I’m breaking up with you…

Way back in 2008 Eric Langhorst published a post on teaching the Declaration of Independence as a breakup letter.  I have copied Eric’s idea on and off since then, each time slightly tweaking my letter to the kids in front of me.  This year I decided to go step further, and have the students write their own breakup letters.

Of course when I went to get a copy of my old letter, it just amazingly disappeared!  So I went back to Eric’s and made some subtle changes.  I came into the room and told the kids that they were leaving way too many papers on the ground near their lockers and it needs to stop.  Then I took the paper out of my pocket and said that I did find one juicy paper amongst their garbage, and to teach them a lesson I must read it to the class!

breakup letter3

You can find the letter here. The way that you introduce and read it means everything.  The pauses, the commentary you make, the wrinkles, the slow unfolding of the paper…it’s all about the little things.  By the time I get to the end the kids are dying to know who wrote it and I turn the letter out to the class and the kids jump up to see the author, and of course the sound that comes from the classroom is precious.  Eric has a video on his blog showing the reading.  I took 5…yes 5 videos of the reading and each one got screwed up!!  So no video. Here is Eric’s:

I read the letter at the end of one class, and the next day when they walked in I explained that they would be writing their own breakup letters and handed out the following directions:

Break UpLetterDeclarationofIndependenceDirection

The students were given an abridged copy of the Declaration of Independence.  While I did a lot of the abridging of the words, changed the set-up and format, I know the basic set-up I borrowed from someone long forgotten.

Declaration of Independence Abridged Worksheet

Depending on the level of the students, the students used the above document a bit differently.

Declaration of Independence Break-up Letter
class of 2013-14
class of 2013-14
After translating they wrote a breakup letter of their own.  The numbers in their letters refer back to lines in the Declaration of Independence. 

Declaration of Independence Break-up Letter

Declaration of Independence Break-up Letter

Again, depending on the level of the student, the letters could look very different.  Some kids connected many lines of the Declaration of Independence, and some kids did just one per section.

After writing the letters we decided to film them. When borrowed some cameras from the library, lots of kids brought in theirs, and we used Chromebooks.

class of 2013-14
class of 2013-14
class of 2013-14
class of 2013-14
After the filming the kids added music to the background (directions here).

DeclarationofIndependencebreak-upletter–howtomakemoviewithmoviemaker by paulbogush1

Here  are some examples of the final videos…keep in mind..first vids of the year 🙂




After completing the videos the kids popped them into a blog post with a reflection on the assignment (directions here).

Insert Youtube Into Blogger by paulbogush1

Here are some of the reflections:

My partner and I made a video declaring our resignation from our job.  We described why we were quitting and what rights we have since we quit the job.  I think this was a good project to do to figure out the purpose of the Declaration Of Independence because we were able to put the Declaration of Independence into a real life, modern day scenario.  This activity was better than having a book test because it gave us the chance to understand it a lot better by summarizing it in our own words.  By having everyone in the class write and video tape their own Declarations of Independence is helped me to gain a better understanding of what the people who wrote it were trying to say.  Before I did this assignment I always knew that the document was important and I knew basically what it was about but the name Declaration of Independence never really clicked before.  It could have very well been because I never read the whole thing but I think it was more because I didn’t understand it, but now because of this assignment I have a clear and full understanding of the patriots’ purpose for writing it. Kelly

 My partner and I came up with a letter of resignation from a job. We used the Declaration of Independence to create our letter. After writing our letter we filmed it with a chrome book. Our video shows how someone quits there job by using the Declaration of Independence to help.  It explains why they’re quitting and goes into detail about it. If we could do anything differently it would be to practice the letter more, because when we tried filming we would just end up laughing so much. Which made us create 50 something videos. After two and a half class periods we finally got it. This assignment was good to show the true point of the Declaration of Independence. When we first started “decoding” the letter I really didn’t understand it, but after bringing it into a real life problem I finally understood it better. The next time I watch fourth of July fireworks I’ll understand it better because I now know that if the Declaration of Independence was never written, me and all the people living in America wouldn’t be free. We’d still be under British control. It helped me realize that the letter was important to our country. I never really paid attention to things like that, but I now know it is very important to our country’s history. I feel that this assignment is better than having regular book test. I will actually remember this information; I didn’t just have to jam all this information into my head then forget it a few months later. Maddie

Sarah and I made a video describing the colonists feelings towards Britain during the Revolutionary War in a modernized way. It took some tries and we had some problems, but we think our video turned out okay. If we were to make another, I would check the volume before we had started because volume issues was one of the many problems we had. This was a valuable assignment to me because usually in social studies class, we just read the Declaration of Independence, maybe once or twice. During this assignment, we actually pretended to be the colonists and felt their feelings in a way that we can better comprehend. I will understand the 4th of July fireworks now. I feel they lit off the fireworks because the colonialists felt a sense of accomplishment because they had worked so hard on this declaration. This activity was helpful because it was a hands-on activity that helped with he understanding of the important document. This project was a lot better than having a test. Some kids don’t test well, don’t know the information, or are fine. In this, its still an assessment of what we know and have learnt but isn’t extensive. Katie 

This was the third or fourth activity that I did with the kids during this unit that was essentially a fancy analogy.  What I have found out is that their final products (the analogies) end up looking very different to what I would have done, but they “get it.” I do feel funny when they turn in a final product that on the surface has nothing to do with the historical content, but as long as they can continue to connect the history to their “story” I will continue to be happy 😉

This is another example of how this can be done collaboratively as a straight forward letter to King George:

Dear George… A Modern Rewriting of the Declaration of Independence as a Video Breakup Letter from Mr. Wright on Vimeo.

Again…please visit the post that inspired mine: Teaching the Declaration of Independence as a Break Up Letter and here is a video from two teachers who should have mentioned Eric in their video since they used his letter!

Here are some other assessments that “Don’t Suck.”

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