Social Studies Strategies: Tableau in the Classroom

By Monica Burns 09.16.2014 blog

There are different ways to breathe life into your Social Studies lessons – including standing absolutely still. A tableau is simply a group of people representing a moment in time without moving. Social Studies teachers have introduced this technique to their lessons to help students think deeply about different significant events in history. The goal is to analyze a moment from the past and act it out in a still frame, as if a photograph or painting was being made to capture the action.

After describing this concept to your class you may want to show them some examples of famous paintings or photographs from historical events. The LIFE Photo Archive and DOCSTeach are two great resources for primary source documents. Both have images from different periods in history that you can relate to the work happening in your classroom. Analyze these examples with your class and discuss answers to the same questions you would pose when examining a primary source document: Who is in this picture? What are they doing? How do they feel? All of these questions can foster a discussion and help students think about the action behind the still image.

Once students are comfortable with the idea of a tableau and have seen examples of images from history, divide them into groups. You can assign each group a specific moment in history that connects to your curriculum.  Remind students of the difference between acting something out and capturing figures in one still frame. They will have to decide among themselves what roles they will take on and how they will represent actions and feelings without moving or speaking.

Depending on how far you take this project, you may ask students to use props or bring in costumes for their tableau. They can choose what items fit within a certain period in history and how that item will help tell a story. When students show off their tableau you may ask them to write an introduction that is read to the audience. Whether the audience is their classmates or part of a school assembly, this introduction will provide a context that also demonstrates their understanding of the subject matter.

To capture your students’ tableau you might want to snap a picture for their portfolio and use this image to help them reflect upon their creation in writing after the presentation. If you want to introduce technology into this activity try using a green screen. Have students stand in front of a green screen and use an app like Do Ink! to place a photograph or video clip in the background to compliment their tableau.

Combining drama techniques with Social Studies instruction can be a powerful way to reach students with a variety of learning styles. Students will be able to interact with course content in a unique way as they are asked to act out a scene from history. For students who may not want to speak in front of the class, this still life presentation is a great start for helping them build confidence.

How would you introduce this activity to your students?

Monica Burns is an Education Consultant, EdTech Blogger, and Apple Distinguished Educator. Visit her site for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher.


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