What Teachers Are Saying

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Teachers and students describe the impact of the Zinn Education Project lessons in their classrooms.

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Jump to: Zinn Education Project websiteTeaching ReconstructionThe People vs. Columbus, et al.The Constitutional Convention RoleplayU. S. – Mexico WarA People’s History of the United States

 Zinn Education Project Website

The Zinn Education Project helps me bring multiple perspectives in my classroom and allows me to teach history fairly and accurately. Our history is not perfect, it's progress. We won't move forward without understanding the full picture of our past.

Textbooks alone cannot provide that. Resources like the Zinn Education Project give us a window into the past that helps teachers explain the view from the shore and the view from the boat for example.
—Juveriya Mir
High School Social Studies Teacher, Villa Park, Illinois
There’s no way I could be as effective in pushing students’ thinking and getting them to critically question the otherwise accepted narrative of history without the resources and ideas provided by the Zinn Education Project. It continues to push my own thinking of how to present and examine history.
—Greg Smith
High Schoool Social Studies Teacher, Chicago, Illinois
The Zinn Education Project is my compass in a sea of corporate textbooks, packaged common core curriculum, and standardized testing. My entire curriculum is based on lessons that can be found on the Zinn Education Project.
—Chris Buehler
High Social Studies Teacher, Portland, Oregon
Julian Hipkins III
As a teacher, the Zinn Education Project website is invaluable because it provides activities that directly relate to A People’s History. Last week we did The People vs. Columbus, et al. which places all the parties involved in the arrival of Columbus on trial for the murder of the Tainos. The activity was so interactive that teachers from other classrooms had to ask us to quiet down. Students were able to better understand the motives and consequences behind the arrival. Even though A People’s History can be a bit difficult for some students, the activities on the Zinn Education Project website makes the content accessible regardless of their reading level.
—Julian Hipkins III
HIgh School Administrator, Washington, District of Columbia
I've used a few of the role play activities from the Zinn Education Project over the past few years. I keep going back to them because they work! The Constitution Role Play and The People vs. Columbus are transformative lessons in cultivating radical empathy and critical analysis in my students around early U.S. history. They inspire deep engagement and content retention.
—Madeleine Resch
History Teacher, New York City, New York
Thank you so much for the Zinn Education Project website. I discovered it while writing a paper for my Africana Studies college class and I've spent hours just being amazed at what I thought I knew about history. Thanks for caring to illuminate minds! History is one of the ways that enabled and empowered me to find myself early in junior high school. I had a history teacher who made one of the greatest impressions on me ever by throwing our history books in the garbage. Then she told us that she was going to teach us about us! She changed my life.  
—Regina Belle-Battle
Grammy Award Winning Performer, Atlanta, Georgia
Aitor Luna Olivares
I signed up for the Zinn Education Project because I want my students to hear the voices and perspectives missing from traditional historical narratives and textbooks, and to develop a critical understanding and engagement that empowers them to change their world. The Zinn Education Project offers great, thought-provoking teaching tools to explore a fuller, richer history, and make history classes more engaging, more relevant.
—Aitor Luna Olivares
Social Studies Teacher, Madison, Wisconsin
Elizabeth Kenyon
I needed an engaging way to teach history with manageable reading for my middle school special education students. The role plays I found on the Zinn Education Project website were the perfect. We started off with The People vs. Columbus and at the end of the year students were still talking about it. The short role play descriptions and chance to debate the issue from many perspectives gave my students an accessible way to understand a complex and nuanced history and critique the standard story.
—Elizabeth Kenyon
Middle Special Education Teacher, Washington, District of Columbia
After searching online, and quite honestly, with not a lot of historical background, I came across your Zinn Education Project website and was COMPLETELY amazed by all of the neat information!! The lesson plans were specific and to the point, for any teacher to easily understand and share with students.
—Amber Crotts
Middle School English Teacher, Winston Salem, North Carolina
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
The Zinn Education Project gives students another lens with which to look at history. Students love alternate view points.

American history is not about how the elite did it all for Americans, but how the elite used the lower classes to build what we have!
—Rich Elsarelli
History Teacher
The Zinn Education Project lessons provide an alternative perspective that broadens the students’ thinking about a topic. They also provide a way for the students to engage with the material in a tangible way.
—Daniela Hall
Middle School Social Studies Teacher, Shoreline, Washington
I have been teaching history in Boston for 16 years, and I strive to teach my students that they have a voice and the power to take action. No text helps me do that more than Zinn's A People's History of the United States and the supplementary materials provided through the Zinn Education Project. I find your materials to be well-crafted. For example, the role play activity where students take on the identity of people impacted by the U.S. - Mexico War generates excellent discussion each time I use it.

I use thought-provoking statements from Zinn's text in mini-debate activities, such as a spectrum line. For example, I will ask students to stand along a line ranging from "Strongly Agree" to "Strongly Disagree" in reaction to one of Zinn's statements. By simply standing, they express an opinion. Student volunteers will then share why they have taken that particular position.

One of my favorite moments using A People's History came this year when we read about the beginning of differentiation between indentured servants and slaves after Bacon's Rebellion. A student said, "If racism was purposefully created, it means that people can un-create it." I couldn't hope for a better realization, and it is for moments like these that I am excited to continue to use materials from the Zinn Education Project in my classroom.
—Amy Piacitelli
High Social Studies Teacher, Boston, Massachusetts

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Teaching Reconstruction

I have been teaching 7th grade history for 5 years- supposed to be from Jamestown to Reconstruction. Every year, 7th grade teachers would run out of time and would end with the Civil War. The students would leave thinking, "Hooray! The Union won! Slaves are free! Life is perfect!" They would start 8th grade after Reconstruction -- so our students completely missed one of the most important eras of history that still impacts our world today. I made it my mission to teach Reconstruction. I found the Zinn Education Project website and the lesson plan Reconstructing the South. From the clear lesson plan, my students were able to empathize and understand the experiences of the freed people during Reconstruction.
—Anne Schmitt
Middle Social Studies Teacher, Barrington, Illinois

Reconstructing the South is a great lesson for helping students understand the history of Reconstruction and also how myths surrounding Reconstruction influence how many people look at Reconstruction history today.

The Lost Cause Mythology has held a grip of falsehood on American "memory" for much of the 20th and now into the 21st century.

This lesson from the Zinn Education Project help students to understand the role of African Americans in the post-evil war south and now white southerners actively worked to end these gains.

—Bonnie Belshe
U.S. History Teacher, Palo Alto, California

Teaching history is always so much more valuable when it can be done in such a lively manner as a role play. Painful history, especially, can reach kids more easily at times when approached in a dramatic and creative way. "Reconstructing the South: A Role Play" enabled my students to see and feel the history in such a deeper way than merely covering the textbook. It truly helped to bring history much more alive for them and for me. And it opened their eyes on a personal level to the struggle for human rights and dignity that so many endured then and still do now.
—Steven Friedman
Middle Social Studies Teacher, San Rafael, California

More teacher voices on Reconstruction

The lesson Reconstructing the South: A Role Play is excellent for exploring the Reconstruction time period. Too often, periods of American history like this one are presented without relevant connections to today's world, which make our not-so-distant past seem like ancient history to young learners. The role play offers students the opportunity to see the importance of the time period: how much help formerly enslaved people needed, how formerly enslaved people were offered opportunities like never before, and how the country had the opportunity to make major changes in equality and civil rights. This has led to discussions about today's racial issues of police, the justice system, employment, housing, etc., and, as a result, I have been able to open discussions on issues relating to federal powers versus states' rights when it comes to civil rights. This is a wonderful lesson plan I plan on using again and again.
—Andrew Bushor
High Social Studies Teacher, Detroit, Michigan

I had a wonderful experience with the Reconstruction Role Play activity when teaching Reconstruction to my Race and Membership elective.  The elective itself is about developing Race Relations throughout US History, from the origins of slavery to the present day.  We look at a number of issues, but Reconstruction and its aftermath is a central element to the course.  Because I teach in Memphis, I also encounter many students who have never really studied this period of history and among many of their families, the "Lost Cause" myth of the Confederacy is alive and well.  This becomes very clear when we've held discussions about the role of Confederate Statues, how we memorialize certain periods in our history, and how we look at and come to terms with the history of our city and region.

The Reconstruction Role play was very helpful in getting my students to the point where we could analyze the lives of those most affected by the events of this era.  Stepping into the shoes of former slaves and white southerners, wrestling with the interactions between these groups, wrestling with the conflicting interests of these groups, and evaluating why Northerners eventually washed their hands of reconstruction efforts helped my kids begin to see this period for what it was.

I also supplemented this resource with materials from the Equal Justice Initiative, the documentary "13th" on Netflix, and readings from the Facing History and Ourselves Reconstruction textbook.  I think that this time period is an essential history for our students to confront, especially in light of various current events.  From incidents of police brutality, persisting mass incarceration rates,  and the use of the death penalty and prison labor to the rise of white supremacy, the Charlottesville riots, and growing inequality across our nation, our kids need to know about the roots of these issues more than ever before.

To the Zinn Education Project I can only say thank you - thank you for insisting that we teach marginalized voices and time periods, for providing us key resources that make our jobs in the classroom easier, and for challenging us to always question the reasons behind the material we choose the teach.
—Mark McDonald
High Social Studies Teacher, Memphis, Tennessee

Reconstructing the South: A Role Play absolutely helped to enhance our understanding of the Reconstruction Era. While I have always spent a fairly substantial amount of time teaching Reconstruction, this lesson brought in new information for both me and my students. Events from this era typically come up all throughout our year as we discuss civil rights and how Jim Crow laws and segregation took hold for such a long time in our history. When given the chance to look back on what freedmen could have done differently, many students, I would say the majority of students, wanted to demand the full distribution of land from the government. I think many saw it as a way to right the wrongs and try to change history for the better. What I appreciated most about this activity is that it created more questions for my students as we finished up. They began to think about just how challenging this time period was and I think gained a better understanding of why this era needs to be studied closer and revisited throughout our year of U.S. history together.
—Charlie Carr
High Social Studies Teacher, Plymouth, Minnesota

The Reconstructing the South role play was an excellent way to get students to consider the complex issues and questions facing the country and freedmen at the end of the Civil War. I gave students the problems questions on the first day and told them that the next day I would not be guiding them, and they would have to decide how to conduct the proceedings.

It was fascinating because they quickly decided to arrange the desks in a circle and started talking about a format for their discussion. It evolved into a co-chair system, with one person introducing the question or issue and the other facilitating the discussion. They decided to vote after some debate. The facilitator summarized the discussion and then conducted a vote. Afterwards, I assigned some reflection questions on goformative.com.

One student comment indicated how useful this exercise was: "It was difficult to come to a specific consensus. For instance, we can all agree on punishing Confederate leaders but agreeing on HOW to punish them is very difficult. Freedmen and women had been excluded for centuries, and people don't like change. It is very difficult to accept such a change like that."

This captured the ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty in addressing these issues. They showed a keen awareness that resolving some of these issues was going to be a longterm commitment.
—Phil D'Elia
High Social Studies Teacher, West Hempstead, New York

"Reconstructing the South: A Role Play" allowed for many of my students to enter into a simulation in which they could employ historical thinking. The simulation allowed my students to empathize with the plight of newly freed slaves in the United States. While many of my students started the simulation timid, they became empowered with their new status as freedpeople. Several students chose very moderate positions on the postwar questions and status of former slaves and ex-Confederates. If I did not have any students take a hardline approach to ex-Confederates, I intervened, and many students joined in the idea of harsher punishment for them and greater freedoms for the newly freed people. Through this exercise, students gained a greater understanding of the historical implications of issues unresolved from Reconstruction. Students carefully listened to multiple perspectives and articulated their own views in gaining rights as new citizens. Coupled with an excerpt from Lies My Teacher Told Me, students have explored viewpoints and perspectives that they may not have previously discovered.
—Chris Stevenson
High Social Studies Teacher, Indianapolis, Indiana

I used Reconstructing the South: A Role Play for the first time this year.

It was gratifying to see students' insights shift, and to witness them grappling with hard choices - not unlike the experiences of newly Freedmen, who didn't always make the choices that Northern politicians thought they should.
—Christine Phillip
History Teacher, La Grange, Illinois

Read more comments from teachers about the lessons on Reconstruction.

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The People vs. Columbus, et al.

I dedicate a unit to Christopher Columbus, after a unit on the various Indigenous groups that existed before his arrival, and use The People vs. Columbus lesson.

Our overarching question is "What should be the legacy of Columbus?" Overwhelmingly our students usually decide that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and Columbus were most responsible for this genocide.

Students who struggle to write are most engaged and excited to share their ideas when we're using Zinn Education Project lessons.
—Armando Venegas
High School History Teacher, Berwyn, Illinois

The People vs. Columbus is a great way to begin teaching about U.S. history! Students enjoy the trial activity, learning about what happened and deciding who was responsible for the destruction of the Taino culture. It captures their interest in history and gets them thinking about current issues.
—Philip Banaszak
U.S. History Teacher

Columbus Day brings up a lot of hard questions in my 7th grade social studies classes. The People vs. Columbus lesson provides an avenue to open that conversation up with students.
—Casey Coker
Middle School Social Studies Teacher, Chicago, Illinois

More teacher voices on The People vs Columbus

I always begin my U.S. history course with the People vs. Columbus, et al Trial. It is amazing how engaged students become to not only learn the truth but also be able to defend themselves using the evidence provided. Students love creativity and this case allows students to come to their own conclusions.  
—Miroslaba Velo
High School Social Studies Teacher, Hayward, California

In my 8th grade history class, it is not an exaggeration to say during the People vs. Columbus activity is the most engaged my students are all year. Real, conceptual learning and content retention happens during the block.
—Italia Krahling
Middle School History Teacher, New York City, New York

I used the Columbus Trial activity in my methods course with preservice elementary school teachers. It went great, and they loved it!

Despite being high school graduates, my students had never heard of the Tainos or thought of Empire-building as the main actor in history.
—Anne Perry
Education Methods Professor, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

My students were completely engaged in The People vs. Columbus trial we held about the massacre of the Taíno people. They loved it! They were so outraged that Columbus Day is a federal holiday that I suggested we send letters to the editors of local newspapers and our city council. They were so excited. Most of the students chose to send letters. When a student's letter was published the next day advocating for our city to celebrate Indigenous People's Day, the students who had not yet sent letters immediately began to write their own. It was a powerful lesson in civics, especially since my students are disenfranchised and feel like they don't have power to effect change politically.
—Laura Farrelly
High Social Studies Teacher, Eugene, Oregon

When I do the Christopher Columbus lesson, the students are blown away. They are usually so surprised at the truth behind Columbus. They also love the role-playing. This year, when I was doing the lesson, my assistant principal walked in just as one of the students who usually sits quietly during social studies was standing up and asking a fiery round of questions to the defendants on the stand. I was so impressed with it. The lesson also gets students who I usually don't get a lot of participation out of to debate with the students who I do. I love it!
—Chris Olsen
Middle Social Studies Teacher, Chicago, Illinois

Lisa Longeteig testimonial Columbus lesson
The People vs. Columbus trial was so effective. I taught it in a Native American Studies course and the students spent a lot of time exploring primary source documents from Columbus and Las Casas. It was powerful to watch them transform into excellent and passionate litigators, but basing their arguments upon historical evidence. Also, the power of role plays to induce empathy and compassion for various points of view was evident. My students are all Native American and they are all too familiar with the concepts of genocide and exploitation. However, many of them did not know about the Taíno and were curious to learn more. At the conclusion we watched the film Even the Rain to enhance their understanding of the texts, and also to learn more about the Cochabamba water war to piece together an interdisciplinary unit about water that they were engaged in.
—Lisa Longeteig
High Social Studies Teacher, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Sara Pierce
The Christopher Columbus trial is a phenomenal lesson to use with students. First, it forces them to think about the construct of our globalized world in a new and critical manner. Americans are bred upon the unchallenged idea of superiority and equality, and it is troubling for them to have to see that the true pillars of trade, colonization, exploration, and expansion are instead rooted in forced inferiority and exploitation. This lesson further challenges students to give up the stereotypes and nostalgia surrounding Native Americans (in this case on Hispaniola) and see them as people who had functioning societies and belief systems. The most powerful aspect of the lesson, however, is the way it forces students to research, utilize primary resources, think in a debate-like manner, and justify their positions with evidence.

One of my students returned to visit me last month to inform me that because of partaking in this lesson last year, he joined an online group advocating the end of Columbus Day. I was impressed to have a 10th grade student not only take a firm stand on something, but actually take action to incite change. Another of my students said that this "was the best lesson I ever learned because it helped me believe that there is 'real' history I can learn from."
—Sara Pierce
High Language Arts/English Teacher, Hollywood, Florida

I use the People vs. Columbus resource annually in my 7th grade classroom. My students love it and find it very engaging. I always invite other teachers to serve as a jury and they are always impressive.
—Sara DiCaro
Middle School Teacher, Greensboro, North Carolina

I've used Rethinking Columbus two times now in different institutions. The impact has been great. For both cases, I used the People vs. Columbus, et al. trial activity — one at a graduate institute and the other at a youth organization. Both instances had the participants, ages 17 to 30, invested in the trial and who they were representing — shedding more than just a light on the holiday weekend (as this activity was done just after Columbus Day). More specifically, it provided space for a specific participant to open up about his Taíno background. The activity got a lot of love.
—Nick Pelonia
High, College/University Social Studies Teacher Educator, Lowell, Massachusetts

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Constitutional Convention Roleplay

I use Zinn Education Project lessons because they are high quality, get students to do critical thinking, and allow them to examine history from multiple perspectives. Having my students engage in the U.S. Constitutional Convention role play is always a highlight for them, as students get to actively relive history and begin to develop historical empathy.

Through using the Zinn Education Project lessons, my students are beginning to see and understand how the inequities of the past were constructed and then they are able to start making the connections to today's inequities in society. It is from this understanding that we continue to work to try and figure out how to change our current world, based on our knowledge of the past.
—Benjie Achtenberg
Middle Social Studies Teacher, Oakland, California

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
History Teacher, Ann Arbor, Michigan

I use the Constitution Role Play lesson in my classroom as a hook for a larger unit, in tandem with Teaching Tolerance's unit "Did the Constitution establish a just government?" The students were very engaged during the activities and created a much more just constitution in our role-play. Really appreciated the resource.
—Will Gowen
Teacher, Providence, Rhode Island

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U. S. – Mexico War

I received the Zinn Education Project materials and I immediately flipped through the book and taught the U.S. - Mexico War lesson. It was so wonderful to see a group of usually unmotivated students engaged in the lesson that I called in another teacher to see this group of students actively involved in the activity.
—Sarah Treworgy
Middle Social Studies Teacher, Lynnwood, Washington

Suzanne Arthur
I use lessons from the Zinn Education Project because they are relevant, factual, and inspiring. Lessons like The U.S. - Mexico War shed light on aspects of our shared American heritage that are often overlooked. These lessons give a voice to great Americans who are too often forgotten.

Even though my students don't quite understand it yet, I can see that a close examination of people's history empowers my students to use their own voices.
—Suzanne Arthur
High Social Studies Teacher, Salt Lake City, Utah

I dedicate a unit to westward expansion, and using the U.S.-Mexico War Tea Party activity has given students many perspectives on the war.

They enjoy this lesson in particular because they are able to interact with one another and teach in turn their assigned perspectives. I find that they walk away from this activity knowledgeable and excited to learn about the impact of the war.
—Justine Treviño
High School Social Sciences Teacher, Riverside, Illinois

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A People’s History of the United States

Because of this book, I understood early in my college career the importance of the true, unfiltered words of the actual actors in a historical event. As a result, I was drawn further into the study of history and, eventually, into my career as a history teacher. What A People’s History brought to my attention is that American history is much more interesting than that. Our history is an exciting, sometimes appalling, struggle for power and that makes us just like every other country that has ever existed.

A long list of “good guys” with no one to struggle with is neither a true story nor a good story. It doesn’t resonate because it leads the student to believe that we are all waiting for the next exceptional leader, instead of becoming a force for change in our own communities. A People’s History helped me recognize this as a student of history and inspires my attempt to bring true stories to young people, weary of the inaccessible lists that history teaching has become.
—Reynolds Bodenhamer
High Social Studies Teacher, Gulfport, Mississippi

I use Howard Zinn's chapter on the Mexican-American War as a starting point to teach my students Imperialism, Manifest Destiny, and Westward Invasion.

Along with the book, students read primary sources from many sources, including Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. These sources have even inspired their own anti-war protest signs.
—April Tondelli
History Teacher, Chicago, Illinois

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