Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Using the Talk Show Format to Teach History

December 18, 2014 Updated December 17, 2014

I am a San Marino High School (CA) Social Studies teacher and for the past several years I have taught various 9th and 10th grade Modern World History courses.

To help my students better understand the content, I created Talk Show where students work collaboratively in groups of 5-7 on the following tasks:

  1. Produce a television talk show script (10 minute maximum) related to a topic of historical significance featuring a host and four guests
  2. Present the script to an audience consisting of someone other than the teacher and students in the class.

Work on this project starts in the fall and ends mid March.


The teacher and students need to engage in various classroom activities and the teacher must be willing to provide the students with ample time over the course of three, nine-week quarters to work on the project (with in-class work on the project to take place once a week for a class-period lasting no more than 55 minutes.)

The teacher should begin the year by telling the students that:

    • The Guest’s Life Story
    • Things We Hope the Guest Would Say
    • Reason(s) this Guest May Not fit the Bill
    • Images Viewed
    • Web Pages Perused and/or Online Articles Read
    • Video Files Watched
    • Library Books/Newspapers/Magazines Read
    • Internet Research Log
    • Library Research Log
    • Miscellaneous Research Log

Host: Nicole Clarke – This SMHS sophomore started the show off by saying:

“Hello everybody and welcome back to yet another segment of Rights and Responsibilities. My name is Nicole Clarke and in the next ten minutes we’re going to take a close look at one of this country’s most important and best known constitutional rights  . . . that being the right of free speech.

Now as it relates to this right, we’re going to specifically raise two major questions.

Question #1: Do people in our country, in the name of free speech, have the right to burn the American flag in public? And question #2: regardless of whether we, as American’s, have this right, don’t we all have a responsibility to show more respect to this country’s flag than to light it on fire.

Now to help us explore these questions, we have joining us today individuals from four different walks of life.

Nicole then introduced and interviewed each of the four guests:

Guest #1: Gregory Lee Johnson - This famous American flag burner proudly boasted how he was the winner in the Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson, the case in which the court declared that American’s have a first amendment free speech right to burn a flag in public.

Guest #2: John Bradley – This Word War II hero and Iwo Jima flag raiser took great offense to Johnson’s boasting. He described in detail how he and his fellow Marines risked their lives for the flag on Iwo Jima and that he thought, if only out of sheer respect for all these men, that no one in America should ever be allowed to burn a flag in public.

Guest #3: Thomas Jefferson – his founding Father and expert on the 1st Amendment’s free speech clause revealed his rationale for the first amendment’s free speech clause. He further pointed out that when he drafted the language found in the clause, neither he, nor any other colonists, were thinking for even a minute about how future flag burners might one day use the first amendment to protect their right to burn the flag. On the other hand, when pressed, Jefferson in fact offered up language that suggested, if he were alive today, he would probably have to support, though no doubt reluctantly, the right of all American’s to burn the flag in public, if only because of his belief that speech should never be curbed when the speech is made for a political purpose.

Guest #4: Kristin Rivers  - This 1960’s flower child claimed that though he once in fact took part in a burning of an American flag during a anti-Vietnam War protest in the 1960’s, he in no way could side with Johnson. He pointed out that though many might think he, and his fellow hippies, would readily side with Bradley, he wouldn’t do it, claiming that hippies burned the flag to protest American involvement in Vietnam, not because they hated America (as Johnson claimed he does). Hippies, Rivers asserted, didn’t hate anyone. They were all about peace and love, the exact opposite of what the flag burner Johnson is all about, Rivers asserted. Rivers therefore dissociated himself from Johnson, yet at the same time he wasn’t able to embrace Bradley, disgusted by the fact that Bradley risked his life for a flag. Conflict, Rivers asserted, must be resolved peacefully.

In the waning minutes of the show and in an attempt to lower the tension that had developed on stage, the host, Nicole, said:

“Whoa Mr. Johnson, Mr. Bradley, Mr. Rivers, take it down a notch.

I can’t let you go guys on like this. We are running out of time and I still have some public opinion poll findings that I want you all to take a look at.  And in that regard, we are going to start with the slide I’m putting up now.

It shows the results of a 2006 USA Gallup Poll, in which people across this country were asked:  Do you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment that would allow congress to make it illegal to burn the American flag?

Now as you can see from the slide 44% of Americans polled said “yes" and 54% said “no."

So by at least an 11% margin it seems that Americans as a whole do not want to see flag burning declared illegal.

Now that’s surely interesting but what about today, you might ask?  Especially in terms of young people across this country?

Well to find out the answer to that question, I went to San Marino High School recently to asked nearly 200 students there the exact same question asked of the general public in the 2006 USA Gallup Poll . . . and the results . . .

. . . they were exactly the same as those revealed by the USA Gallup Poll.

Now I’m sure each of you would just love to have a say as it relates to the results of these two polls, but I’m sorry but we have run out of time today.  

So I’m going to have to close out now, but before I do I would like to thank all four of you for coming and sharing your views with us on this segment of Rights & Responsibilities.

Because of you, we’ve all learned a great deal today, with me personally having learned that, above all else, I agree with something Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia just said recently and that is "If it was up to me, I would throw (pointing at Gregory Johnson) this bearded, sandal-wearing flag burner into jail.”

I know, I know, Mr. Johnson, you want to say something in response, but that’s it for today. So until next time, this is Nicole Clarke signing off!

Throughout the show, various slides appeared on a screen located off to the side of the guests. These slides included, among other things, photos of Johnson burning the flag, the flag raising in Iwo Jima, the 1st Amendment Free Expression Clause, Vietnam war protesters, hippies, etc.

Harry Truman and the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb

  • Harry Truman
  • Joseph Stalin
  • William Leahy
  • Leo Szilard

Harry Truman and the Firing of Douglas MacArthur

  • Harry Truman
  • Douglas MacArthur
  • Stanley McChrystal
  • Michael Mullen

Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement

  • Martin Luther King
  • Malcolm X
  • Booker T. Washington
  • Marcus Garvey    

Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Revolution

  • Mao Zedong
  • Chiang Kai Shek
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Thomas Jefferson

Queen Victoria and the Boxer Rebellion

  • Queen Victoria
  • Empress Dowager Cixi
  • Mangal Pandey (a Sepoy)
  • Hideki Tojo

Nana Sahib and the Great Rebellion of 1857

  • Nana Sahib
  • James Dalhousie
  • Bahadur Shah
  • Mahatma Gandhi

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Social Studies/History
  • 9-12 High School

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