best practices

The Dinner Party

April 17, 2019

Imagine a dinner party with Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Crazy Horse, and Emma Goldman. Or the guests might be Confucius, Sundiata, Elizabeth I, and Napoleon. I would love to cater that.

And I did. Every year my class culminated with such a “dinner party.” The food might have been pizza, but the conversation sparkled. As a kid, I loved Hendrik van Loon’s classic book, Van Loon’s Lives, where he assembled several infamous guests from history to mix and match ideas and personalities. Steve Allen did much the same thing in his PBS series, Meeting of the Minds.

For my students, I dangled pizza as an incentive to work on a guided research project. The learning outcome was for each student to be so familiar with their subjects that they could speak for them about specified current event topics. 

The unit was broken up into chunks in order to model organization and executive functioning skills.

  1. Who’s Who: Preliminary research with essential questions, both practical and in depth, such as what the most admirable trait about their person was, or why did they do what they did, or how would they make the world a better place.
  2. Timeline: Compiling critical dates in their person’s life, including birth and death, and major accomplishments.
  3. Sayings: Assembling quotes with citations—by and about—their person.
  4. Album: Collecting images of people, places, and things that were important to understanding the life and times of the person.
  5. Dedication: Introducing their person as if at a banquet.
  6. Interview: Questioning each other about the details and the aspirations of their person.
  7. Relevancy: Finding overlap between their person and a few currently relevant topics.
  8. The Dinner Party: Students could come in costume or not, but they were encouraged to stay in character as I prompted them with various questions and moderated discussions between the historical figures.
  9. Dear Diary: Staying in character, students wrote about the Dinner Party and all the interesting people they met and what they talked about.

The most important part of this unit, besides the pizza, was that students found they could learn a lot and have fun at the same time.

Try it in your class and let us know how it went. 

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