Crumbling Kingdoms

My favorite Mickey's Commandment changes often. Usually it is the one I happen to be working with at a given moment. (My least favorite is often the one I'm struggling to turn into a chapter of my book at a given moment!) The one I come back to most often though is commandment 9: For every ounce of treatment, add a ton of fun.

It's also the one I forget about most often. Some days I reverse the command and have a ton of treatment with a little fun but many days it's all treatment and no fun. This is why it's important to be an engaging presenter. That, however, is not what I'm writing about today (it's coming!) Today, I want to talk about designing with the "ton of fun" part as a goal.

My students today experienced my Crumbling Kingdoms lab (found at the bottom of my Christendom page). In the lab they take on the role of leaders of the newly formed barbarian kingdoms immediately after the fall of the Roman Empire. They attempt to complete 4 fairly fun-on-their-own activities; choosing a homeland, designing a flag, creating a few laws and writing an argument as to why they should be the leaders of this new kingdom. Within those tasks lies very little content (treatment.) There's a map to analyze on the homeland choice activity but that's really about it.

The learning comes from the experience. As they complete the tasks the instructions sheets get harder and harder to read. I'm simulating the loss of knowledge after the fall of Rome. Inevitably they start complaining "I can't read this!" I just stare. Eventually they ask "Can you read this for me?" At which point I get on my high horse and say, "Well, well, well, look who needs help now. I guess you should have thought about that before you killed me!" They always insist they didn't. I say "You barbarians removed the authority of Rome. I'm the authority in this room so I guess you removed me. Figure it out on your own!" The more I play it up the more fun it is. They get intensely frustrated by the odd writing but they laugh the whole time.

It's collaborative, it's fun and I almost didn't do it this year. We've started Impact Teams this year. There's a lot to it but the main thing is that it requires students to have extra time to provide peer feedback - frequently. This is extremely time consuming. I figured I'd have to squeeze in at least 3 days into each unit. When I looked over my Christendom unit Crumbling Kingdoms seemed like one that would have to go. It doesn't really provide much content and definitely doesn't add anything to our unit assessment. It is, however, a great transition and helps explain many of the choices made by leaders in Christendom.

Plus, it's just plain fun.

I'm happy to say I went ahead and did it. My kids had an awesome time doing the lab today. I even got to make some last second improv adjustments. In the past I've always done this lab with assigned partners. I do most things this way. Today, I decided to let the students choose their own groups and also to choose how many members they wanted. I had groups ranging from 1 to 11. Invariably the smaller groups completed more tasks. The larger groups, however, were more successful deciphering the mixed up reading sheets. More people means more arguments but it also means more support! This was a great lesson to add to the experience.

Additionally, after my first class asked to use colored pencils for their flag and I just stared at them they went to get them without my approval. When they opened the drawer they found it was nearly empty. All that was in there were a handful of broken crayons. That was not intentional. A couple of my students have been organizing my colored pencil drawer and had put all of them into plastic bags. When the kids asked where they were I used all of my D.U.H. skills and quickly said "Well, I guess you destroyed the buildings and tools too. Nice job barbarians!" For the next period I hid the rulers as well. They noticed immediately and concluded on their own that all the support of the Romans was gone.

It ended up being very authentic learning. These kids are going to understand why peasants were willing to turn their land over to feudal lords. They are going to understand why the church had so much power of people's daily lives. They got to experience the treatment buried in a ton of fun!

I used a similar style of activity to introduce government with my 8th graders last year as well. It didn't have the "crumbling" aspect but they similarly had to build from scratch without any support or model. It was equally fun and chaotic!

Here's the lesson plan!

Crumbling Kingdoms

Purpose: Experience the chaos in Europe in the decades following the Fall of Rome by creating your own kingdom.

Set Up: Download the PowerPoint file with the printable instruction sheets.

Print copies of each of the instruction sheets. In the past I printed a class set of the first two and a half set of the last two. If you choose to do the first activity as a class on the screen (which I've done the last few years) then it does not need to be printed. Determine how you are going to divide your groups. I've typically done this in assigned pairs and small groups but letting them choose their own group size is effective as well and helps show the different challenges faced by large and small kingdoms.

Bellwork: With either the first instruction sheet on their desk or projected on the screen students complete the first task. They review the map of the barbarian kingdoms in Europe after the fall of Rome and choose which they would want to lead.


1. Review the story set up for the activity. Rome has fallen. The government that had organized and protected the people is gone with it. The emperor is gone. Educated people have fled their cities so they are gone. Your tribe must establish it is the legitimate leader of your kingdom. You will complete 4 tasks as proof.

2. Have each student complete task 1 individually. Alternately, if they did it for bellwork have a few volunteers discuss their answers with the class.

3. Put them into their teams. Tell them that as soon as their team has completed a task they should come to you with their work. If it is completed properly you will give them the next task.

4. By task 2 hopefully some will start to complain that they don't understand what it says. Your response should be something like "Of course you don't. You're an uneducated barbarian. I can read it fine! Too bad you killed me!" When they come up for approval be very picky. If they are missing anything send them back. On Task 3, for example, if they haven't outlawed most types of violence I do not accept it. Do not tell them what they are missing (you are dead remember!?). Let the frustration set in. That's the point.

For your reference here's the translations:

  • Task 2

One way to inspire people is with a flag. Use the directions below to make one.

1. Trace this box onto your paper.

2. Draw an image on it to inspire people.

3. Use at least three colors.

4. Explain what each color and image represents.

When complete, turn in to your teacher for the next task.

  • Task 3

Any government needs laws - so make some okay?

Design a set of basic laws for your country.

1. You must have at least three laws.

2. Remember, the goal is for your people to feel safe.

3. Your laws can be about anything but your people need safety.

  • Task 4

To seal the deal write two paragraphs explaining why your kingdom is the best.

5. To heighten the urgency and competition periodically announce when groups reach a new task level and the time remaining to complete the challenges.


6. With about 5 minutes left announce that time is up. Reward the tribe that made it the furthest. If none make it to task 4 I usually give no reward pointing out this is another reason why it would be good to have an organized government. Debrief the activity asking students to explain why it got harder to read the instructions as time went on. That is the key lesson takeaway that things were immediately challenging but quickly got even worse.

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