Integrating Writing into the Social Studies Classroom:
Writing First-Person Fiction as a Social Studies Assignment
Learning the social studies requires a certain amount of imagination. Students who can put themselves into a story are more likely to take away a meaningful learning experience. Today's emphasis on visual learning may fail to take advantage of the power of the student's mind to create images.
Writing first-person fiction stimulates the creative imagination, helps students relate to the story, and aids retention of material because students must recreate a historical setting.
The First-Person Historical Fiction Writing Assignment
One advantage of this assignment is that students are familiar with writing in the first person. Some students keep diaries, some write letters, and others keep journals. Almost all students know something about historical fiction from watching movies.
History students can present a dramatic interpretation of a significant historical event. Government students might write a journal detailing events in the life of a senator, or a historical event such as the Constitutional Convention. Geography students could journal in the way Lewis and Clark did about a particular region.
The teacher's task is to stimulate interest in the assignment and give specific direction so that the process and the product accomplish its purpose.
Four First-Person Forms
There are four first-person forms of writing that adapt well to any social studies discipline assignment:
Introducing the Writing Assignment
- Diaries and journal entries are useful for short writing projects that help students focus on a sequence of events. The assignment should ask students to assume a specific character, time, and place. This decision should not be made without taking some time to research the historical setting.
- Letters are short writing assignments that help students relate to a specific event. Research is narrower for this form, but creativity and imagination are essential to success.
- Short stories permit longer writing assignments and call for a wider range of research. The student is challenged to create a set of fictional characters and develop a plot that can lead to a suitable conclusion or resolution.
- Drama adapts well to cooperative learning. A small group may work together to write the drama and present it to the class. Research should be required because the challenge is to keep creativity confined within the historical context.
Diaries, journals, letters, and even literature from the past are vital sources for historians. Explain to students how these writing forms help historians understand the past. If the assignment is to write diary entries or compose a letter, a real sample from the historical period could be shared with the class.
The teacher should explain in detail the importance of making the writing believable. For example, if a diary were dated in the 1770s, modern slang would be out of place. Avoid anachronisms, especially products of technology that did not exist at the time.
To write a fictional short story that is historically accurate, a student's research should focus on the sequence of events. Students should consider both the beginning time frame and the ending.
Diary Entry Assignment on the American Revolution
Because Boston was the center of so much colonial protest, the British concentrated their energies on controlling the city and surrounding countryside. In the years 1770-1775 a series of events in and around Boston created the atmosphere that led to Americans' eventual break with Great Britain. In this assignment you will create a diary with several (3-5) entries as a person who lived in the Boston area between 1770 and 1775. Each entry should relate the events of the day or week as though you were living in the Boston area. It is not necessary that you witness everything first hand, just that you know people who are close to the events.
|Student Writing Assignment Guidelines Example
|Writing Diary Entries
Plan to spend an hour or so this week to get started on this writing assignment. It is important that you do some research to determine which events you want to include. (Use your textbook, pages ___________ to ___________.) Then think about the character you will be and the diary entries you will write.
Remember that the character you choose will help determine the kind of entries you write. For example, a young person may not see events in the same way that an adult would; a person sympathetic to the king would not see events the same as a "patriot."
Diary setting: Boston 1770-1775 (Each diary entry should include a specific day, month, and year.)
Form: Three, four, or five diary entries spaced over any period of time between 1770 and 1775. Each entry should be 50-100 words long and handwritten in ink on lined paper (one to two pages, front side only).
Character: A fictional person (do not use a historically recognized name) living in or around Boston
Assignment due date ______________________________
Grading: The project is worth 100 points:
50 points if finished on time and consistent with the instructions;
10-20 points for historical accuracy;
20-30 points for creativity and authenticity of writing style. (It reads like something from the period.)
This article was contributed by David Glunt, social studies teacher at Tree of Life Christian High School, Columbus, Ohio. He also teaches American Civilization at Columbus State Community College.