Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Historical Fiction Activities for Middle School
Historical fiction can be an amazing tool to get students creatively engaged in history. This genre requires students to simultaneously empathize with historical actors, apply research and knowledge, and communicate ideas through writing. The following activities are presented piecemeal, in a mix-and-match format to give you the most options for bringing historical fiction exercises into your classroom. There are three basic components of this activity: research, topics, and writing formats.
Part of historical fiction activities is doing the necessary research. Depending on your class and the amount of time you wish to devote to this, students can either use their existing notes as the basis for their stories or can conduct simple in-class research. If you choose the latter, provide students with a packet of primary sources relevant to their writing topic. Students will read through these primary sources to understand the attitudes, issues, and reactions of real people from this time.
- Materials: Primary sources
Perhaps the most straightforward way to conduct this activity is to select a time period or historical event and have students create a fictional protagonist who participates in that event. By creating a fictional figure, students can explore the time period freely without fear of fundamentally changing the history itself. This character should interact with real people from that era and represent real attitudes of people like him/her from that time.
Rather than writing one full story, students can write multiple shorter stories, each from the perspective of someone different. This can be a great way to explore various sides of a conflict. For example, if your students are writing on the American Revolution, have one story be from a patriot, another from a redcoat, another from an African-American slave, and another from a member of Native American nation.
Rather than asking students to create a fictional protagonist, students will write a story from the perspective of an actual historical figure. Students will have to be careful to represent this person, their beliefs, and their actions as accurately as possible. However, there will always be a little room for authorial license.
Changing history, in a conscientious way, can be a fun exercise and requires a surprisingly firm grasp of historical attitudes and beliefs. Students will write a story in which history went a different direction. Maybe the Industrial Revolution never happened, or happened in ancient Rome. Maybe the Americans lost their revolution, or Mexico had its independence war first. Students will examine the consequences of this change in a way that is logical and connected to the actual historical events and attitudes of people.
If you want to make this as unrestricted and fun as possible, this is an alternative history with fewer rules. Essentially, ask students to imagine what would have happened if the American Revolution had been fought with magic. How would the Space Race have been different with wizards? What would the Age of Imperialism been like with dragons? These stories will focus on actual historical moments, but with fantasy elements incorporated as part of the world.
The most obvious format for these activities is to have students write a short story. This story needs to have a clear plot and climax, as well as room for character growth and world building. These can be written in third person or first person. Epistolary stories, written as a diary or letter, can be fun tweaks on this format.
Micro Fiction Suite
Micro fiction generally refers to stories of 300 words or less. There's not a lot of room for plot, but it can be a very fun exercise in concise writing. The development of a plot and conflicts comes not from a single piece, but from writing a suite of interconnected pieces that each explore different angles of the same topic.
In this activity, students tell the story in a long (either epic or folk style) poem. There are many great stories told in poems that students can read for reference, and this can give a folksong element to the narrative.
Rather than writing a traditional story, students can write their narrative purely in dialogue and create a one-act play. This style of writing has its own challenges and will focus more on people's attitudes and communication than actions, which can be a great opportunity to explore debates and public discourse.
Comics are in a resurgence of popularity now, so ask students to write their story as a comic or graphic novel. This adds a visual and artistic element not found in other formats.
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