With all the political craziness going on in 2017, barely a Humanities class has gone by without the words Trump, Theresa May or Brexit being uttered! This has been the perfect opportunity to discuss democracy and its many favours and faults.
As we came to the end of our unit on WW1 recently, I decided to have students hold a model ‘Paris Peace Conference’. The idea behind this was mimic the meeting in Paris in 1919 where the Treaty of Versaille was developed, the goal being to eventually compare their treaty with the official Treaty of Versaillles.
Before the Lesson
We spent the previous lesson looking at the losses each country had suffered during WW1. This really helped the students ‘get into character’ so to speak and understand the motivations driving what each country wanted. One student in particular got so into character, she was called George for the rest of the term and demanded revenge with zero compassion in every hypothetical discussion .
- To take part in a democratic, decision making process
- To imagine the factors that leaders had to consider when formulating the Paris Peace Agreement of 1919
What you need
- Lesson Power Point: You can download this for free from my TES shop here
- A room full of tables set up in a conference style format. We used a horseshoe shape
- Flags or some kind of paraphernalia from each country. Not essential but it helps students get into character.
At the beginning of the lesson, I split the class randomly into groups that represented the USA, Great Britain and France. These groups then had to work together to write a peace treaty: starting with nominating a chairperson who ran the meeting from then on. The teacher played the role of Germany as she was not allowed to speak or add her ideas to the conference’s proceedings.
The students ran with this idea beautifully, discussing, deliberating and compromising to come up with a list of workable demands. They also really had fun! Although the subject matter was serious, the role play added an element of silliness and some students enjoyed decorating their faces with nation specific mustaches! In all seriousness though, I was so impressed with what they were capable of. In just two lessons, students successfully negotiated a peace treaty that they felt was fair and took into account everything that each ‘country’ wanted. They laughed and had fun but also took their roles seriously and the chairwoman they nominated was perfect in her role.
After the lesson, we compared the treaty they had come up with with the real Versailles treaty and then discussed whether they felt Germany had been treated fairly. This operated as a perfect lead in to WW2: The topic we were studying next
Why this lesson worked
Students got the chance to take charge of the classroom. It was a silly bit of fun ‘gagging’ the teacher and a running joke over the first few minutes. However, as the lesson went on, I saw the students discuss serious issues in a more mature way. They realised what they were capable of and it boosted their confidence (and my confidence in them)
It also brought home the reality that big decisions can only be made through cooperation and compromise. It was a nice opportunity for students to consider if they are comfortable ‘playing politics’ – it’s never too early for people to consider their role in a democratic society