Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Teaching Historical Fiction

This morning I was chatting with a colleague about how to incorporate creative writing opportunities into a unit on historical fiction. Given that I spent much of my summer preparing just such a curriculum, we had a robust conversation about the various writing prompts my students were using. In the past I've used traditional reading comprehension questions as part our literature units, but have more recently moved away from a question/response model in order to give my students an opportunity to both show their comprehension of a text and gain facility in writing creatively from the perspective of a fictional character.

This fall I used the below assignment choices as my 5th Graders read Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume. Incidentally, this is a wonderful novel to introduce a unit on historical fiction, as it features a protagonist living in modern day New York City who learns about history via the tales told by her extravagant neighbor. My students identified with school-aged Cornelia and found the story incredibly captivating (and the historical elements easier to relate to) because of this.

Below, my reading journal assignments for historical fiction novels.

Letter From a Character: Write a letter in the voice of one of the main characters from the novel. Your letter must include descriptions of at least two events that are going on in the story. Use specific detail and interesting vocabulary. Don't forget a proper greeting and closing signature! (Minimum of two paragraphs)

Diary Entry: Choose an event from the story and describe it in as much detail as possible. You should write in the style and voice of the character, but be sure to use your own words. Then, get creative! Using the text to guide you, imagine how the character experienced the event you've described. What was she/he thinking and feeling before/during/after the event? Remember, diary entries are more personal than letters, so your writing should include emotion and feeling. (Hint: Imagine the character's personality and ask yourself if her writing would be formal or casual? Funny or serious?) (Minimum of two paragraphs)

Dialogue: Write a short conversation between two characters from the novel. Use what you know from the story to inspire you, but be creative and original! Remember to punctuate your dialogue correctly! (Minimum of 10 sentences) 

Personal Narrative: Did something you read in the novel remind you of a personal experience? Maybe the main character had an interaction with a friend or family member that feels familiar to you, or perhaps she/he is expressing emotions you often feel yourself? Use the familiar selection from the novel as a starting point and write a short personal narrative describing your own similar experience. (Minimum of two paragraphs)

News Article: Pick a main event from the story and write a news article giving the Who/What/Where/When/Why of the event. Don't forget to include a clever headline and descriptive language. (Minimum of 10 sentences)

Opinion Piece: Think about a conflict from the story or a hard decision one of the characters has made and decide whether you agree or disagree with how the author handled this. Write an explanation of how you feel, including at least 3 pieces of specific evidence to support your point of view. (Minimum of 2 paragraphs)

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