Do you have a favorite genre? I do, my favorite genre to read has always been historical fiction. Reading historical fiction is my favorite way to learn about history. It’s my favorite genre to use to teach students about important people and events in history and is a great way to review and dive deeper into various fiction skills.
Black History Month is a great time to use historical fiction books about a variety of people that made contributions to our country and our world.
When gearing up for a black history unit it is tempting to stick to reading biographies of the same leaders in the civil rights movement. By default we tend to focus on the contributions of Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges and Martin Luther King Jr.
Their contributions were pivotal to Black history, but the totality of black history is not the struggle for equal rights. Black Americans have done and accomplished a variety of things not only during the civil rights movement, but before and after. Side note Black History month isn’t the only time to teach Black History. Black History can be taught any time of the year.
Let’s talk about how to use a historical fiction genre study to teach black history. One way to start a historical fiction genre study is to share a brief anchor chart highlighting the characteristics of historical fiction. Then grab a stack of black centered historical fiction books that you feel are grade appropriate. Think about choosing books that feature a variety of characters during a variety of times throughout history.
Here are three that I recommend:
The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey with Gwen Strauss
Fearless Mary by Tami Charles
You’ve chosen your books. It’s time to give students an opportunity to peruse the books and get acquainted with the genre. Start by having them look at the various features of the book that may often get overlooked: the front cover, author’s note and inside dust cover/dust jacket. Study these features and jot down what you notice. Then read the books all the way through for enjoyment. Finally, co-create an anchor chart with students. Ask them what characteristics of historical fiction they noticed about the book you read.
Now that students have had a chance to experience the books for enjoyment, it’s time to use these books for multiple mini lessons over the course of your unit. Historical fiction is a great genre to use to dive into various lessons related to fiction, but on a deeper level. My top three focuses would be character motivation, setting and conflict. Of course there are more skills that can be covered in a historical fiction unit of study, but for the sake of time let’s unpack these three.
Use Historical Fiction to Teach Character Motivation
Identifying character motivation is important when reading historical fiction, because the main character is usually someone with a lot of drive and determination and does things for a particular reason. This is a great genre to use to focus on why the main character is making the choices they are making.
For example in the book, “The Hallelujah Flight” by Phil Bildner, the characters were motivated by a sense of adventure and wanting to do something no one had ever done before.
Use Historical Fiction to Teach Setting
Setting is another skill that is important to cover during your historical fiction unit, because the story takes place in a particular time in history for a reason. Setting is generally taught as when and where a story takes place. When studying historical fiction it’s important to help students dig deeper into the geographical location as well as the time in history the story is taking place. This focus lends itself to researching some of the important events that were happening at the time.
For example in the book, “ Ruth and the Green Book” by Calvin Alexander, the story is set in the 1950s when a family is traveling from the northern part of the United States to the south. When researching students would learn about the dangers a black family would encounter taking this road trip during that time period.
Use Historical Fiction to Teach Conflict
Finally let’s take a look at using historical fiction to teach conflict. Generally we focus on teaching the four types of conflict, which is necessary. For our purposes in this post I want to focus on teaching students about primary vs secondary conflict. In historical fiction you will usually find that the characters have to confront two types of conflict. They have the primary conflict that is being dealt with by the main character throughout the story. Then you have the secondary conflict that is happening in the background. It’s important to teach students how to identify both so that when discussing the plot they are able to focus on the primary conflict while keeping the secondary conflict in mind.
For example in the book, “ Fearless Mary” by Tami Charles the main character Mary’s primary conflict is dealing with the perils of being a stagecoach driver in 1895. The secondary conflict is trying to do this job as a black woman during this time in history.
As you can see, using historical fiction to teach black history is a great way to dig deeper into fiction skills as well as a great way to teach students about black history that centers around various experiences.
- Take time to look for historical fiction books featuring Black Americans in a variety of settings and times in history, not just the civil rights movement. My three recommendations were: The Hallelujah Flight, Ruth and the Green Book and Fearless Mary.
- Set the stage for a deep dive into historical fiction by teaching them the characteristics of historical fiction and giving them a chance to notice these characteristics as well.
- Revisit the same books in order to teach various fiction skills such as: character motivation, setting and conflict.
You may be thinking, Eva this is all great information, but I don’t have time to think about how to create a historical fiction unit on my own. Don’t worry I’ve got you. I have created a historical fiction unit that can be used with any book. In this unit you will find an anchor chart for each skill as well as a graphic organizer that you can use to model the skill and then use it to have students demonstrate mastery of said skill. You can choose to use the unit with just one book or with several books as suggested above, and use the books that you think fit best for teaching each skill.
Use the tips outlined above to conduct your own historical fiction unit to teach Black History any time of the year. If you want to use something that takes the guesswork out of it for you grab my unit. If you’d like to have me talk to your teachers about how to use historical fiction during black history month, reach out so that we can set up a discovery call. I would love to work with you and your school.