Planning a Historical Fiction Unit in Elementary

Do you want to introduce your students to the genre of historical fiction, but not sure where to start? I recently planned out an in-depth historical genre unit, and I wanted to share some of the things I decided to include and why!

Historical Fiction Reading Unit

What is historical fiction?

Before you begin your unit with students, or begin planning for that matter, you want to be clear on what historical fiction is! Students can easily get confused if we don’t give them a clear idea.

Historical fiction falls under the fiction umbrella, so while it may be based in fact or include real-life events, the story itself is not true. The characters and actions of the characters are made up.

How do you plan a historical fiction unit?

First, you want to determine which historical fiction books you will read. You want to make sure that the books are age appropriate because history is not always beautiful. And we want to make sure it’s content students can digest and understand at their grade level.

I planned two historical fiction units. The first unit was for fourth and fifth graders. I included the following books:

– Eleanor

– Marching with Aunt Susan

– Elizabeth Leads The Way

– Elizabeth Started All The Trouble

– Why Can’t Women Be Doctors?

– Neo Leo

– Now & Ben

– The War that Saved My Life

The second historical fiction unit I based more on a fifth grade level. The books I included in this unit are:

– I am Jane Goodall

– Gorillas by Seymour Simon

– You wouldn’t want to sail on the Titanic

– Titanic

– The Moon by Seymour Simon

– Do Stars have Points?

After determining the books and stories you want to use, you need to decide on the specific skills you want to address. This might be skills such as predictions, theme, plot, and so on. You want to sprinkle these skills throughout your unit through mini-lessons.

It can be tempting to just read a novel straight through, but in order for your students to really gain the skills they need, you want to still be directly teaching the skills. Here is how a typical lesson looks during a historical fiction unit:

  1. Teach a mini-lesson and introduce a skill, such as comparing and contrasting
  2. Read a section of the historical fiction novel / story with students
  3. Apply the skill from the mini-lesson to the section you read (for example, comparing and contrasting two characters in the text)

The application aspect may be as a whole group, group work, or individual. It depends on how familiar my students are with the skills, and if this is the first, second, or fifth time I have taught directly about it!

How can I assess my students during a reading unit?

Your typical multiple choice assessment over the book may not be the best way to actually assess students’ learning. I tend to use more skills based assessments. If we talked about inferencing a lot while reading, I may give them a short historical fiction passage to read and make an inference on.

You can also have students complete a book report. In this, you can tap into a variety of skills such as summarization, predictions, setting, characterization, plot, and more.

Need some ideas for your Greek Mythology unit? Check out this blog post here.