Earlier in the semester, seventh-grade American Studies students used a reader’s theater script about the War of 1812 to learn about the historical event and to teach others about it by producing a video recorded play. The following is an interview with the collective seventh grade voice about their experience.
What was the War of 1812?
It was a war between the United States and Great Britain, but also involved (in various ways) Canada, Spain, France and Native Americans. In this war the British tried to regain the United States, but the United States barely prevailed yet again. In short, it could be called the Revolutionary War: Part II. It was a period of intense tension and fighting. During the war, the British set fire to the White House, the US Capitol building, and other important government buildings. The British attack on Fort McHenry during the war was the event that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner,” which would later become our national anthem.
What did you learn from participating in the War of 1812?
We learned some surprising things about the War of 1812 in this project. We first thought that it was just a small battle, but it did actually impact a lot. We learned that the British were taking American sailors and forcing them to fight on their side, which is called impressment. A lot of people don’t know much about this war so it was interesting to learn about.
While producing our play, we learned a lot about editing our video and audio clips, and about working with our classmates in different ways.
Do you think that performing a reader’s theater to learn about a historical event is effective?
Yes, because when you have to sort of get into character, your brain obtains and holds on to information better than if you were just listening or silently reading a textbook. You get to understand what happened, and it is fun to play the characters to maybe experience how the war felt. Acting is more fun, engaging and interactive than a normal lesson and can also teach other people about a very important time in history without getting a lecture about it. This makes it fun instead. People pay attention more when you are acting and it also makes the details more memorable.
What was the process like to complete this project?
We had a set script for the play and read through it as a class to learn about the topic first. Then we chose parts based upon our interest. Not everyone had to act. There were videographer, video editing and set/costuming roles as well. We used green screens for the backgrounds of some of the scenes. Everyone made their costumes with clothes they had at home or made them out of paper. We got creative with objects, such as using a kitchen strainer and feather duster to make a hat.
What was your favorite part about producing the War of 1812?
Just being able to have the opportunity to act was a favorite part for some of us, in addition to a couple of scenes we added in, like the rap. Even though it took a long time, editing video and helping people get ready for their parts or helping with costumes was fun. The editors worked well together and created a great final product. Laughing about our costumes that we had to improvise with and watching ourselves on video was another favorite part. Mistakes and bloopers are always funny and a favorite part of putting on a play!
We hope you enjoy watching our War of 1812 video as much as we enjoyed producing it! Click on the photo to view the film.
- American Studies