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Champion of American History (A Playoff)


Social Studies  


10, 11, 12  

shutterstock_20703133In this two-day lesson plan, students will first discuss the qualities and criteria that make for the most important American Historical figure.  Students will draw a historical figure out of a hat and then spend the remainder of class period researching sixteen major facts to support their figure as the “Champion of American History.”  Day two will be spent as a playoff in front of the class to see who is the “Champion of American History.”

Historical Figures have been provided, but the list may be modified to reflect recent class learning, unit objectives, or be a student-driven and created list (this may lead to more modern figures being added).

Objectives: The Students will

  1. Identify key criteria they can use to measure historical figures against each other in this competition.
  2. Collect material from a variety of sources (internet and textbook-based) to defend their historical figure. Evaluate sources in order to choose the best and most reliable material.
  3. If necessary, defend their sources.

(Day One) – Anticipatory Set and student research

Begin with a brief 5 minute in class writing assignment – have students answer this question:  “Who is the Champion of American history?”  Ask students to share their writing and engage in a larger class discussion.  Be prepared for – and foster – disagreement. Ask the students how they came to choose their most important figure – what criteria did they use to judge that person as the “Champion of” American history?

After a brief discussion, break students into small groups.  Give each group the task of developing four specific criteria by which they would judge American historical figures.  If students are struggling, be prepared to help with suggestions (e.g. a figure’s lasting influence, consistent reference in modern culture, major changes to American life or structure) but this should be as student-led as is possible. 

Have students rejoin the class and discuss each group’s criteria.  Develop an overall class list of criteria and then, as a class, narrow down to four or five specific criteria by which historical figures can be judged.

At this point, students should draw their historical figure from a hat.  As most classes are more than 16 students, pairings are suggested for this process.  If this leads to an incomplete bracket, a team can draw a “Bye” in the first round. Explain to students that they will need to have four specific facts for each round (sixteen total) – and that they should be prepared to defend their sources if necessary.  Students should then be given the remainder of the class period to research their historical figures.  This can also be assigned as homework.

(Day Two) –  Main Activity

Project or provide students a worksheet listing the class criteria for the Champion of American History.  Explain that each presentation should be graded using those criteria.  Explain that the playoff will consist of brief presentations – the presenting team will relay four of their collected facts to the class in each round.  Their opponent will present four of their collected facts.  Students will “grade” each historical figure against the class criteria and, with a show of hands, decide the winner.  Winning teams will move on to the next round until an ultimate champion is decided. Even with brief presentations, this should take most of the class period.

As a follow-up to the playoff – or a homework assignment, have students write about the experience.  Have them revisit their original Day 1 writing and reflect on it.  Do they still believe the person they chose was the Champion of American History?  Why?  If this has changed – who, now, do they believe to be the best – and why?

Potential American Historical Figures for Playoff (the point is to choose a variety of well-known and lesser known figures in order to foster thinking and debate on the part of your students.

  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Steve Jobs
  • Standing Bear
  • Chief Justice John Marshall
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • James Monroe
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Frederick Douglas
  • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Betty Friedan
  • Thomas Paine
  • Andrew Jackson
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