Fighting in the Trenches – A History Lab
Filed under: History Labs | Tags: history lab, simulation, social studies, trench warfare, World War I |
No fifth graders were actually harmed during this simulation 🙂
- Show my students how trench fighting had waged for years without really gaining significant territory for either side
- Help them understand how the U.S. entry into the war tipped the balance of power.
- Two boxes of “ammunition” (50 sheets of balled up black construction paper, 50 sheets of balled up brown construction paper – artillery)
- 2 balled up sheets of yellow construction paper (mustard gas)
- Desks set up in opposing rows, with a “no man’s land” in the center.
- Trench Warfare Powerpoint
- Trench Warfare Animation
- Teacher Costume (optional)
- Meet students at door in costume. I took on the persona of a trainer giving new troops a primer on trench warfare before being shipped “over there”.
- I divided them into two teams by counting them off, they “stowed their gear” in the back and took up positions in the trenches.
- I showed the first part of the Trench Warfare Powerpoint, then explained the rules of the “training exercise”.
- Recruits are to begin firing as soon as they hear battle sounds and stop when the sounds stop. (Roughly a 1 minute to 2 minutes)
- There will be two rounds of fighting so ration your ammunition.
- Artillery only the first round. You may use only your ammunition.
- If you get hit at all, you’re dead, and you must fall where you are.
Firing commences. (I liked using the sounds from the Trench Warfare Animation) After enough time passes, I cut the sound.
- Casualty count from each side. Short debrief – how did it feel to be under fire? To “lose” a fellow soldier?
- Short talk on conditions in the trenches, with or without more slides from the powerpoint. The rat quotes and trenchfoot pictures were a tad intense I felt for my fifth graders – so I just told the edited stories and read a few actual letters from soldiers.
- I move the “casualties” to the back row for the next round.
- The only new ammunition is the “mustard gas”. I explain that if that gets into your trench it is “game over”.
- Students play another round when the noise starts.
- What will happen is that with equal ammunition and equal numbers, most of the “soldiers” will die on both sides, with no side “winning”.
- This segues into a “what if” – what if you had twice as many soldiers and ammunition? Would there be a winner then?
- Short talk about how America’s entry into the war gave the Allies superior numbers and led to the Central Powers surrender.
Students then wrote a letter home from the trenches describing their experience while the sound effects blared away in the background. It was a great day in class, and their letters were terrific.
The lesson was based on an idea I had read about in Bring History Alive, and this handout http://teacherlessonplanwarehouse.com/WWI%20Trench%20Warfare.doc
Special thanks to Mr. Berlin, for his Trench Warfare Powerpoint.
Also invaluable is the Trench Warfare Animation from Class Zone.