Monday, June 26, 2017

Dramatic Histories & The "Write" Stuff

“If we can’t agree on anything, how can we stay one country?”
“But we could have even bigger problems, if we break apart.”

In my book, Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, the students of the imaginary school of Forest Lake Elementary perform a play about the 1787 Constitutional Convention. It is a story which unfolds during a very hot summer in Philadelphia at Independence Hall. Fifty-Five delegates argued bitterly over representation in Congress and at one point, it looked like the convention would break apart. Benjamin Franklin called for prayer and it was said that George Washington looked as glum as he did during the dark days at Valley Forge. The stakes were high. The fledging country was on the brink of collapse. If the delegates had not come up with a compromise, America would not be the nation of fifty states it is today.

The conflicts and compromises of the Constitutional Convention provide a wealth of material for theatrical performance. For a short version of Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, please check out the Reader’s Theater available at this link.

American history is filled with dramatic moments suitable for reader’s theater. And online resources at The National Archives offer primary documents for your students to research and write their own dramatic sketches. Here are some writing ideas with corresponding links.

Idea # 1: The National Archives has a copy of Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous resignation from the Daughters of the American Revolution over their refusal to hold a concert with Marian Anderson at Constitution Hall. A letter in response from the DAR is also available at this link along with information about the historic concert on Easter Sunday in 1939 when Marian Anderson sang to a crowd of 75,000 people at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  After examining these primary documents, students could write a radio play with characters playing the part of Mrs. Roosevelt, the DAR president, and Marian Anderson. Reactions from the press and the public could be included.

Idea #2: Transcripts of the Lunar Orbit of Apollo 8 in 1968 are also available online at The National Archives . Students could write an interview with the astronauts describing what they saw and how they felt based on these eyewitness documents.

Idea #3: Susan B. Anthony surprised the registrar in Rochester, New York when she showed up demanding to vote in the 1872 presidential election. The National Archives has primary documents of the hearing which took place after her arrest. Students could re-enact Susan B. Anthony’s historic arrest based on those transcripts.

The Library of Congress also has wonderful resources for primary research. Creating a dramatic sketch based on historical documents is an exciting way to combine research and writing skills.
A great opportunity for enhancing those skills will be available at a free literary festival called THE “WRITE” STUFF which will take place at The National Archives this summer on July 7 and 8, 2017. 

On July 7th, students  will have the opportunity to hear a panel of nonfiction authors including John Hendrix, Syl Sobel, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Tonya Bolden, and myself. Afterwards, students can choose a hands-on workshop with an author of their choice. Information to register is available here.

On July 8, there will be a family literacy, writing, and research festival with featured authors and illustrators including Marty Rhodes Figley, Diane Kidd, Janet Macreery and others. 

Take advantage of these programming and online resources. Enrich your summer with nonfiction writing and research! 

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