The Notables: Making Significant Historical Personalities Come Alive, pp. 4 of 8

Choosing a Significant Notable Character to Research

Over the next couple of days students are asked to generate a list of possible significant Notable character names that they think meet the criteria, through prior study or research, by asking parents, or from the news. As a whole class we discuss and record the “approved” Notable names on a chart and organize them into categories (e.g., people who have made contributions or lasting impact in politics, the arts, economic life, by bringing about social change, etc.).

Using this class chart, students then write down their first, second, and third Notable character choices. I typically require each student to have a different Notable to provide more variety and learning opportunities in the classroom. There are always plenty of Notables to go around - while teaching 5th grade one year, there were 217 different Notables represented as the entire grade level participated in this project!   Giving the students their first choice is the goal, but in the event of duplication I interview each student individually about why he or she chose the character to help make the best decision. Usually they are not too disappointed to take their second or third choice.

Each year at least one student puts forth a Notable character that fits the defined criteria, yet is not necessarily a good role model, or person of “character” that you would want your students to learn about at their particular age. For example, you may want to steer students away from choosing infamous, albeit significant, figures such as Hitler, Tojo, or Saddam Hussein. One way to do this is to add a “P.G. rating” of significance to the list: the person’s life should have more of a positive, rather than negative, effect on others.

At least one student each year also makes a case for one of their family members being a Notable character. When asked to defend the family member’s characteristics against the established criteria, most family members don’t pass the test. Also, there are usually not enough resource materials available for researching the family figure. And as a teacher it is a relief that the criteria list takes the “blame” for their mom, dad, grandpa, or uncle not making it as a Notable!

And then came Lt. General Willie Florendo, grandfather of one of my students. This man, an important figure in Philippine history, not only fit all of the criteria listed, but was the first example of a living resource that could be used in the research process. Along with numerous articles and published books about Florendo, the grandfather and granddaughter wrote countless emails back and forth as a primary source of information for her research paper.  The motivation to research and my student’s excitement with each email received proved to be a powerful, touching, and meaningful experience for all of us. Grandfather was even able to send original artifacts, such as his hat, name patches, books, plaques, for his granddaughter to use in her presentation (see Figure 2: Notables Photos).

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!