When studying how successfully different countries achieved their objectives in an international conference, conduct a simple re-enactment where students score points for achieving their national objectives. Then study the terms of the real agreement reached to determine who gained the most and how creatively they solved the problems they faced.
The example I give here relates to the Versailles Conference held after World War One, but the format is one which I use when studying other international conferences – in particular, the Yalta Conference lends itself well to a very similar format.
Case study: The Versailles Conference of 1919
Stage 1: Individual work – working out the national objectives
After studying the general aims and motives of the Big Three (Clemenceau of France, Lloyd George of Britain and Wilson of the USA) give each student in the class a number:  Britain;  France and  USA. Working in individually, each student decides what their national objective probably is for each of the following five issues:
Stage 2: Group work – agreeing on national objectives and ranking them
Next, students sit together with other people who are in the same national group to compare their findings and reach an overall agreement on their objectives (from their prior learning they will know that Wilson was the most idealistic, Clemenceau the most vengeful and Lloyd George the most pragmatic). Encourage students to discuss quietly – they don’t want to give away their objectives to the other teams!
Once each group is in agreement about what they aim to achieve, the next step is to prioritise these objectives. Each team needs to write ’50 points’ in the cell of the table corresponding to the objective which is most important to them, indicating how many points they will win if they succeed in securing this objective at the conference. They then write ’40 points’ in the next most important objective, and so on until they have put ’10 points’ into the objective they are most likely to compromise on.
Stage 3: Role play – re-enacting the conference
The next stage is to arrange the class into teams of three, with one British, one American, and one French representative in each team. Starting with the first issue (the Saar, in this instance), France should outline what she wants. Britain can reject this proposal, or agree to support France in return for France’s vote on another issue. The US can do the same. France can choose to accept or reject any deal “on the table”. If a deal takes place, then France’s proposal for the Saar should be highlighted as being “agreed”. In addition, the issue that France “traded” on is highlighted as “agreed” too.
Once agreement (or a stalemate) has been reached on the first issue, the team moves on to the next unsolved issue. This time, Britain should open the negotiations. This process of trading and negotiating should continue until all of the issues have been resolved or until the teacher declares that no further time is left available.
At the end of the allocated time – maybe 20 minutes – each player can then add up their scores based on the objectives they successfully achieved. As a final stage, each country can be given an overall score by pooling the scores of all the representatives. Credit can be given to the highest scoring individuals, and the highest scoring teams.
Stage 4: Comparing to the historical reality
The teacher should not proceed to go through each of the key issues and outline what was actually decided in historical reality at the conference. For each one, students should discuss who would have been most satisfied with this outcome, and whether it was (a) too harsh, (b) fair, or (c) not harsh enough. They can then collate evidence in these three categories using a Venn diagram. Similarly, they could create a Venn diagram of three circles designed to highlight how different terms of the Treaty pleased each of the Big Three to different degrees.
Taking it further
Halfway through the conference discussions, the teacher could pause the class and tell them that if there are issues they are particularly struggling to reach an agreement on a particular issue, a compromise solution could be proposed which is halfway between two of the national objectives for that issue. In such instances, each team gaining part of their objectives get HALF of the points they were playing for on this issue.
Rather than having multiple groups of three people all conducting simultaneous negotiations, the teacher could instead seat three team leaders in the centre of the classroom to lead the discussions. The other members of the class sit behind their national leader and can pass notes / whisper in their ear during the discussions but cannot contribute directly. This allows the teacher to monitor proceedings more closely and to act as chair if the discussions grind to a halt.
Here is some footage of one such conference in action in my classroom.
ActiveHistory – The Peace Treaties after World War One
ActiveHistory – The Yalta and Potsdam Conferences