Before President's Day, each student researched a president or first lady, then wrote the speech from the first-person point of view. Of course we finished the project with the big presentations-- the actual Wax Museum filled with students dressed in character and patrons there to press the buttons. It was a successful day, and there was 100% engagement. The best part of the project, however, was behind the scenes.
Leading up to the big day, the students spent every free moment reading books, websites, and encyclopedias trying to find information about "themselves" that was interesting.
"Can You Believe that my husband's family didn't even come to our wedding?" I overheard Julia Grant say to little Martha Jefferson. "My husband was against slavery during the Civil War, and my family owned slaves! It was so sad, and I was embarrassed that we had slaves." Julia actually blushed. Then Martha tried to make her feel better.
"Well, my husband was not really the president. It was my dad. My mom died before he was president, so I was the first lady."
"I helped you a lot, though!" added in Dolley Madison.
They were having conversations like they were the first ladies.
Abigail Adams started telling her group about her pets when Barack Obama interrupted, "Where did you find out about your pets?" She pointed to the book up front, and then three of the kids rushed up to the front to be the next in possession of the book.
Eleanor Roosevelt was very busy online. "Can you help me find my newspaper article? I wrote a newspaper article called 'My Day' and I want to put a picture of it on the back of my speech!"
Just then, George W. Bush, who had just learned that he used to be a cheerleader, called out, "Oh my goodness, Mrs. Hinrichsen! Is Sarah Eleanor Roosevelt? I saw her in Chapter 5 of our social studies book! I'm sorry, I peeked!" Just then my little Eleanor Roosevelt dove into her social studies book to find more about herself.
Not only did the students do research and give speeches, but they also made some pretty in-depth verbal comparisons. They did this because they cared. It was real to them. Yes, it took a few extra days to move through Chapter 4 and into Chapter 5 of social studies, but it was time well spent. What my students did learn should stick with them for a while. It has been over a month since students presented their speeches, and I still catch them reading books or watching online videos about the presidents. It isn't uncommon to hear them back in character, chatting away, either.