Leaders of Change

Language Arts Activity

Students research the lives of innovative military, political, scientific, and artistic leaders. Then students dramatize what they learn about each figure's influence on history and knowledge.


Reference materials, including biographies


  1. Explain to students that in any great age, civilization has individuals whose labors literally change history and human knowledge. They might appear in any culture, and often their achievements have an influence that is felt well beyond their own group. Ask students for suggestions of people they have read about who fit this description.

  2. Tell students they are going to choose one notable historical figure and research his or her life. They will need to learn enough about that person so that they can role-play him or her. Have students seek out their subjects in the following areas:

  3. Ask each student to prepare a presentation (about 5 or 10 minutes long) in which she or he, in character, describes how she or he has affected history, for example, by changing the map of the world, expanding learning, giving people longer lives, or creating great art. Each presentation should include a visual that demonstrates how that person affected history. For example, Captain Cook might present annotated maps to shows how his discoveries changed human knowledge of geography. Michelangelo might show pictures of the Sistine Chapel in comparison with works by earlier artists.


Encourage dramatic dialogues across the ages by bringing together characters in similar fields and having them share their knowledge and experiences. For example, Henry VIII might ask his daughter Elizabeth I what she did about religious issues during her reign. Genghis Khan might want to compare military campaigns with Napoleon Bonaparte. The physician Galen could be eager to learn what Joseph Lister learned about preventing infections.

Students can create a living timeline by arranging themselves in chronological order with their visuals. The visuals can also be used to create a display that shows the ongoing expansion of knowledge. Students can fill in gaps and add more recent developments.

Students can create a historical newspaper in which they write about the different historical characters. They should use all the devices of a modern newspaper, such as news or feature articles, interviews, profiles, and editorial cartoons. Encourage them also to use various graphic devices to present information.

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