Creative Approaches for Teaching English and History

By Marion Weeks

Walking through Sturgis hallways provides many opportunities to observe creative approaches to teaching. Seeing Sturgis students so engaged in their classes reminds me occasionally of classes I experienced in high school that were somewhat less than stimulating! When I talk with Sturgis parents at Open House, they often say they wish they could have experienced “IB for All” in high school. Here are a couple of creative projects noticed recently in English and History classes.

Book ThiefCreed Project

June Miles, English Lead Teacher at Sturgis East, introduced a Freshman summer reading assignment on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak with a question Oprah Winfrey asks: ““What do you know for sure?”  She asked students to  “list TEN beliefs (things you know for sure) or write a letter, or use some other creative way to express your creed.” The complete assignment and examples of  responses follow:

Looking for words to live by?

The first time Oprah Winfrey heard the question, “What do you know for sure,” she was doing a live television interview in Chicago with renowned film critic Gene Siskel. When he asked her, “Tell me, what do you know for sure,” she could not respond.  Later, when recalling the moment, she said this is a question we do not think of often, if ever.  Once you think of it, she says that most of us usually rally with thoughtful and profound responses that reveal the essence of who we are.

Literary Connection & Context: 

June Miles' CreedThe Book Thief is not really a book “about the Holocaust”.  It’s not about Nazi concentration camps or death camps.  It’s not like The Diary of Anne Frank, concentrating on the experience of Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis.  Although all of those things are there, in the setting and in some of the characters, the book is mainly about ordinary Germans who were surrounded by the propaganda and social pressures as the Nazis came to power.  These pressures—pressure to join the Nazi party, pressure to conform to the beliefs of the Hitler Youth, pressure to shun and even hate certain neighbors—were powerful. As we read, we ask ourselves, “What would I have done in that situation?  Would I have been strong enough to resist the pressure, the parades, the media, my neighbors and fellow-citizens?  When so many people got swept up in the current of propaganda, how can I be sure I would have stuck to my moral values and resisted…even if it meant pain and suffering for myself and the ones I love?”  Those moral values are at the heart of this assignment.  What are your moral values?  What do you know for sure in life?  What do you believe? How strong are your beliefs?  We have

This I Believe

This I Believe

many words with similar meanings to capture this idea of a statement of belief: for example, the words manifesto, creed, declaration, statement all can describe an expression of belief.

Your purpose is to express some of what you believe. You should also include some background that explains some of why you believe what you believe.  You should use one side of one 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper and include a photograph of yourself (a photo you like, featuring you). You must make some decisions about the tone and format – will you be serious, or humorous, formal or informal? Your audience is your classmates.  So what is your message?  You might list TEN beliefs (things you know for sure) or write a letter, or use some other creative way to express your creed.  However, there must be words, even if you use a few pictures/illustrations.

SL Senior History Games

Justin Scott and Bailey Cavanaugh, Sturgis East History

The assignment was to use the policies of Stalin (economic, women, education, religious policies for example) to create a Monopoly-like game.    Different players, who represent different groups within Soviet society, move across the board and attempt to survive the policies that Stalin put in place. Each space represents a year in Stalin’s regime and due to the policies, players gain or lose points. (Example: Stalin begins the Purge, all players lose 30 points)  Players are sent to the ‘gulags’ for various infractions and some are simply killed during the purge or because they lose all their points. At the end of the game, many players have ‘died’ which represents the unfortunate reality of many people living in Soviet Russia at the time.

Examples of Student Work:


Game of Strife

Game of Strife

The Game of Strife has been brought to you by: Alana Bell, Ian Bowes, Jessica Bowse, Alisa Dyer, Chris Fink, Kyle Garvey, Kevin Glassman, Mitchell Kimber, Alaina Ohm, Krupa Patel, Sana Rashid, Nicholas Raymond, Shelby Stevenson and Kallie Whritenour

Welcome to the Soviet Union! You are going to be transported back to the year 1917 to a land of strife and disorder! Wooh!  Your journey will last until 1939 (or until you die!) Here are a few simple rules to this uplifting, joyous game!

1.  There must be two to four players (works best with four!) and each must be represented by one of the following: Worker, Peasant, Politician, and Military Official. You will draw a card before you start in order to determine who is what player.
2. Roll the die to see who goes first. The player who rolls the highest number will start first, and so on. If you roll the same number as another player, whoever is older between the two will go first.
3. Each player automatically starts with 50 Roubles. Roubles will be gained and lost throughout the game depending on the spaces you land on and the cards you draw.
4. Move only one space at a time!
5. When you land on the space that says “Vodka Time!”, you will roll the die. If you roll 1-2, you will draw a “Stalin Loves You” card. If you roll a 3-6, you will draw a “Stalin Hates You” card.
6. Whoever has the most roubles at the end wins!
7. Gulag:

When playing Game of Strife, a player may be sent to the Gulag:

1-either by a Stalin card

2-by rolling the die (*only by effect of card and/or yearly event)

3-or by having a point total of zero or under

When in the Gulag, a player must pick up one “Gulag Card” per turn, and is affected by that card (in terms of points and possible death).

There are only two ways out of the Gulag:

1-Get out of gulag free card
2-Roll a 3 or a 6
8. Have fun!




Stalinopoly has been brought to you by John Moore and Joey Benedict


Game Setup (2-4 players) –

Each person should pick one of four pieces to play as:

Union Worker

Government Official



Each piece may only be picked once. You may not change pieces during a game. After the pieces are chosen, place the ones in play at the ‘start’ section.

Game Play:

Each person starts with 100 points, and it is in their best interests to gain as many points as possible before reaching the end.

Each turn, all the players move forward one square and follow the instructions corresponding to the square they are currently on. Then the players each roll a die.

If a person rolls a 1, they have temporarily polarized to the left wing of the Communist political spectrum and must draw a “Left Wing” card. Likewise, if a player rolls a 6, they have succumbed to the philosophies of the right wing of the Communist party and must draw a “Right Wing” card.

If neither a 1 nor 6 is rolled, nothing happens unless otherwise stated on the square instructions.

The game ends once all players reach the “finish” square.

Have fun!

Stalinopoly Yearly Instructions:

Ukrainians + Kulaks: Widespread food shortages; lose 30 pts.

Govt. Officials: Even you are starting to worry… lose 15 pts.

Union Workers: Forget about your job, you’re just hoping you’ll live another day! Lose 30 pts.

1929: Great Turn

Ukrainian: Higher demand for food, gain 10 pts.

Kulak: Higher demand for food, gain 15 pts.

Govt. Official: Unaffected.

Union Worker: Union Membership grows, gain 10 pts.

1930: Collectivization

Ukrainian: The government takes your food, lose 25 pts.

Kulak: The government takes your food and blames you for the shortage of food, lose 35 pts.

Govt. Official + Union Worker: Free food, gain 10 pts.

1931: Class Warfare

Ukrainian: you’ve always been at the bottom of the social ladder; unaffected.

Kulak: You are targeted by Stalin!!! Lose 35 pts.

Govt. Official: Disagree with Stalin’s actions and suffer loss of political power, lose 15 pts.

Union Worker: Fight on Stalin’s side! Gain 15 pts.

1932: Famine of 1932

Ukrainian: The famine starts in Ukraine, and Stalin shoots those who are “uncooperative;” roll the dice. If under 3, you are uncooperative and are wounded; lose 50 pts. Otherwise, lose 30 pts.

Kulak: You are running out of food; lose 20 pts.

Govt. Official: Times are tough, but you get around corrupt; unaffected.

Union Worker: No food gets to you; lose 20 pts.

1933: Second Five-Year Plan begins

Ukrainian + Kulak: Use new fertilizers! Gain 10 pts.

Govt. Official: Lose some overseeing power; lose 10 pts.

Union Worker: You are benefitting from TONS of new technology! Gain 40 pts!

1934: People Commissariats instituted

Ukrainian + Kulak: Unaffected

Govt. Official: Lose more power, but gain some organization skills. If you roll a 2 or three, you are power hungry and lose 10 pts. If you roll a four or five, you are OCD and like being organized; gain 10 pts.

Union Worker: Roll to see if you meet the new goals instituted. If you roll under a five, you do and gain 15 pts. Otherwise, you lose 15 pts for not meeting your goals.

1935: The “Good” Years Emerge; everybody gains 25 pts!

1936: Great Purges Begin

Ukrainian: Racism begins to rub off on you; lose 15 pts.

Kulak: Stalin targets the rich! Lose 40 pts.

Govt. Official: Roll to see whether Stalin trusts you or not. You die and lose the game if you roll a 2. You are expelled if you roll a 3 and lose 30 pts. Otherwise, Stalin still trusts you and you gain 25 pts.

Union Worker: Roll to see your income; if you roll a five or over, it is too high and you are targeted; lose 25 pts. Otherwise, you are poor enough not to be bothered with. Gain 5 pts.

1937: Economic Slowdown

Ukrainian: Run out of food… again. Lose 20 pts.

Kulak: You can make it through… unaffected

Govt. Official: You become disorganized; lose 10 pts.

Union Worker: Unemployment and production loss causes you to lose 20 pts.

1938: Third Five-Year Plan

Ukrainian: You freeze in a harsh winter; lose 30 pts.

Kulak: Stalin no longer cares about your goods; lose 20 pts.

Govt. Official: You are called to a show trial! Roll the dice to see why. Role a 1, 2, 5, or 6 and you are prosecuting; gain 10 pts. Otherwise, you are defending. Roll a three and you die and lose the game, roll a four and you are temporarily expelled; lose 25 pts.

Union Worker: You work on building a strong USSR military; gain 15 pts. However, if you roll a 1 or 2, supplies run out. Lose 10 pts.

1939: Nazi-Soviet Pact

Ukrainian: You are safe from German invasion (for now)! Gain 15 pts.

Kulak + Union Worker: unaffected

Govt. Official: If you roll a four or above, you don’t like the pact; lose ten points. Roll anything else and you support the pact for now; gain 10 pts.



1940: Fight in Finland!

Ukrainians: Soviets start massacring you; lose 30 pts.

Kulaks: Too close to the action; lose 10 pts.

Govt. Officials: You successfully negotiate a treaty with Finland favoring the USSR; gain 20 pts.

Union Workers: The army needs you to build supplies and weapons; gain 15 pts.

1941: Operation Barbarossa – Germans invade USSR

Ukrainians + Kulaks: Get attacked by Germans; lose 30 pts.

Govt. Official: You expected the Germans to attack; unaffected.

Union Worker: Factories get bombed by the Luftwaffe; lose 20 pts.

1942: Stalingrad Defense

1943: Russians have held out! Everybody celebrates and gains 20 pts.

1944: Russian Offensive

Ukrainians: Russians now moving across your turf; lose 15 pts.

Kulaks: You survived! Gain 5 pts.

Govt. Officials + Union Workers: Prepare for the offensive initiative; gain 10 pts.

1945: You win the war! All gain 50 pts.!

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