History Is Alive! Create a Living Wax Museum in Your Classroom
Perhaps you’ve seen them on Pinterest or filling up your own social media feed — living wax museum classroom activities are growing in popularity everywhere! Typically completed by third-, fourth-, or fifth-grade students, these research projects are an immersive and downright cute way for your students to learn about historical figures and their contributions to society. They have the added bonus of incorporating history, reading, writing, and art into one project.
If a project like this seems somewhat overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be! Follow these steps and use our pre-made templates to create a living wax museum classroom activity that you’ll be excited to repeat year after year!
Choosing a Historical Figure
The first step, of course, is letting your students choose a famous person that they are excited to learn more about! To avoid multiple presentations on Taylor Swift and LeBron James, many teachers provide parameters that their students must follow when choosing a historical figure. These can include:
- A person who is important to your state (if you’re studying local or state history) or someone from America (if you’re studying American history).
- A person from a certain time period. Some teachers require that the figure must be deceased to avoid their students choosing current pop culture figures.
- A person associated with something you learned about earlier in the year. For example, students could choose Sir Isaac Newton if they studied gravity or Sonia Sotomayor if they completed a unit on the Supreme Court.
Research and Writing
A living wax museum project may be your students’ first experience with researching, taking notes, and writing reports, so scaffolding these steps will be important. You can begin by:
- Showing them how to find a quality, unbiased resources
- Demonstrating note-taking as writing down short, key details rather than copying full sentences
- Outlining all the necessary elements of a research paper including a cover, title page, and reference page
Use library or computer lab time to let your students begin their research. This type of research project provides a great opportunity to partner with your school librarian and learn about new research resources available to your class. Your students should use at least three resources and their information should come from both printed and online sources.
We’ve created a downloadable note-taking sheet that you can hand out to students. This page will help them outline the major milestones in their figures’ lives.
This will also provide a template to ensure their final presentation follows a chronological order and has a cohesive flow. Set a due date for when students must turn in their notes for your review. This will help you identify if any students need to find additional information to complete the story of their figure.
Using their notes, students can then move on to writing their final paper. This should entail several drafts and both peer review and teacher review.
Displays and Costumes
Now comes the fun part! To create the actual wax museum within your classroom, students will need to create a display. Provide each student with a large sheet of butcher paper. They will fill the paper with the name of their historical figure, year of birth to the year of death, photos they find online, and drawings or images associated with their person. This will be the backdrop they stand in front of during their presentation.
Your students will also need to create a costume they can dress in to make their figure “come to life.” Not every parent has a trunk of historical clothing or is an expert seamstress, so let the students know they can rely heavily on props to help represent their figure. For example, with a pair of goggles, a leather jacket, and a white scarf, you have an instant Wright brother. However, this project can certainly be completed without the use of costumes if you feel this will be too difficult for families with our resources.
As “museum visitors” wander throughout the classroom (some teachers even use the gymnasium or cafeteria for this event), they will stop before each student and listen to a short speech about the life of the person they represent. To expand the scope of this project to include computer skills, your students can also create presentations using iPads or other classroom technology, if these tools are readily available in your school.