Tag Archives: Social Studies

Transporting Students Into the Past With Historical Fiction

What teaches you the perspective of others… the struggles a society may have suffered, the demands of distant cultures, or about an era so far removed from our own, that you are forced to wrap your brain around a different logic?

HISTORICAL FICTION is such a beast. It transports you into the past where life and a culture previously existed. You become part of a world where you walk-the-walk alongside characters dealing with the trials and tribulations of an era long gone.

Creative Commons Read Aloud

When I was in college, we were introduced to Jim Trelease, an educator who stressed that reading aloud builds students’ imaginations and improves listening skills. It also gives them a love of books.

I have read many books aloud to my classes ranging from 4th to 8th grade since my first year of teaching. (In case you aren’t aware, read-alouds are in addition to students’ regular reading and work that is associated with it, not a replacement for it.)

Last school year as a teacher, I used historical fiction to bring life to the social studies curriculum. I correlated our read-alouds to what was going on in their social studies lessons.

I read the section first with my best dramatic voice, and  asked comprehension questions along the way. We stopped, occasionally, for someone to look up a more challenging vocabulary word in the dictionary.  They identified locations on maps; they researched details to know more about a related topic; they ate foods that we read about.

A good portion of the class asked if they could take notes. Before long, everyone was recording in their journals, which supported their required writing and reflection afterwards. As a teacher, I know that annotating their thoughts helps them to develop a stronger understanding of the material and organize the details.

The best part were the discussions sparked by the stories themselves. They were meaningful and thought provoking. Mini-lessons to further understanding were also part of the process.

I collected their journals every week to do a quick check for comprehension and to assign an effort grade. If a student was absent, they picked-up the book and read the pages they had missed. At the end of the book, they took an assessment test. Many reported that our read-alouds with social studies was their favorite subject.

In Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607 by Elisa Carbone, we traced the journey from England to the coast of America on our map. We focused on how the colonists grappled with the hardships of the Jamestown colony as it struggled to survive, discussed their governing laws, and debated how business sponsored the settlement.

We also learned about the introduction of slave labor. When we got to the 13 colonies in social studies, there wasn’t a student in the class who didn’t understand what was involved in starting a new world.

In Under Siege! by (me) Robyn Gioia, we continued our discussion of how European nations were expanding into the New World for resources and the conflict between early colonial groups maneuvering for control.

In the story, my class learned about one of U.S. history’s best kept secrets: the 1702 English attack on the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine, Florida (a city later recognized as America’s oldest). Students deal with the angst and hardship of being under siege inside a fort surrounded by a superior enemy. At the heart of the story is survival and loss, war, friendship and adventure.

In Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, we see the colonies through the eyes of a slave girl. There were many discussions on the ownership of peoples and the burdens they bore, the dependence of society on slave labor, the laws governing the colonies, the discourse between factions, and the devastating hardships of war.We continued our read into the next book in the series, Forge, which deals with being a slave and a soldier coupled with the realities of war.

Johnny Tremain, by Ester Forbes, was not used as a read-aloud for the entire class. It was read by one of my literature circles. Those students were quick to jump in with further details about the Revolutionary War during open discussions. Insight into the Sons of Liberty was a favorite topic.

There are many wonderful historical fiction books out there. The problem is narrowing it down to just a few. Interacting with history through read-alouds is an excellent way to build conceptual knowledge and for students to internalize the intricacies of that era long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Books and the Middle-Grade Reader

Think of picture books and often we envision a toddler on a parent’s lap, listening and pointing. Or a pack of preschoolers sitting criss-cross applesauce on a colorful rug, heads tipped up to see the pictures while their teacher reads aloud. Or maybe a first grader, sitting alone with a book, intently studying the words in a picture book, their eyes darting from picture to text and back again, making connections and feeling their confidence swell.

Oh, there’s usually no debate surrounding the place of picture books in the lives of the youngest readers and prereaders. But something often happens around second grade, somewhere around the time chapter books are mastered, and the role of the picture book is diminished, if not eliminated.

By the time readers reach the middle grades, picture books are often nonexistent or scoffed at. “You’re too old for that book,” I heard a parent tell a fifth or sixth grader at a bookstore. “You can read harder books than that.”

And, yes, I’m sure that young reader was perfectly capable of tackling longer texts, but picture books have so much to offer readers of all ages. Let’s take a look at some new picture books that middle-grade readers could not only enjoy, but that could spark a deeper level of learning and understanding.

pb older reader

Picture Book Biographies Picture book biographies are everywhere and can serve as an excellent visual and literary introduction to someone middle-graders may never encounter anywhere else..

pb william hoy story

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016.

pb to the stars

To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Kathryn D. Sullivan, Illustrated by Nicole Wong, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books to Address Social Issues  Civil and human rights issues such as homelessness, poverty, equal opportunities, or segregation can be difficult for the middle-grader to grasp, and yet these problems exist in their communities, families, and in the ever-present media. Often a picture book can open the door to discuss more complex topics at an appropriate level.

pb separate never equal

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 2014.

pb marvelous cornelius

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by John Parra, Chronicle, 2015.

Picture Book Origin Stories Older readers love to ask deep questions: Like where did doughnuts come from? and Who invented the super-soaker, and Why? Origin stories can inspire young inventors to dig deeper into science and become problem-solvers themselves.

pb Hole Story of Donut

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

pb whoosh

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books for Content Areas  Math class is probably the least likely place you’ll find middle-graders reading picture books, but there are some great reasons to put picture books into the hands of young mathematicians. And scientists. And paleontologists. And astrophysicists.

pb boy-who-loved-math

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham,  Roaring Brook, 2013.

pb blockhead

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese, Illustrated by John O’Brien, Henry Holt, 2010.

Picture Books to Address Environmental Issues Upper elementary and middle schoolers hear phrases such as “global warming” and “our carbon footprint,” but explaining just exactly what these mean can be challenging. It’s likely they are already a part of a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” initiative, at school or at home. Picture books can help them understand how they might do more.

pb One_Plastic_Bag_Cover_Miranda_Paul1

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, Millbrook, 2015.

Picture Books as Art Study The youngest readers look at the pictures in a picture book. Older readers can study them. They can understand how illustration contributes to the story-telling, how a picture book is a visual experience as well as a literary one. Older students can discuss how the artist’s choice of style, media, and color palette create mood and pace. This can be done with every picture book, any picture, all picture books, fiction or non. But, I’ll leave you with one that makes me smile, and I think any middle-grader would smile after reading it, too.

pb maybe something beautiful

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, Illustrated by Rafael López, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. Her first picture book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike (Ohio University Press, September 2016) is the biography of Emma Gatewood, the first women to walk the Appalachian Trail alone in one continuous hike.

Cut to the Chase – Resources for Middle Grade Teachers (wIthout a lot of fuss)

Sometimes, as a teacher, you need resources right away – time is short and the need is huge to help a student find exactly what they need to practice a skill, or maybe you’re looking for one more idea to spark the discussion in class. I spent 15 years as an elementary educator, not as a classroom teacher, but as resource specialist, paraeducator and librarian. My job was always helping classroom teachers to do their jobs better. I think it will always be my job!

I’ve been working on a project for the past several months with other middle grade authors – including fellow MUF Julie Artz!- meant to help teachers and their students find what they’re looking for without having to search too much.

More about our project in a bit, but what I really wanted to do is touch on some great resources for all the core areas of a Middle Grade teacher’s curriculum needs. I’ve collected a few links that might be useful for you. Once a librarian, always a librarian, you know…

Math

I really appreciate Learn Zillion’s page, which shows at a glance the math skills expected for each grade. I would then be able to apply the resources I found at K-5MathTeach to those skills right away, without hunting through several webpages.

Science

When looking for great science resources, I always start at the NSTA website, at nsta.org. But how to wade through everything on offer?

Start at their Freebies page and search using their Books and Resources “Freebies for Teachers” search engine. [crop and insert screen shot] You can also click the link to their other free resources on the same page.

National Education Association also has a good website for STEM resources, with this list including both curriculum resources and professional development opportunities.

Arts

The J. Paul Getty Museum has a great page called ArtEdsNet, full of resources for the classroom, and there I found links to curriculum on all kinds of topics. A peek at one or two confirmed that there is not only online content you can use, but downloads with teacher and student content for the classroom. I wish there were time to follow every lead to explore more fun learning!

I wanted to make sure to provide resources that are available for teachers to use even without student access to computers, and though not all of the activities here: http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia/Search/Art and Design are printable, some, such as the buffalo hide project, are.

Humanities/Social Studies

The National Council for the Social Studies also has a site which allows you to search for resources by topic and grade level. 

And now, a shameless plug! Gather Here: History for Young People is the site Julie Artz and other middle grade authors are building with me. Though our main focus is on Washington State history for the middle grades, the Resources page contains links to general topics on history and culture as well. As with the others listed above, we wanted to be sure that there is content for teachers to use even without Internet access for students. With that aim, many of the blog articles will soon be available in pdf form, too.

What types of resources do you love to use in the classroom? What are you having trouble finding? Let us know in the comments. I’d love to provide more posts that point you to resources you can use.