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The context: I use this tactic in my introductory history of Christianity classes where college students have great difficulty connecting to the very different world out of which Christianity emerged.

The pedagogical purpose: This activity provides students with a new perspective on a historical situation, and a personal connection to a distant time and place. It asks students to critically reflect on issues relevant to the past and present while providing a venue for productive discussion in the classroom. This strategy is meant to accentuate a historical period or theme.

Description the strategy: Students are assigned a reading prior to class. The activity works in any historical period in which there were two conflicting sides to an issue; for example, Martin Luther versus the Papacy during the 16th century, or the tensions in the early Christian world of the Didache. When I use this tactic with the Didache, I place students in pairs and ask them to choose either the role of a Christian disciple or gentile convert. I then guide the class through an imagination activity in which I provide details of the historical setting and direct a series of questions that require them to engage the text and explore the major issues of the setting and document. (For example: There is a wandering person who wants to stay with your community – should you let them?)

Questions should encourage students to explore the boundaries of their paired roles. It is helpful to ask questions that place them at odds, allowing students to see both sides of an issue. After students make their responses, I guide them to relevant parts of the text, and help connect their decisions to the larger context of the lesson. Like the early Christians in the Didache, students' choices result in consequences; they may be cast out of the community, or made bishop.

Why it is effective: Pairing students allows them to engage consistently throughout the activity and take ownership of their role, which results in personalization of the material and better learning. Students are challenged to make choices with consequences relevant to their imaginary self, and as a result are able to more completely discuss the issues of the time period. The activity asks students to critically reflect on issues relevant to the past and present while providing a venue for productive discussion in the classroom. Students benefit from prompt feedback that keeps the discussion rooted in the events of the past. This activity provides a way for the more complex material characteristic of higher education to make use of the long-recognized tool of imagination.