Teaching the 95 Theses by Martin Luther can feel daunting at times, though it is such an important part of modern history and explains so much of how we got where we are today in society. Finding creative lesson plans for Martin Luther’s 95 Theses can seem challenging, but it is possible to get your students engaged and excited as they take the time to decipher each of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther.
Whether you are looking for Martin Luther unit studies or just want an engaging way to teach teens about Martin Luther, there is something here that will work well for your class.
This lesson helps students understand the context of the Protestant Reformation, as well as to see how it has affected our world today by looking at Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.
This lesson plan is not only a great way to introduce students to Luther’s 95 Theses but also to teach them about the impact of Luther and his movement on European history, as well as its influence on western philosophy, by simply nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. It also helps fuel a dialogue with an in-depth look into what that act was all about.
Table of Contents
What Are the 95 Theses by Martin Luther?
The 95 Theses by Martin Luther are a list of propositions sent to the officials of the Catholic Church demanding a reformation of how the church handled certain issues. Some examples include:
– Punishments for those who have committed small offenses should not be as harsh as those who have committed more serious crimes.
– Priests must be allowed to marry.
– All people should have access to the sacrament of communion, not just those who were able to pay for it.
The list was originally composed in Latin so that all members of the Catholic Church would be able to read and understand it. The official stance has always been that Martin Luther nailed each thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, but there are no records that evidence this. It is likely that Martin Luther sent his list to Albert of Mainz, who was responsible for calling a meeting to meet at Heidelberg in April 1518. Other records show that Martin Luther’s Theses may have been reprinted and spread across Europe in pamphlet form thanks to the recent invention of the Printing Press.
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses by Martin Luther are famous the world over, and whether or not there is evidence that they were nailed to a door, they certainly changed the course of history.
The students are always really entertained about what happened “after” he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the church, including a friend “fake” kidnapping him. He was eventually found and forced to make a public apology, but there was no turning back for him at that point. He was excommunicated from the church and moved around Europe. After returning to Wittenberg once again, he worked on his translation of The Bible into German.
The students are really excited to learn about the differences between life for Martin Luther at home in Germany vs. the developments of his life abroad, especially after he got married and had 6 kids and how he was a key figure in the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation that would occur about a decade or so after his 95 Theses.
How Do I Teach the 95 Theses by Martin Luther?
The beauty of teaching about The 95 Theses by Martin Luther is that it is a perfect springboard for other activities. The list is surprisingly varied in its content, and there are many different debates that can happen when students investigate each thesis.
– Some of the theses demand more social justice than others, so you could split your student into groups to debate about what they feel should be done to address each thesis.
– Other theses are quite modern in how they address access to social services, so you could ask your students to prepare a contemporary speech about why these needs still exist and that they deserve attention.
– Use various sources to debate whether Martin Luther’s 95 Theses were the first call for change or if there were people who had similar opinions before him.
– The list is filled with arguments about the forgiveness of sin, so you could prepare a role-play where two students are arguing about what actually happens when someone receives absolution for any sins they have committed.
Keep in mind your curriculum: is this a history class or a religious class? Make sure you are approaching your teaching of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther through that lens. It is always a bit tricky to teach religion factually in a history class, but it is possible, especially with an activity like “Tweeting the 95 Theses“.
Tweeting the 95 Theses by Martin Luther
This is, by far, my favorite activity that I have ever done with my students. There are so many ways to go about this (having groups dive into all 95 theses, just a handful, each individual student researching a certain number, the whole class looking at specific ones, etc.).
Each of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther gets its own page in this document. The students then need to research the meaning (and sometimes, even the words) that are written and then determine what it meant, the effects, why it was important, etc. Then, they will fast forward to the modern-day and, instead of nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Church, they will play Martin Luther and “Tweet” each of them (hashtags included!)
The reason this lesson is so engaging is that it is social media (which makes it something that the students are interested in). It seems like everyone loves this concept, even if it’s just for fun. And sometimes, if you make connections to what they already know, learning can become more engaging 🙂
I have had students get absolutely enthralled in this activity, even arguing with one another over the meaning and then comparing different theses to others to try to prove their point. It can be a lot of fun. However, it does require that the students do their own research and incorporate historical context as well as current events, but this is something you can help them through (you know your students best, after all).
How to “Tweet”
To understand this assignment, you must first understand how Twitter works.
Twitter is used as an effective tool for sharing information. The success of what you tweet is determined by the time, place, and content you tweet about…and the students know this. If you’ve ever heard about something go “viral”, you know how fast social media can spread.
Twitter has a character limit of 140 characters, so students have to be concise when they craft their thoughts. Once you have taught your class how to tweet, allow them to research each thesis and send their findings out as if they were Tweeting them. This can be done fully on paper, through a program like Socrative, or even on a class blog.
The beauty of using this technology is that there are no wrong answers. Students can take the list in any direction they choose as long as they back up their thoughts factually, so it isn’t about what is right or wrong. It’s more about checking out how the students feel after doing their research and having them use technology to communicate with each other – which is, let’s face it, what they are already doing!
Tweeting the 95 Theses by Martin Luther can be done at any time during your teaching of the 95 Theses, or even at the end. It can be done in class or as an assignment early on to get students researching right away.
The key is to find a way to make the 95 Theses more understandable and a bit more tangible for your students.
The key is bringing in the Twitter aspect to the assignment, especially once you encourage your students to use their “social media knowledge” in creating hashtags, using emojis, etc. It could be a fun assignment that will let students demonstrate their learning in a brand new way.
Tweeting the 95 Theses by Martin Luther and the 4 Keys
Coming up with activities like this that will fully engage your students isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.
If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available