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5 Fourth of July Activities that Would Make Benjamin Franklin Proud
The United States was founded on the principle of freedom, and engaging in Fourth of July activities is a great way for students to better understand and reflect upon the work of those who helped our nation gain its independence. As a founding father, an architect of the Declaration of Independence, and a great diplomat, Benjamin Franklin is an excellent subject to explore for Independence Day.
Growing up, my grandmother frequently told me we were related to Benjamin Franklin. Back then, I just dismissed her claim as a family myth. Years later, in 2001, my mother and I decided to hire the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to research our lineage. We were shocked to discover we actually were direct descendants of Franklin through his daughter, Sally Bache—I'm an eighth-generation grandchild! Since that time, I've enjoyed exploring my relative's legacy. These Fourth of July activities, inspired by the traits of Benjamin Franklin, can help to spark the next generation of leaders, innovators, and great thinkers.
Get Descriptive with Letter Writing
Benjamin Franklin was artful and dutiful, and he was especially sociable. Over the course of a very long life, he wrote thousands of letters to his family and friends. For this assignment, ask students to write a letter—or e-mail—to a friend or relative they haven't spoken to in a while. In his letters, Franklin discussed his work in vivid detail, shared stories, and often described the political climate of the time. Students should attempt to emulate that model. Additionally, Franklin often used a pseudonym when he wrote, creating an entirely new persona, which allowed him to present ideas that may have been considered controversial for the time or to showcase two sides of an argument. Challenge older students to do the same in their letters in order to reveal a different or unique point of view.
Have Students Embark on a Self-Directed Research Project
Even as a young child, Benjamin Franklin took great pleasure in learning new things. He was constantly reading, experimenting, observing, debating, and challenging the world around him. For this assignment, have your students choose a topic they're interested in, write down some questions they have on the subject, and then research the topic online. After students compile their information, they can share it with the class and discuss the next steps in their inquiry.
I had a student who was fascinated with criminal profiling. He wrote down questions he had about the field and then began researching. He now hopes to pursue that area of study in college!
Keep Reflection Journals
Benjamin Franklin was not a perfect man, and he believed in ongoing self-improvement. Franklin kept a journal, and each day, while he wrote and reflected, he asked himself, "What good have I done today?" Students can learn a great deal from asking themselves the same question. This project could take place over a few days, or you could keep it going over the course of the entire year. You might want to consider getting journals for your students through DonorsChoose, so they can reflect on the positive things they do to help make the world a better place every day.
Push Your Students to Make Their Voices Heard
Benjamin Franklin was intelligent and extremely hardworking. Despite the fact that at the time ambition and rebelliousness were considered negative traits, Franklin was always quick to take a stand when he witnessed any injustices or abuse of power. For this assignment, have your students take a stand on a current local, national, or international issue they feel strongly about. Have them write an essay on the topic or a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.
Students can take it one step further by contacting an elected official to express their view. In their correspondence, students should immediately state their key message, explain who they are, thank the official for his or her efforts to date, lay out the facts, and then request the specific action they'd like to see taken. In some cases, students will hear back from the recipient of their letter, and this can be a powerful lesson for students as it will help them understand the lasting impression of the written word.
Benjamin Franklin was extremely strategic and persuasive in his thinking, and he recognized that his passion for playing chess helped him become an effective diplomat. Chess enabled Franklin to cultivate the strategic thinking skills necessary to anticipate the moves of others during negotiation, and it helped him learn to think twice before making a hasty decision. Ask parents or alumni to donate chessboards, and then teach your students how to play the game. You may end up instilling a lifelong love of the game in students—it was a teacher who first introduced me to chess!
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Emulating and exploring the work of Benjamin Franklin through these Fourth of July activities can help students realize that they, too, have the power to make a difference in the world. These are great ways to celebrate the birth of our nation, and I know it would make my distant relative very proud.