Drama Class Allows Corbett Prep Students to Experience Manifest Destiny
Teachers link drama class to a fifth grade social studies unit so students can re-enact what they learn.
Sept. 25, 2013 (TAMPA, Fla.) – On the floor, the United States looked vast, but everyone was huddled into a small strip along the east coast.
Welcome to America, before the Western Expansion.
Corbett Preparatory School of IDS saw Manifest Destiny come to life in fifth grade drama with an exercise that combined the physical nature of the country’s expansion with thought-provoking questions about the decisions behind it. Teachers Todd LeBlanc, Anita Travaglino and Seth Travaglino taped off a swath of the floor in the Grand Room with rectangles representing the 13 Colonies, the Louisiana Purchase, the Texas annexation and more. The simulation began with students crammed in the colonies or without any land at all, and they quickly discovered the need for the United States to expand.
With each phase, their teachers challenged these fifth graders to think about why they were moving west and asked them how they would have voted on options if they had lived in the 1800s. Should America annex Texas or help Mexico regain it? Should they divide Oregon Country between the British and Americans or sell it to Britain?
Students stood to explain their reasoning behind their votes, talking about their worries of antagonizing their neighbors if they fought for new territories and the pros and cons of war. One boy said he didn’t think the United States needed more space. A girl wedged into crowded Texas disagreed. Students sitting on unmarked sections of the floor with no land cheered the acquisitions that allowed them to move into the United States.
Todd LeBlanc said he likes to find ways to integrate into drama the facts the students are learning in their classroom studies. The Western Expansion lesson allowed students to creatively re-enact the time period, reinforcing in a physical way what they had read about in social studies. Such activities ensure the curriculum appeals to unique learning styles, such as kinesthetic, tactile, auditory and visual.
Drama also teaches public speaking skills, and the Manifest Destiny experience included sections of “choral reading.” Students read aloud paragraphs about each phase of the expansion in unison, gaining a chance to practice pacing, projecting and speaking with excitement.
The result was a lively class period of learning and doing, as students rushed to be first in new territories and debated their choices among each other. They talked about how they needed more land to grow crops and to spread out the population. They also saw the consequences of those decisions — teachers set aside seven empty chairs across the United States map, symbolizing the small pieces of land that remained for the Native Americans. At the end of the period, Anita Travaglino called out four names and told them to exit the territory.
The students stood in confusion. Those names represented people who would have been lost in battle during the expansion, she said. It is a risk and reality of the choices leaders had to make. The room grew still. Students within and outside the American borders looked at each other in silence. And then it was time for classes to change, and a new lesson to begin.