During a lively simulation, Grade 8 students at King School re-enacted alliances and negotiations that developed between countries at the onset of World War I. The students began the role-playing activity with a think-pair-share exercise that encouraged students to reflect on what they learned about war, connect ideas, and discuss questions that stimulate curiosity and critical thinking on the subject. What is war? Why do countries go to war? Is war justified?
Equipped with information sheets containing facts and data for reference, each student role-played as diplomatic representatives of the eight major European powers before the war began – Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia, and Serbia. The students used the provided information to begin strategically negotiating with one another to form alliances.
“I treated the simulation realistically, as though it were an actual war we had to prepare for. I think this made the simulation more fun and exciting,” said Amy Powell ’26, who represented Great Britain in the exercise.
Chaos erupted shortly after the simulation began when history teacher Kenneth Lewis began issuing notes with classified information to each country. The students were instructed to accept the information on the notes as truth which either clarified or confused the relationships between negotiating countries.
“The objective of the simulation was to show how complicated it was to not only make alliances but also to keep them,” said Dillon Maltese ’26, who deferred to the use of a world map to make decisions about what alliances to pursue as a diplomat for Germany.
Some of the negotiations resulted in lies, misconceptions, and fierce competition. “Now, I understand how hard it was for the representatives of each country to negotiate. Before the simulation, I didn’t really consider how confusing and hard it would be to negotiate and form alliances,” said Sienne Barlow ’26 who also represented Great Britain.
At the conclusion of the simulation, the class reviewed the outcomes, determining what alliances were successful in preparing for the war.
“The students began to really understand the complexities of negotiation and how tenuous relationships can be between countries,” said Lewis, adding that the activity accomplished everything he hoped for.
“More importantly, students came out of their shells as diplomatic representatives of the countries to fight for beneficial and strategic agreements with each other,” he said. “The best learning opportunities can certainly be fun as well!”