Unheard Voices of History

This activity will guide students through an examination of the unheard voices in history
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About This Strategy

Ever wonder what happened to the voices we never hear about in history - the voices that were silenced or overlooked in the annals of history?  Our history books overflow with stories of victors and we are always told the winners get the luxury of writing history.  Sadly, this mentality leaves valuable voices unheard or forgotten.  This activity will guide students through researching a chosen historical event in order to determine the various people(s) involved and develop a dramatization giving voice to all people involved.

Implementation Steps

  1. Share the Winston Churchill quote, "History is written by the victors," with students and then engage students in a discussion about the quote and what Churchill might have meant.

    • What does it mean to be a victor?

    • In this context, does 'victor' truly mean winner or could it mean something else?  Guide students in understanding that 'victor' does not mean honorable and justified winner.

    • Why would history be written by the victors?

    • If this is true, can the history we read be trusted as truthful?

    • What happens to the history of those not considered victors?

  2. Now share the saying, "There are two sides to every story." and ask students to respond to the following questions: 

    • How does this quote relate to the Churchill quote?

    • What does this quote make you think about what stories we hear in history?

  3. Tell students they are going to conduct a historical investigation into an event from history during which they consider the voices that have been unheard or forgotten.

  4. Guide students in brainstorming historical events or provide a selected list of historical events for students that relate to the current theme of study.  Chart their responses on an anchor chart.  You may need to guide the students to get started.

  5. Divide students into research teams of four.

  6. Assign team roles for each group:  discussion facilitator, recorder, reporter, time keeper.

    • Discussion Facilitator:  Leads the group's discussion

    • Recorder:  Takes notes on the group's discussion

    • Reporter:  Presents the group's findings in an oral presentation

    • Time Keeper:  Keeps the group on task and on time

  7. Guide each research team in selecting a historical event to research. Consider using the materials from the Zinn Education project to support students' research

  8. Over several days, allow the teams to research their chosen event using the following questions as guides.

    • What happened? 

    • Who was directly involved?

    • Were there any groups affected even if they were not directly involved?

    • What story or perspective do we generally hear or read about?

    • Based on your research, whose story is not known or has been forgotten? What would they say?  What is their story?

  9. After teams have completed their research, guide them in creating a dramatization or script telling the story from a perspective not traditionally heard in history books. Encourage student teams to be as creative as possible in presenting their dramatization.

  10. As each group presents their dramatization, other classmates will watch and consider the following questions:

    • Whose perspective is this version told from?

    • How is this version different from what you traditionally know of this event?

    • How does this version affect your thinking and understanding of this historical event?

EL Modification

This strategy requires English Learners to communicate using language in collaborative discussions with their classmates.

Modifications:

  • Provide students with sentence stems to answer the research questions.

  • Carefully intersperse English language learners into groups with strong language models.

  • If students need an example before starting the project, read aloud Jane Yolen's Encounter.  This story tells the story of Columbus' landing in the Americas from the perspective of the Taino Indians.  Discuss how this is a perspective we do not often see in history books.

Questions to Consider

  • How will I group students in a way that honors each student's interests?

  • How will I ensure that students do not look at groups throughout history as winners and losers but rather as multiple perspectives of the same event?

  • How will I respond when students discover injustices occurred throughout history?

  • What will I do if students need guidance in completing research?