You’re invited to a 1950s Party!

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To:

From: Ms. Nielsen

Time to meet and greet some of the biggest names of the 1950s!  There will be authentic 1950s music and entertainment, as well as refreshments.  Be prepared to rock around the clock!

Date: Tuesday 3/17, E period

You need to Bring:

  • Yourself in character (see back of invite)
  • Notes on your character
  • Food or drink to share (make it 1950s appropriate, look for products or recipes that were available in the 1950s)
  • Costume or prop for your character (5 pts. extra credit)

To wrap up a brief thematic unit about 1950s culture in America, I assessed my students with a party.  Each student was given an identity ahead of time and were asked to show up to the party in character as one notable individual from the period.  They were responsible for researching the person and being able to tell their peers and the teacher about the person’s life and accomplishments.  I displayed images of the people on the overhead, played 1950s music and served snacks (including a very ugly Jell-O Mold).  Students received credit for taking notes on a worksheet about their peers and for being able to explain their character to the teacher.

Guest List:

Celebrities/Entertainers:

Lucile Ball

Charles Van Doren

Dick Clark

Chuck Berry

Sidney Poitier

Jackie Gleason

Elvis

Audrey Meadows

Little Richard

Jackie Robinson

Jack Kerouac

Businessmen:

Ray Kroc

Politicians:

Thomas Dewey

Harry Truman

Dwight Eisenhower

Strom Thurmond

Academics:

Dr. Benjamin Spock

Michael Harrington

Lorraine Hansberry

Dr. Jonas Salk

Civil Rights Activists:

Linda Brown

Rosa Parks

Betty Friedan

Procedure: Several days or a week before the “party,” give students an invitation sheet such as the one above and on the back or a separate sheet, attach an assignment sheet that explain what they have to do.  It should give the character’s name and outline major facts they need to look for.  This will prevent everyone from bringing in a Wikipedia article and boring everyone with birthplaces and dates of death that won’t really help them understand what this person did in the 1950s.  Here is an example of the sheet I used:

Everyone is assigned a different 1950s character.  You are: Harry S. Truman.

You need to find a little bit about him to share with your classmates.  Look him up, take a few notes, and on the day of the 1950s party be able to explain to your peers:

–The election of 1948

–Truman’s views on Civil Rights (use specific examples)

–Truman’s “Fair Deal”

On the day of the 1950s party, you may carry note cards or notes around with you if necessary.  Your preparation for your character is worth up to 25 points.  Showing up in costume or with an appropriate prop is worth up to 5 extra credit points.


On the day of the party, play 1950s music and greet students at the door.  Encourage them to bring food and have napkins, cup, etc set up in a central location.  Have tables set up with clusters of chairs for mingling.  Explain the procedure before students begin mingling or eating.  Students have a set amount of time (depending on your class) to talk to each other individually or in small groups to get 3-5 facts about each character on their list.  They need to speak to everyone in the class and get the notes to get an A.  In classes of 22-25 students, there was sufficient time in a 55 minute class to do that.  At the end, you can wrap up with the class by asking what new things they learned or who their favorite party guest was.

Positives: Students were able to forge a personal connection with one person in the 1950s.  Some of my choices of role assignments were deliberate: a theater student got Lorraine Hansberry and a particularly gregarious student got Elvis.  Others were surprisingly successful.  I gave a particularly tough young woman who did not like history very much Betty Friedan.  She had no idea who at was at first, but on the day of the performance I was pleased to hear her telling her peers that she liked Betty because she wanted to be herself and didn’t let other people tell her what to do.

Negatives: A handful of students did not do the prep work or did a poor job and were unable to present to their peers.  All students were at least able to listen to each other and take notes.

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2 Responses to “You’re invited to a 1950s Party!”

  1. Becca Says:

    What qualified as a costume? If a student wore a suit, did that count?

    Kudos for trying to steer them away from Wikipedia. My students still want to use it (and cite it), even though you should be past even print encyclopedias in college.

  2. Whitney Nielsen Says:

    The costumes were very interesting. Some girls wore skirts and sweaters, our “Elvis” carried around a microphone and danced on command, and our “Ike” carried an over-sized “I like Ike” pin. It was understated, but fun.

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