (such as moving all of the Freedmen and women to Canada), the students did participate in the role-playing activity. At the end of the lesson, one student asked if we could do more lessons similar to this one because she “had fun.”