American Revolution Capture the Flag: How Students Can “Just Get It”

Ryan Canton, an eighth-grade teacher in Minnesota, is today’s guest blogger. We “met” Ryan on Twitter (@theswish). We were intrigued by the hardiness of his students who braved a midwestern blustery fall day to go outside and play an unusual version of capture the flag…all in the name of learning history, of course.

It’s no secret to students and teachers alike: Do something interactive, something that actively engages all students, and you will not only pique their interest but you will also create lasting memories and connect with students in a meaningful way that really allows them to understand and explore a concept. If you can do this in your classroom, while tossing in a classic childhood game like capture the flag, well then that’s even better! TCI’s History Alive!The United States Through Industrialism contains an activity that does just that as an opening activity for the American Revolution.

Recently I had the opportunity to give the capture the flag activity a whirl, and it was met with rousing success!  The conditions weren’t exactly ideal for being outside, but in the Upper Midwest we don’t let temperatures in the mid-forties, wind gusts upwards of 30 miles per hour, and a little sleet get in the way of our learning!  I opened the lesson with an Animoto video I created that was like a movie trailer for the American Revolution.  The class was told the day before we were playing capture the flag, so their interest level was already high, and the video only increased their excitement. 

As a class we talked about what types of qualities you would want on a good capture the flag team – speed, experience, courage, strength, ninjacity (an 8th grade way of basically saying someone who is all around awesome), etc…then we talked about how a team that didn’t have those skills could actually defeat this “all star” capture the flag team.  Qualities like good leadership, team work, and determination.  Naturally, all of these qualities were connected to the British and American strengths at the start of the war.

After some discussion I then followed the guidelines prepared by TCI to setup the teams (stacked in the favor of the British), and we bundled up to brave the great outdoors.  As we moved our way through 6 short rounds of capture the flag I would stop the games to change the rules, continuously tweaking the rules in favor of the Americans and away from the British.  Each time the rules were tweaked as a class we would huddle together to make connections between the changing rules and what really happened in history.  For example, at one point the American team could win the round simply by not losing, meaning they just had to protect their flag, much like the Americans and George Washington realized that to defeat the British they had to avoid a crushing defeat or capture.

As the games wore on the British team became increasingly frustrated, and this included calls by many to just quit, especially in light of the fact that they would receive no reward for winning, whereas the American team was promised a reward. Again, connections to the content.  The Americans were promised a reward: their freedom and independence. By the time the final round rolled around the class was cold and wet, the British team was ready to call it a day, and the Americans were declared the victors.  We shook hands and quickly hustled back inside.

Back in the classroom as we warmed, we discussed the varying changes to the rules that frustrated the British but pleased the Americans.  Connections to historical content that we haven’t even studied yet were flying left and right.  It was fairly easy to drive home the point that by the war’s end the people of Britain, including the soldiers, were growing weary of such a long and seemingly pointless conflict.  Over the next few days we will dive deeper into the American Revolution and gain a deeper understanding of the facts and reality of what happened.  What we did today was a fantastic previewing activity that we will be able to continually refer to throughout our study of the American Revolution.

Throughout the day students were talking about what we did in history class, about how much fun they had, and how cool class was today.  Even better than their excitement for class was the number of light bulb moments that took place on one blustery day in October.  I am confident that this lesson was one that many will remember for years to come, and that the underlying concepts (strengths and weaknesses of the Americans and British, and why the Americans won) will be understood and remembered by my students. To put it bluntly, they will “just get it.”

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