As a World History teacher I have always found the videos of battles hard to swallow – not because they are violent, but because they are ridiculous. The documentary typically zooms in on two or four soldiers fighting and we are left to imagine the swarming hoards of troops in the heat of battle. Exciting and engaging? I think not. My search for the solution began here. How can I get kids to understand the tactics and scale of these battles? Answer, juniorgeneral.org. This is a free site that is community supported. Go ahead check it out!
Juniorgeneral has paper troops you can use to recreate battles from ancients to modern armies. The site has posted rules, scenarios and printouts. With these tools you have everything you would need to recreate a battle. Awesome! Upon finding the site, I dove right in. While teaching my Greek unit, I attempted to recreate the battle of Marathon. I found the armies, printed them out, and created what I needed for the battle. It wasn’t hard, but is did it take some time. Let’s see what happened in class. You can download my armies here. Cut them out and tape them to sturdy base I used poster board cut into little stands.
The Battle of Marathon:
Before the students arrived. Battle all setup and ready to get started.
The night before, students read a brief synopsis of the battle. They knew the major players and understood what was at stake for Athens and the whole of Greece. They came into class ready for battle. When they entered class the next morning they were struck by the scale of the battle. I had created a map of the battle on the floor using masking type. As their creative juices were flowing they started to see the waves of soldiers in formation. Darius’ troops pressed against the sea; Miltiades and the Greeks are the only thing standing in their way to victory over the city of Athens.
I walked students through the rules of the simulation found here. This was an easy process. The rules are fairly straight forward. Then that battle began. It was amazing. Every student was focused and working their hardest to bring victory to their side. This was an easy process. The rules are fairly straight forward. Then that battle began. It was amazing. Every student was focused and working their hardest to bring victory to their side.
In my four sections of World History it turned out to be an even split between the Persians and the Greeks with two victories each. Throughout these four classes, I was amazed at the learning that was taking place while having an experience that will leave a lasting impression. Students playing the role of the Greeks, felt the pain of the Persian Arrows, while the students playing the role of the Persians felt the sting of the Greek Phalanx formation. Students saw firsthand what a battle might have looked like. They were in command of a huge army. They felt the pangs of fear as their flanks started to fold in. When the two armies collided together fear and excitement rushed through the student generals.
When asked if students liked it I got responses like…
“This is AWESOME!”
“This is Intense and I’m loving it!”
“You should do this as an after school club.”
“Are we doing more of these in the future?”
“I’m sweating in History, you know it has to be good”
Suggestions for you…
- Plan ahead – it take a bit of time to make all the pieces. You could have some students help you do this or just make them in front of your favorite show.
- Make sure you give students a good amount of background knowledge on the battle before it takes place. This level of familiarity helps their creative minds elevate the activity.
- Think outside the box. Take a look around at juniorgeneral.org and think of the many ways you could use a tool like this in your teaching.
- TRY IT ONCE! You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Give it a try. Check out juniorgeneral.org There is something every history teacher. Please feel free to download my directions here and my paper cutouts here. If you are thinking of giving it a try shoot me an email or tweet. As always feel free to comment below.
Video promotion of my Battle of Marathon