Matt Benjamin Finds Creative Ways to Teach Empathy for WWI Soldiers

At Delaware Valley Friends School, a World War I lesson isn't just read from a book; it becomes A creative, engaging learning experience. Students in Matt Benjamin's class entered the room to lined-up desks, stacked chairs and sounds of war broadcasting over the speakers. They were not allowed to get comfortable in their seats but quickly told to take only a notebook and a writing instrument to the floor. Matt showed a short video on trench warfare to provide some background knowledge. Then, the multisensory learning began as students stepped into the shoes of soldiers and took shelter on the floor in the "trenches" behind the rows of desks. The students, to avoid being seen by anyone, were asked to stay low as Matt read first-hand accounts of what trench warfare was like. The students heard about some of the struggles and horrors soldier's faced such as shell shock, gas masks, rats, lice, lack of food, boredom, and fear. After each first-hand account was read, students discussed in groups how they would feel and cope if they found themselves in similar circumstances. To memorialize their lesson, students picked from a gallery of photos from the time period. They were provided a template and asked to make an Instagram post that chronicled what was happening in the photo based on what they learned in their trench warfare simulation. Not only was Matt's trench warfare lesson creative, engaging and multisensory, but it helped the students approach this difficult subject matter with empathy for the soldiers, many not much older than they are now. It was a glimpse into what it might have been like to be a soldier during WWI that they are sure to remember.