Creating Experiential Exercises in Your Classroom

Don’t you just love running into an old student in the grocery store! They remember you – and if you are lucky and they haven’t grown too much… you remember them! The conversation goes exactly like this…
Former Student – Hi Mrs. X, How are you? It is great to see you!
Me trying frantically to remember their name, because they don’t look 12 anymore – Hi!
Former Student – I loved your history class. It was so much fun!
Me now extremely happy and grateful – Thank you!
Former Student – Do you still do…
And invariably the “Do you still do” is followed by the name of one of their favorite activities – always an Experiential Exercise. This is one of my favorite History Alive! teaching strategies that always made me excited to come to school. I would use my content and their framework to create my own on Texas History content.  

Experiential Exercises have a tendency to be a bit scary to a teacher who has never tried one of these before.  Remember these tips:
1.      Prepare the students for a different learning environment – especially if you are going to run a simulation type activity. This means letting them know ahead of time exactly what they are going to be doing, exactly what your expectations for behavior are, and exactly what the consequences are for those who choose not to follow your directions!! Most students make the right choice! If the Experiential Exercise calls for a surprise – then prepare yourself for the emotions kids will experience.  In my Law of April 6, 1830, I know my kids will get upset when I change the “rules” on them.  I use the best of my acting ability to maintain a straight face!
2.      Debrief immediately after you conclude the activity. Kids are excited about what you have done and they need to talk about it!
3.      Make those connections to history clear. Why did we do this? How is what you experienced similar to what people may have experienced in the past? What did you learn?  I usually would have the kids write at this point to journal everything they have learned.
4.      Try to make the experience as authentic as possible. Can you pull in an acting ability? What props can you use to make it more realistic? Is there any music of the time period you can use? I recently did an Experiential Exercise involving exploring a sunken ship (from History Alive!). This photo was taken during the training.  Imagine all that could be done with it! A few “gold coins” or other artifacts would really liven up the activity.


5.      Finally – Have Fun With It! Days I used an Experiential Exercise were always the best for me! I loved coming to school and experiencing it with my students.

If you would like to see what this strategy looks like in a lesson – try my Decree of April 6, 1830 lesson. In this lesson students experience some of the emotions involved in one of the key causes of the Texas Revolution.

Decree of April 6, 1830




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