History Superheroes

First – let me give credit where it is due  As educators, we often adapt the ideas we see from others – I want to give my utmost thanks to:

  1. Quinn Rollins, author of Play Like a Pirate and awesome Twitter friend, follow him @jedikermit.  I really would suggest buying his book as it is full of amazingly fun and engaging lessons for all classrooms – there are ideas that you can put in place right away that will change your approach to teaching.

2. I took an online course last year, Rise of Superheroes Class,  with Michael Uslan and Stan Lee! – I am not sure if it is still being offered, but I would highly recommend you check it out if you are into pop culture, comics, and history.  The teachers involved in the course created a Facebook group – feel free to join – (Comic Book Teachers – closed group).  At the conclusion of the course, we were tasked with submitting a superhero and villain with a backstory.  We all had so much fun that I decided I wanted to include it into my own social studies class. My two submissions are below and I shared them with my students as inspiration.  The first is Leonardo da Vinci and his “enemy” the pope.  As a person who is artistically challenged, I was pleased to hear about an online superhero creator that would help me – Hero Machine — I also shared this resource with my students, who could either draw their creations or use this awesome tool.

RenaissanceMan2 Pope1



Basic Idea:

Students were allowed to choose any figure who had a large and positive impact on the world around them.  The time period was not restricted – it could be someone from thousands of years ago or from the world of today.  I also left open the category – students chose politicians, artists, scientists, conquerors, etc.  The end result was to be a student created superhero/action figure and the packaging in which the superhero would be included. (Thanks again for the inspiration Quinn!  Seriously – buy the book, Play Like a Pirate)

Subject Area – I teach high school social studies – but this could be used in ANY subject area.

Age Group – ANY age group.


Students were given two weeks to create their superheroes.  We began the process on one of those dreaded half-days when we see students for 20 minutes – the perfect amount of time to introduce the assignment and begin the brainstorming.   I also gave students two half-hour sessions in class to work on the assignment and to bounce ideas off of each other.  I am lucky to teach in a district where all students are given laptops, so no one was left out of the technology aspect.


*Art supplies – I put out rulers, markers, colored pencils, etc. for those who chose to draw.

*Google images search of action figure packaging

*I also completed some “field research” at Toys R Us and took pictures of many action figures – Star Wars and Superheroes — but also of Barbie and others – looking for positive role models.  I also purchased multiple examples to bring into the classroom – the students enjoyed having the hands on experience of being able to turn these boxes around in their hands and see all perspectives.  As my four classes are each named after a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, I also purchased four of these action figures to be awarded as a prize for the winning entry in each class. (Michelangelo for the Orange class, Leonardo for the Blue class, etc).  And, yes – I use the TMNTs as a hook when teaching about Renaissance art.


*My Powerpoint explaining the assignment and including some of my field-research: Directions Powerpoint

In this Powerpoint, I also included the actual worksheet and design instructions as well.  Students were given paper copies of the worksheets, but they were also able to create their own, as long as they included the same topics/headings.   I was asked to give extra credit if the students chose to create 3-D packaging – since I saw this as a first-time collaborative lesson, I allowed for this and was very please with the results.  I had two favorite parts of the design instructions – allies and enemies and the warning.  These two sections really allowed the students to get creative and to think about history.  For the allies and enemies, students were asked to look throughout time and to find other historical figures for these teams.  The warning was for pure enjoyment and allowed for creativity.

*Worksheets with directions, etc.

SuperheroFrontBlank SuperheroFrontFilledOut SuperheroBackDirections SuperheroBackBlank

*Books, comic books, graphic novels, and historical action figures.  I set our classroom tables up by organizing  each into subjects (ancient, modern, women’s history, black history, etc).  The students needed to spend mandatory time looking at each table before making a decision on who to research for their history superhero.  (I am so happy that we have tables in our classroom and not individual student desks in rows – we love the collaboration!)

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*Voting – we created a basic open-ended voting sheet to be filled out – specific examples needed to be used, as well as convincing language to sell me on the votes.  The students also needed to vote for a runner-up in case I needed to disqualify an entry for one reason or another.  The language particularly came into play in one class as there was a tie — I gave the win to the entry that had the most compelling arguments.

*Google Form for the school-wide vote.  After students in each class voted for a winner, we then sent out the four winning entries to the high school staff to cote for an overall winner.  Following are the winners and the runners up – Voting Form

*Superhero playlist used as students completed work: of course we used some of the usual superhero TV themes, but I also tried to include some other songs that had superhero connections.  I love blaring music, battle sounds, etc and to look at people’s quizzical looks as they walk past out loud classroom.  Here are some of the songs we were playing:

One Call Away by Charlie Puth, Turtle Power (from the 80s movie) by Partners in Kryme, Superman by Taylor Swift

Superman by Five for Fighting, Iron Man by Black Sabbath, Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down, Flash’s Theme by Queen

Superman by R.E.M., Superman by Lazlo Bane, My Hero by Foo Fighters, Heroes by Alesso, Brave by Sara Bareilles

Spiderman by the Ramones

*Displays – after everything was finished, I put many of the entries into the hallway so that others could view them –



Ideas for next time – we had a class discussion about the successes and failures of the lesson.  Students gave me some of the following ideas:

To Change:

Give this assignment at the beginning or end of the school year, not when so much else is going on.  My students were in the middle of a research paper, so some felt that this was too much to do along with it. However, others remarked that it gave a great break from other work…

Tie the Superhero project into the research paper – perhaps create a biography research paper proving the impact of the person chosen…

Make the following ideas as part of a menu option for extra credit:

-Superhero theme song creation, Superhero movie trailer, Dress like the character, Create a toy commercial


-Assign each class a different area of the world or a time period

-Create categories – funniest/most clever, best art, etc. so that there is not just one overall winner for each class.

Overall – every student remarked how excited they were to work on this project and how much fun it was – yet also expressed surprise at how much they learned as well!  I can’t wait to assign this lesson again next year and make it even more engaging and exciting.  My main lesson from this is to focus on the research (biography) portion first – before assigning the drawing.  Some students were so eager to create their superhero, that the research was not where I wanted it to be.  A simply fix is to make turning in the biography paper (and mastering it) as the gateway for beginning the drawing portion.

Here as some of the amazing creations:

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