Stranger Than Fiction: Using Facts to Support Fiction

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SWBAT research nonfiction related to historical fiction.

Big Idea

Students support their understanding of their historical fiction books with facts from nonfiction


5 minutes

By this point, the students have spent a lot of time studying and interpreting ideas in their historical fiction book club book. They have done this work independently and with their book club. Very rarely have they looked to nonfiction text to support what they are learning in their books. This lesson teaches them that when they are reading and learning from historical fiction, it is as important to study nonfiction as it is to study the fictional elements of the historical fiction book.

To introduce this lesson, I explain to students that they can learn a lot about the time in history their books are set in by studying which characters are important in their book, what the characters say and do, and how the setting is described. They can also learn a lot by studying nonfiction or informational materials related to the same time in history. It can be graphic features such as graphs and pictures from that time, or it can be text features like timelines and primary documents. It may very well be a book or article about the same topic. In this lesson they will get an opportunity to research the time in history their book is set in.

Main Activity

30 minutes

I start the main activity by modeled for students how I use nonfiction to learn more about the time in history that our read aloud book is set in. First, I think about some of the questions we've had throughout the book that weren't answered by the book. The book is written from the perspective of a boy so he probably wouldn't know about all of the armies or which army is the "good" army or which army is winning. He also probably wouldn't know whether or not the United States are involved with the war. But these are definitely questions that we can answer through research. There may also be some important people that are mentioned and we can figure out if they are real or who they represent. Sometimes a timeline will help us understand the important events in the war that may have effected the main characters life. Certainly a map will help us understand location. 

I explain that I kepts these questions in mind as I researched, realizing that I may not get the exact answer and I may even find information that is even more interesting. I pull out a preselected article to read that helps define the war and the causes and effects on a very basic level. This gives me context. I also look at a map that shows me the path that the character took throughout the story and the distance between where we are the setting of the story. 

I then show one more piece of information, a video on the Lost Boys of Sudan. I prewatched it to make sure it was appropriate and played it for the students. I asked the to look for information that might be helpful in understanding the story. I also suggested that they take quick notes to help remind them of what they learned when we share. 

After the video, students made many connections between the facts in the video and the experience the character in the read aloud book had.

Now, its the students turn to find information that helps them understand the historical setting of their book club book. They can work in groups, pairs, or by themselves.


5 minutes

After students have had time to find and record information for at least one substantial resource related to their books, I gather everyone together to share. Students share what type of resource/s they found and how they used it to develop their understanding. Some students realized that there was "more to the story" than what their book told. They also realized that certain characters were either real or represented a real person in history. 

The best discovery for some students where the ones that showed them how that time in history effected the life of people today. For example, one group was reading a book on interment camps and realized that Japanese people from the city we live in were also removed and put into internment camp. There is even a museum in our town devoted to telling their stories. The students vowed to visit the museum.