I used this lesson for the first time in my 10th-grade American History course this winter. I often use Zinn Education Project (ZEP) lessons and always find them useful. Many “canned” lessons from other sources seem childish and phony, but never the ZEP lessons.
After a giving my sophomores a good background in slavery and the economic issues leading to the Civil War, I used the Reconstruction role play over the course of two days — one to prepare and one to carry out. I saw my students understanding the problems of Reconstruction much more fully than earlier students had. Getting into the skin of a historical character is so powerful, and the variety of characters give such a full picture.
My students tend to come from different educational backgrounds: some are international students who have little background in American history, some have a limited background, and some, especially those coming from public schools, think they know everything (“we’ve learned this a million times”). I believe the latter students learned the most from this lesson, as they saw the issues from the “inside” for the first time.
I will definitely use this lesson again next year.