Using Storia to navigate historical fiction with students

Guest Blogger
May 16, 2013
Fourth-grade teacher Laura Murray is here again with some greatStoria ideas! Today, she’s talking about historical fiction. And who doesn’t love some good historical fiction? Thanks, Laura! History was never my favorite nor my best subject when I was in school. I could never remember names, dates, places, and all the important facts of historical events.I still have a hard time with it, which makes it surprising that my favorite genre to read is historical fiction. Although many times I find that the events in these books are extremely disturbing, I am very intrigued by reading about how people lived long ago. And I can use Storia, Scholastic’s free ereading software, to engage my students with it! I share the love of this genre with my students every year at about this time. It is sometimes a difficult genre for fourth graders since they don’t have a whole lot of historical knowledge and background. However, tying this reading genre to our current social studies unit, or periods of time that we have already studied this year, helps out with this problem. One of the most important aspects of a historical fiction book to pay attention to is the setting. Without the historical knowledge of the time period, readers miss a lot of what is happening in the story. This is definitely something to keep in mind when you see your child reading a historical fiction book. If you find that they are missing major ideas in the book, or are having a hard time understanding what is going on, try having a conversation with them about the time period first. This may clear up any misunderstandings that they are having. When we begin a unit on historical fiction I like to refresh the students’ memories by looking at pictures of the time period, talking about them, and sometimes watching short videos about them. This gets their minds thinking about the setting that the characters will be facing in the story. Setting is so important when reading historical fiction because it will most likely be the cause of the problem or maybe even the solution. Students need to know the major events that were going on in the country during the time period that they book takes place. For example, they need to know about slavery and how dangerous it was for a slave to escape to fully understand Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary. They need to know that people were placed on the Titanic based on social and economic status before they could understand fully the events of I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic. Reviewing the most important ideas of a time period will help your child when reading this genre. Not only do readers need to know about different time periods, they also need to understand what to think about when reading historical fictions. So, here are some questions that you can discuss with your child as they read historical fiction books. These questions will also help your child decide what they should be putting on their virtual post it notes when using Storia. They can also use the highlight feature to highlight some of the historical components of the book and how they are effecting the characters. Hopefully these questions will help lead you in a discussion with your child to deepen their understanding of the text. What Good Readers Think and Talk About When Reading Historical Fiction In the beginning… What is the setting of the book? What do you already know about this setting/time period? What are the conditions in which the characters live? What problems would you expect characters to face based on this setting/time period? In the middle… What elements of the characters’ daily lives teach about the setting? How is the setting affecting the character? How is the setting creating a problem? How is the character using resources from the time period to help them solve their problem? In the end… What have you learned about the historical period? How were the problem, setting, and characters uniquely tied to the time period? How might the story have been different if it took place today? I really love how historical fiction forces readers to think deeply about story events and setting. I find that my students need to stop and think deeply more often to answer some of these questions and to have great book club conversations. Not only are these great “thinking books”, they are also a great way to incorporate the learning of history as well. I hope this genre makes history come to life for your readers. Happy Reading!