This original summarizing activity was inspired by Barry Lane's awesome book, 51 Wacky We-Search Reports. Barry's fifty-one writing formats in his book teach students how to summarize (not plagiarize) facts from readings or from class notes. The book also encourages humor in the classroom, and using it will help you build a community among your student writers. If you don't own this book, but like the assignment on this page, we strongly recommend you purchase a copy.
Overview of this Wacky Writing Activity:
We often look to society to define for us who we should aspire to be, what we should desire to do with our lives, how we should look and what we should buy and own. The problem is…despite how obvious they make it seem…society all too often gets it wrong! It would be great to be a celebrity, right? Maybe not. Beautiful people have everything! Sure about that?
The concept of the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” assumes anyone would want to be rich. Well that’s obvious, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to be a millionaire? Hmmmm…maybe if you looked closer, you or I wouldn’t.
Unfortunately, history tends to do the same thing. It glamorizes and celebrates people and events while glossing over a much uglier side. Just how cool, fun or interesting would it have been to be a Roman Emperor, a Medieval Knight, a Greek Olympic Athlete or an Ancient Egyptian? In reality, if you knew the whole story, you probably would not have wanted to be any of them!
Get ready, because its time to look at the dark underbelly of those glamorous historical figures and events we have come to know and love. Its time to play…Who DOESN”T want to be a millionaire?!?
In small groups, have students brainstorm a list of things that would be super cool about being a millionaire and/or a celebrity. What could you do, buy or be? Choose your top five. Share answers as a class and record them on the board. Students can record their ideas in the first section of this graphic organizer, which sets up this entire lesson.
Then get back into groups and brainstorm all of the problems that might accompany your newfound wealth and fame? “Friends” trying to use you, jealous people, becoming the target of crime, no freedom to go into public in peace, more stuff to worry about, etc. Share and record.
Say, "Perhaps your simple, humdrum, pedestrian life is not sounding so bad after all. Perhaps you might be happier giving that million dollars away or letting someone else be in front of all those cameras."
With our newfound exploration of the darker side of wealth and fame, let's have some fun. Let’s apply those ideas to history and turn the game show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” on its wacky head.
We are going to create a series of historical questions where, round by round, contestants with the right answers actually LOSE the money. Round one is worth negative fifty dollars, round two is -$100 and so on. Perhaps a lucky winner will make it all the way to the end and have to give away $1,000,000 dollars!
All trivia questions will be tied to a historical figure or time period that needs to have its whole story told. Give each group the mentor text for this lesson which is a book from the wonderful Scholastic series, “You Wouldn’t Want to..” which explores all the reasons why you wouldn’t have wanted to be there. (Their titles explore over 30 topics including everything from Vikings
to Civil War, to Pioneers, the Wild West and Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, etc.) Before reading, groups should brainstorm all the great or “romantic” things they have heard and learned about their topic. Then read the mentor text and note down lots of new information about what it was really like. Their final task is to develop 11 trivia questions of increasing importance that reveal unknown or neglected information that de-glorifies their topic. Modeling the game show, volunteers will take turns trying to answer other groups’ multiple choice questions and giving away $50, $100, $500, $1000, $5000, $10,000, $50,000, $100, 000, $250,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000 with each correct answer.
Extension Activity: Once students have created their game show questions, consider having them select their favorite three newly-learned facts to help them shape and write a persuasive or expository essay that convinces an audience how bad things were for the topic they have researched.
A Funny Tip:
Barry Lane’s Tool #8 (from 51 Wacky We-Search Reports) is “The Undertow” which asks students to find the irony in their topic. Ask students to pick the perfect questions that show the irony or double standards associated with their topic. For example if a group was showing the atrocities that took place in order to build the Great Pyramid at Giza, a question might read…
How many people were buried inside this great tomb which took somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 workers (thousands of whom died in the process) more than two decades to complete?
a. 100,000 b. 50,000 c. 10,000 d. 1
A Teacher-Made Sample: (from Rob Stone, this lesson's creator)
Tonight’s version of “Who Doesn’t Want to be a Millionaire” will feature the age old question…Who doesn’t want to be a Roman Gladiator? Let’s begin. Contestant one, I am sure you are familiar with the rules. You will be asked a series questions based on Roman Gladiators. The dollar value will be allowed to give away multiplies with each question you answer correctly. You can quit when you want, but remember you have three lifelines to use at your disposal. Phone a classmate, poll the class, and narrow the answers down to two. Let’s begin.
$50 Question …Today, groups of people with different culture living near each other is called diversity. In Ancient Rome, people from different cultures than Rome were called...
a. foreigners b. outsiders c. barbarians d. neighbors
$100 Question…If you decided to war with the mighty Roman Legions and lost, you would be...
a. forced to sign a treaty
b. killed, tortured, sold into slavery or made into a gladiator
c. warned to never do it again d. made into an ally and a partial citizen of the empire
$ 500 Question…Captured prisoners of war might have a variety of fates. The worst fate of all would be to become...
a. a quarry slave working in the heat and dust of rock quarries, breaking rocks
a galley slave rowing the Roman navy while being flogged, whipped and beaten
c. a farming slave working the land in rain or shine living in filthy, dirt floored huts
a Roman gladiator
$1,000 Question…While working out to get in shape and training to be a great fighter, a Roman Gladiator in training also could look forward to...
a. free weekend passes to visit family
b. a law against cruel and unusual punishment
c. being branded, lashed 100 times and put in the stocks for a week for escape attempts
d. a large variety of tasty food at mealtime
$5,000 Question…On the day before the match, you are fed a good meal and you get to sleep in a comfy bed. Heck you might even be able to have a messenger deliver a message to family or friends in the crowd. Then you step into the ring and say...
a. “it is an honor to fight in front of the honorable emperor and noble Roman crowd”
b. “we are who about to die salute you”
c. “may the best man win”
d. “I would like to thank God, my mom and my agent”
$10,000 Question…You are a trained fighter and highly motivated to win and thus, stay alive. All of the following are weapons you might be trained to use EXCEPT...
a. your mind
b. daggers, swords, spears and tridents
c. nets, lassos, shields
d. chain mail, helmets and armor
$50,000 Question…While the crowd is eating, drinking, gambling, cheering and listening to music, you are being matched with an opponent. If you get cold feet and try to run or not fight hard enough, your trainer/owner will most likely...
a. convince you that “you can do it”
b. prod you into the arena with a hot poker
c. promise you freedom if you win d. postpone the match or
let you pick a new foe
$100,000 Question…Unfortunately, you fall to a tougher opponent and he has you on your back with a dagger to your throat. He is not allowed to kill you without approval so you appeal to the emperor by raising one finger on your left hand. You feel you have fought bravely as the emperor turns to the crowd…any of these things can happen EXCEPT...
a. the crowd can demand the emperor grants you your freedom
the crowd can give a thumbs up, waving handkerchiefs which allows you to live
the crowd can give a thumbs down, which means you die
both gladiators have fought their best, a draw can be declared where nobody dies
$250,000 Question…Sometimes events were staged to honor great victories or celebrate Roman tradition. You might be asked to play a part in the spectacle either as a victorious Roman soldier who fights heroically and kills others or a hated enemy who is slaughtered in front of the crowd. Sometimes in these events...
a. all gladiators are set free as part of the celebration
b. the emperor joins in the fight
c. the arena is filled with water to reenact a sea battle
d. a Roman defeat is shown
$500,000 Question…Since the Romans controlled a vast area, they often imported exotic animals from around their empire to show the crowd. Unfortunately, it was less like a zoo and more like a slaughter. The animals were starved and prodded until they wanted to tear apart anything in their way. Sometimes animals fought and killed each other but other times they devoured prisoners or gladiators. The schedule of a day at the Coliseum would look like...
a. morning=animal vs. animal, early afternoon=animal vs. human, then human vs. human
morning=human vs. human, early afternoon=human vs. animal, then animal vs. animal
morning=human vs. animal, early afternoon=human vs. human, then animal vs. human
morning=animal vs. animal, early afternoon=human vs. human, then animal vs. human
$1,000,000 Question…Its over! The games end. The crowd favored your opponent and you are killed! Your body is...
a. drug away and dumped in a pit
b. delivered to Charon, ferryman of the Underworld
c. fed to the wild animals
d. given a proper burial as a Roman gladiator