Monday, March 25, 2013

Kings for the Day

Today I resurrected one of my favorite old activities that I used to do.  It got pushed out a few years ago due to a number of reasons.  This year, I decided to bring it back.  It is called "Kings for a Day."

In the activity I create a scenario in classroom in which a few "select" students get to have complete control of the room for the day.  Only two things must be allowed to continue from my previous rule...

1. They can't banish me from the room.  (They can make me sit quietly or quack like a duck if they choose, but I still need to be there.)

2. They can't disturb other classrooms.

Everything else is fair game.  I give them 10 minutes to write down the rules or "laws" of the class for the day. 

They LOVE it.

The "Kings" spend the next 10 minutes deviously creating as many rules as they can.

We spend a couple minutes going over the laws and laughing at the silliness of the rules before I get to make my point.

I always have a point. 

I have done this activity over 20 times in my teaching, and two things remain consistent. 
Every. Single. Time.

1. The "Kings" attempt to figure out how to make sure there "power" is long-lasting.  Often times requiring that I extend this activity for the entire year, they get to continue to add rules anytime, that no one is allowed to take their "King" status away, etc... 

And probably the most disturbing realization to the kids...

2.  The "Kings" create a slave-like system in which they are in charge and the others must either do their bidding or complete some embarrassing task. 

At this point during they day, my "Kings" slouch a little lower in their seats and start shifting their eyes nervously. 

Slaves...  No one likes that word.

In this day in age it can be hard to convey to the students how slavery ever existed.  They learn the horrors of the institution and wonder why we honor our Founding Fathers, when many of them were slave owners.  Many times they just respond with "well, that was over 200 years ago," or "we know better now that it was wrong." 

This activity lets them learn two very important lessons. 

1.  That power is easily abused.  Good kids, who know right from wrong, in less than 10 minutes created a very powerful dictatorship.  They learn why it was so important for our government to create a system of separating the governmental powers and having them checked by other branches.

2.  That slavery was a very easy concept to adopt.  It is very easy to believe that you are "better" than another person based solely on something silly like skin color.  My 8th graders did it based on the kings and queens of a deck of cards. 

As we prepare to study the Civil War and the reason it was fought, I thought this was a good lesson for my kids to learn.   Why didn't the South want to give up slavery?  Why didn't they see how wrong it was?  How could anyone treat another human like that?  How easily is power abused?  These are all great questions for the students to ponder.