Historical Fiction in Readers Workshop

Dear Families,

We are moving into a study of historical fiction. Students defined historical fiction as:

  1. Blends fact and story
  2. The events might have happened in real life.
  3. The plot takes place in the past (sometimes around important historical events)
  4. Characters are fictional but they are examples of/stories of real people

By its nature, historical fiction generally sets characters in turbulent times. The times are explored through the eyes of the character. We are reading books that deal with slavery, poverty, racism, sexism, and other kinds of oppression. These topics have often been explored in children’s literature through historical fiction. In our discussions, these topics are going to come up.

The theme for the unit is “joy and justice.” As we studies times of great injustice, we also look for the moments of joy. Many of our books have elements of humor and we’ll make sure to emphasize both the joys and sorrows of looking through history. We will use several picture books as mentor texts (possibly) including, Unspoken by Henry Cole, Encounter by Jane Yolen, Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull, Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti, Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, Brave Girl by Michelle Markel, The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, and others.

Throughout the unit students will keep track of information that they think they know, questions they are having, and information that they have learned.

Some possible teaching points are:

  • Readers envision the time period (look at how characters dress, talk, the setting, daily life)
  • Readers puzzle through historical language.
  • Readers look for problems their character faces – big and small (realms of influence, what are the problems the character faces within themselves/family/community/world)
  • Readers pay attention to how time passes in a text (specifically considering flashback)
  • Readers consider how age influences perspective (compare/contrast structure, how are the children and the adults minded differently)
  • Readers look out for symbols (objects/items that represent something beyond their face)
  • Readers compare their world to the world of the character.
  • Readers consider how the different parts of the book symbolize bigger ideas (how does the beginning/middle/end symbolize or generalize the arc of this time pd)
  • Readers think deeply about passages in a book (close reading in book club meeting – give them the passage before that section of reading and ask them/let them come across it in the text)
  • Readers think about the personal journey of their character.  – What do I think? What do I do? How does this communicate who I want to be?

Students that are not in LLI are in book clubs. You can find out more about the book club choices below.

Bud, Not Buddy – It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but he’s on a mission. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: posters of Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression! Bud’s got an idea that those posters will lead to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him.

Elijah of Buxton – The first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit, Elijah is best known in his hometown as the boy who threw up on Frederick Douglass. (Not on purpose, of course — he was just a baby then!) But things change when a former slave calling himself the Right Reverend Zephariah W. Connerly the Third steals money from Elijah’s friend Mr. Leroy, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the south. Elijah joins Mr. Leroy on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the disreputable preacher, and he discovers firsthand the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled — a life from which he’ll always be free, if he can find the courage to go back home.

Inside Out, & Back Again – Things are changing in Hà’s world, as the Vietnam War comes closer and closer to her home in Saigon. Her friends and neighbors are leaving, her oldest brother is speaking out against the North, and the likelihood of being reunited with her father — who has been missing in action for nine years — is growing dimmer. When Saigon falls in 1975, Hà and her family are forced to flee on a navy ship and, after spending months in refugee camps, end up moving to Alabama. There, Hà struggles to deal with everything from learning the language and customs to handling the bullies who make fun of her at school. Will she ever feel at home in this strange new land? And will she ever see her father again?

Mighty Miss Malone – Twelve-year-old Deza Malone has a close and loving family, and she’s the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana. But times are tough, and it’s hard for black men like Deza’s father to find work. Desperate to help his family, Deza’s father leaves town to look for work, and soon Deza, her mom, and her older brother, Jimmie, are setting off in search of him. Along the way, they experience many Depression-era hardships, including living in a shantytown and riding the rails, all the while never giving up the hope of being together again.

One Crazy Summer – Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past. When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Picture Book Book Club – Students in this book will study a range of historical periods as they delve into a deep look at picture books. They will study slavery, World War II and The Civil Rights movement. They may also look at historical fiction based biographies.

Riding Freedom – Charlotte Parkhurst never acted like most other girls. She climbed trees and fought with the boys and worked in a stable. She had a way with horses that was like nothing folks had ever seen. In the mid-1800s, some people didn’t think it was proper for a girl to behave like Charlotte, and they tried to stop her. But Charlotte was smart, and she came up with a plan that would let her live her life the way she wanted — a plan so clever and so secretive that almost no one figured it out.


Fantasy Unit in Writers Workshop


The fantasy fiction unit in Writer’s Workshop will ask students to use the workshop format to draft multiple story ideas, choose one draft for further development, revise, conference, edit and publish a finished piece of fantasy fiction.  Students will learn about sub-genres of fantasy fiction including science fiction, sword & sorcery, magical worlds, horror, dystopian, and anthropomorphic. The focus of the writing is develop rich detail in characters, settings, problems and solutions.  We ask students to incorporate the Origins throughlines in their stories to fully explore the origins of their fiction world and characters.

Teaching points in this lesson will include, but are not limited to:

  • Writers use tools to generate ideas.
  • Story starters help us get the origin of character, setting and plot.
  • All elements follow the rules of the fantastic world/origins are the author’s choice.
  • Writers create fantasy characters that are a mix of realistic and fantasy characteristics.
  • Writers create fantasy settings and problems that are a mix of realistic and fantasy characteristics.
  • While collecting entries, writers need to play with describing this place, including details about the setting.
  • Writers make sure that by the end of the story you know about the character, flaws and strengths.
  • Writers choose one possibility and list out all the possible problems and solutions in regards to this larger context.
  • Writers may solve one problem but the big enemies are still undefeated to be dealt with another day.
  • Writers think about the land and sky, weather, people, transportation, and homes and other buildings.
  • Writers make sure every character has a purpose: Allies, Antagonist, Bystander
  • Writers ask: Does my reader know exactly what the character has to accomplish in order for the problem to be solved?
  • Writers are reminded that solutions do not come out of nowhere.  They need to fit with the  rest of story.


The Indiana Academic Standards include expectations that students write clear sentences and paragraphs that develop a central idea.  Students should create interesting sentences by using words that describe, explain, or provide additional details and connections.  Students need to make varied word choices to make writing interesting. Students should be able to write narratives that establish a plot, point of view, setting, and conflict and those stories show, rather than tell, the events of the story. Students should be able to progress through the stages of the writing process, including prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing multiple drafts. That students review, evaluate, and revise writing for meaning and clarity.

Student stories will be evaluated on the following rubric:

Level 4 Level 3 Level 2 Level 1
Characters Clear protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). Motivations, appearances, personalities fully described. Characters are described briefly.  Motivations, thoughts, or personality not described fully. Characters exist but are not described in detail. Protagonist and/or antagonist characters are missing.
Elements of Fantasy The world created has clear,vivid, elements of fantasy writing that are consistent within that world.  The elements are central to the story. The world has some elements of fantasy but they are secondary to the story. The world has few elements of fantasy writing.  The elements are inconsistent.  The story would be unchanged if elements were missing. The world does not include elements of fantasy writing.


The problems/conflict is central to the story. The problem/conflict the main characters face and why it is a problem is clear. The problems/conflict is secondary to the story or not fully developed. The problem does not drive the story. It is difficult for the reader to understand the problem the main characters face and it is not clear why it is a problem. There is no problem or It is unclear what problem the main character faces.
Solution/ Resolution The solution to the character’s problem is easy to understand, and is logical. There are no loose ends. The solution to the character’s problem is easy to understand, and is somewhat logical. The solution to the character’s problem is a little hard to understand. No solution is attempted or it is impossible to understand.
Setting Many vivid, descriptive words are used to tell when and where the story took place. Some vivid, descriptive words are used to tell the audience when and where the story took place. The reader can figure out when and where the story took place, but the author didn’t supply much detail. The reader has trouble figuring out when and where the story took place.
Organization The story is very well organized. One idea or scene follows another in a logical sequence with clear transitions. The story is pretty well organized. One idea or scene may seem out of place. Clear transitions are used. The story is a little hard to follow. The transitions are sometimes not clear. Ideas and scenes seem to be randomly arranged.
Mechanics Writing contains correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, complete complex sentences and correct use of capitalization. Writing contains few spelling and grammar errors; and has correct punctuation and complete sentences. Writing contains some spelling and grammar errors; most sentences have correct punctuation and are complete.  I used simple sentences. Writing is hard to read and contains many spelling and grammatical errors.

Engineering & Science Unit

Dear Families, We are starting a unit on Engineering and Science. The origin of this unit comes from both a need of students to engage in some habits of a scientist and engineer, and the very real scientific concepts that both fourth and fifth graders need to learn. This unit of study will be focused on making prototypes, coming up with problem solving strategies, and learning content about the human musculoskeletal system. 61qEmnn-MCL The major objective of the unit is for students to understand that engineers work through a process of revision and redesign to meet a need or desire. Some of our essential questions for the unit are:

  • What are the habits of an engineer/scientist?
  • How do you solve problems you are presented with?
  • How do parts of a system relate to the function of a whole system?

We began with a pre-assessment which you can see here. 

Next we’ll move into a series of experiments that require students to design an initial structure and then re-design it depending on the degree to which they met the stated goal.

Then, we’ll move toward a focus of presenting problems and asking students to model prototypes for how to solve these problems. The second section of our unit will focus specifically on the relationship engineers have to solving problems – specifically within the human body. We will start with the major functions of the skeletal systems and where problems can happen (i.e. broken bones). We’ll have students build structures to support these problems – designing prototypes just like engineers do. As we work through these lessons, inevitably, like an engineer, what we work to do will change with student need and input. We’ll keep you updated with our changes.

Some Favorite Poems

This is a new post I (Iris) decided to do. Here are my 3 favorite poems:


Overheard on a Saltmarsh

Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?
Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?
Give them me. 
Give them me. Give them me.
Then I will howl all night in the reeds,
Lie in the mud and howl for them.
Goblin, why do you love them so?
They are better than stars or water,
Better than voices of winds that sing,
Better than any man’s fair daughter,
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.
Hush, I stole them out of the moon.
Give me your beads, I want them.
I will howl in the deep lagoon
For your green glass beads, I love them so.
Give them me. Give them.


My other favorite poem:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

My other favorite poem:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Kid Talk 11/20

So… Some new fads this week are..

  • Still, the Rainbow Loom Bracelets, but not as much…

Sadly, it seems like there are not many fads this week.

A new thing we are doing is GENDER STUDIES!!!!!!!!! everyone is super excited, including the beloved writer of featured section.

Kid Talk – 8/23/13

Kid Talk


New Styles/Fads:

  • Tails attached to back of pants      

  • Macklemore

  • Imagine Dragons-Radioactive

  • Hats/baseball caps

  • Big Sweaters

  • Sun glasses

  • Leggings under shorts

Cool Games:

  • Minecraft

  • Scratch

  • CTF (capture the flag)

  • Dart

  • Slide

  • Concentration