Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Telling Stories: Historical Fiction in 5th Grade English

After reading Inside Out and Back Again, a novel by Thanhha Lai set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, my 5th Graders were eager to know more about how this and other conflicts had affected their own families. In searching for a closing activity for the novel, I found some great teaching resources on Harper Collins's website. With a few small tweaks to the publisher's resource, my students were ready to follow the advice Lai gives in her Author’s Note: “After you finish this book…you sit close to someone you love and implore that person to tell and tell and tell their story.” We spent one class period brainstorming questions to ask family members, and then my students were off, conducting interviews with parents, grandparents, and other extended family members. While most students were able to interview a family member about a conflict (Vietnam War, WWII, Gulf War and Afghanistan), a few chose to conduct interviews about immigration stories. In this way, we ensured that everyone in class could participate fully. 

As students shared their interviews with the class, they reflected on how surprised they were to discover the important roles their own relatives played in our country’s history. A few interesting observations from their notes: 

"My dad said that even if you weren't fighting in the war, it was difficult to watch it from home. His friends were off fighting, the news would show terrible stories."

"I interviewed my grandpa about WWII. He was young and he said there wasn't much to buy, because all the supplies were going to fighting the war."

"My babysitter lived in Israel most of her life. I interviewed her about the wars she lived through. She said it was stressful when fighting first started, because they had to go into bomb shelters. But she said after a while people in the bomb shelters would talk to each other, play games, and feel comfortable together, even though scary things were happening outside."

"My dad didn't have to fight. He was never drafted. He started out hoping that the U.S. would win the Vietnam War, but as he learned more about what was going on in Vietnam he was less sure we were doing the right thing by being there."

"My uncle went to Afghanistan. He says he fought using empathy. He wasn't actually in battle, but he tried to help people understand their differences to get along better."

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