Student-written “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories for learning history

“Choose Your Own Adventure” Additions | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day….

A look at Larry Ferlazzo’s edublogs will reveal a real respect for student-written “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories as learning tools.


A key concept that’s important for students to learn is the importance of engaging with the text — not just being a passive reader.

There are obviously many effective instructional strategies to help them practice that lesson.  One pretty explicit way is for them to have access to reading “choose your own adventure” stories where they are periodically given choices of what they want characters to do, and then participate in the construction of the story itself…

In addition, writing these kinds of stories has the potential of being a fun and educational group writing activity for English Language Learners and other students.

~ Larry Ferlazzo

“The Best Places to read and write ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Stories”

By following the link at the top of the page and the one credited in the above quote, you can see a large number of online tools to engage students both in reading and writing these active stories.  Some of those found by Mr. Ferlazzo, are set on a historic stage–the link at the top of the page, for example, includes a Jamestown version.

Historians often discuss what might have been had X not happened, if Y had not done that, if Z had this, etc.  What-if books on various outlooks have been published (although I find many of them snarky and irritating in their scapegoating).  But, I like the potential application of a student-written “Choose Your Own Adventure” Story to address either major decisions that were made that we question today, or to consider the day-to-day decisions of someone from a distant culture.

For example, I have decided to add an in-class activity when I get to my Crusades class in Western Civ. 101.  In this version, I will provide the introduction to the story and the first decision.  I plan on using blue books, pasting in the introduction, and having small groups write in the subsequent story and choices.

Obviously, regarding the Crusades, I could create a story about Pope Urban II’s decision to call fighting men to volunteer at the Council of Clermont, but that’s not the direction I am going to take.

Urban II's call for Crusade at the Council of Clermont

Instead, I am going to start the story with a young noble man whose father has just passed away and who had donated some of his best lands to a neighboring monastery.  The first choice will be whether the young man should take the lands back by force or appeal to his lord for aid and advice.  Should he choose to attack, he is captured by his lord to whom the monastery appealed and after being tried will serve his penance by going on the Crusade to Jerusalem.  If he seeks mediation from his lord, part of the negotiation will be to leave the lands in the monastery’s care while he goes on the Crusade.

From there, the students will use their primary sources to inform their creation of the rest of the story.  The directions will guide them to create conflicts on the journey, in battle and in Jerusalem that will require decision-making and two possible consequences in each instance.

I am debating an alternative method.  In this instance it would be a PowerPoint version and as the two options were provided the class would debate for one or the other.  In this way, students would consider some options by a similar means but be forced to reason their way through it.  I would have some additional controls for choosing realistic possibilities and pinpoint citations to explain those possibilities.

In a perfect world, I would love to see students consider and critique the major decisions in history, such as: Ramses II’s decision to sign the peace treaty of Hattusili; Hannibal’s decision not to attack Rome; Constantine’s decision to convert to Christianity; Gregory the Great’s decision to send missionaries to England; Charlmagne’s decision to meet the Muslims; Harold’s decision to rush to Hastings and meet William the Conqueror; and Innocent III’s decision to except the Dominicans and the Franciscans and declare crusade on the Albigensians; etc.

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How to achieve this in a survey course during a brief semester and have it be a meaningful learning exercise instead of a mere game?  How can one hope to understand Constantine’s decision without doing [at the very least, secondary source] research?  Veteran historians disagree as it is and they have the benefit of being professional historians with advanced degrees!  I am sure it can be done, but I confess, on those larger questions, I do not, yet, see how best to achieve it in as a student activity.  The PowerPoint version may be a viable way to tweak the lecture format and still challenge the students to think their way through, but I am not sure how meaningful the non-historical alternatives are without a larger base knowledge than a 101 class permits.

1 Comment

Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning

One response to “Student-written “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories for learning history

  1. Pingback: Gaming the Past: How to Teach History with Video Games | Brush off the dust! History now!

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