Fifth grade social studies and language arts teachers often assign historical fiction projects as part of their curriculum. Teachers might allow students to choose a book from that genre, or they might assign the same book to the entire class. Book reviews or analyses, visual displays, problem-solving lessons and oral presentations provide ways for students to digest historical fiction. Before assigning the project, explain to your students that historical fiction is about a particular time in history, but many of the characters and plot details are fictional.
Have each student select a historical fiction book from a list you offer; suggested reading lists for fifth-graders are available on the PBS website and the Ann Arbor District Library website. Have them create their own book jackets including an illustrative cover, a brief summary of the book, a personal review and a short biography about the author. Provide legal-size paper and show them how to fold it in half and add two flaps -- one on the front side and one on the back -- for the summary and bio. Ask them to write a personal review of the book on the back cover. Students can either write or type the content for their book jackets, but the content and drawings must be original.
Oral Book Reviews
Ask students to select a historical fiction book from your list and develop a five-minute oral book review. Instruct them to spend approximately half of the time explaining the plot, major characters and important themes and the other half discussing the setting and historical context. They'll likely need to do some additional research to explain the historical context. Encourage them to focus on central conflicts and how they are resolved. After each student finishes her oral book review, host a brief question-and-answer session so students can ask the presenter questions about the book.
Choose a historical fiction book for your entire class to read, such as "Across Five Aprils" by Irene Hunt -- a story about how the Civil War affects a preteen boy -- or "Moon Over Manifest" by Clare Vanderpool -- a story about a preteen's girl experiences in Kansas during the Great Depression. After reading the book aloud as a class or assigning students chapters to read on their own, have them create movie posters advertising the book. Cut standard poster board in half and give each student a piece; provide colored pencils, crayons and markers. Encourage your class to draw something different from what's presented on the cover of the book and include historical details on their posters.
New Historical Fiction Stories
Discuss elements of historical fiction and read a selection or two together as a class, such as "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry -- a book about a girl's survival during World War I -- or "Crispin: The Cross of Lead" by Avi -- a story about an English teenager's fearful journey during the 14th century. Ask your students to write their own two- to three-page historical fiction story, choosing any historical period they want. Offers some ideas to get their thoughts churning, such as a preteen Native American's experiences during the 1800s or a teenage castaway's perspective on one of Christopher Columbus' vessels. Have your students read their papers aloud to the class or post them where others can read them.
- PBS: Historical Fiction for Fourth and Fifth Graders
- Ann Arbor District Library: 4th and 5th Grade Historical Fiction
- Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for Fifth Grade: Unit 3 -- Historical Fiction Book Clubs and Related Informational Reading -- Tackling Complex Texts
- Scholastic Teachers: "Moon Over Manifest" by Clare Vanderpool
- Scholastic Teachers: "Across Five Aprils" by Irene Hunt
- Scholastic Teachers: "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry
- Scholastic Teachers: "Crispin: The Cross of Lead" by Avi
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