Strategies for Historical Fiction

As the new year begins, our 5th grade classes are continuing their Historical Fiction Units and our 4th grade classes are just starting.  It has been a fun challenge for me as the literacy coach to try to offer new ideas or strategies to teachers in both of these grades.  I know that what they are already doing is masterful and more compacted than they would like so I want to offer ideas that are worth making a part of their well oiled plans.

The first thing I wanted to reinforce was the importance of having the routine of "stopping and jotting" in place for students to collect ideas and build theories as they read.  Many teachers are having students do this in their Readers' Notebook while they read aloud as well as doing it either there or on sticky notes in their own books they are reading independently.   The key is making the stopping and jotting guidelines relevant to the genre (each one could be a mini lesson as it's introduced) you are studying as well as conferring with students as often as possible briefly to help them notice patterns or lift the level of their thinking.  Here are some suggestions for stopping and jotting while reading historical fiction:

Good Places to Stop and Jot
*I noticed a perspective change in the story
*Ideas are repeated across text
*Unexplained gaps in time (subplots)
*How a character responds to a challenge

*A change in the story's mood/tone
*What symbols can be found?

*How does the symbol help you understand the story?
*Noting historical tension
*Character response to challenge

Remind them what is NOT a good place to Stop and Jot
*Your 1st thought
*Copying exactly what the text says

Use visual text whenever possible to bring particular periods in history to life.  The Write Around strategy is perfect.  Google will net you photographs or drawings from just about every era.  Look for historical video clips if available.  We were able to even find some audio clips from World War II on Discovery Education resources (subscription needed).

Having a literacy timeline in your classroom can be critical for students to build permanent understanding of where things fall in history.  Any time you have a conversation about personal experience from your family history, add that there as well.  Their understanding will develop as they read, hear you read aloud and ask their family questions about history.  Having this visual in your room all year will help keep it in their own mind all the time.  Make it your own with large year markers and fill in the events with notings, book covers of books read, historical pics from activities and that are back in current news...there are no what makes sense.  Your learners will guide you.

Fifth grade teacher, Jennifer Scarola, was kind enough to allow me to come film a lesson in her classroom to give a visual of some of these things I have mentioned.  This lesson is about noticing historical tensions along the way as you read.  She is reading aloud the book Irena's Jars of Secrets.  You will notice the students stopping and jotting as she does and she gives them time to talk about it with each other.  As Readers' Workshop continues the students do the same in their own reading and during the share at the end you can see some specific examples of student learning.  Enjoy your visit to Mrs. Scarola's classroom!