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Historical Fiction Activities for Middle School

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Historical fiction is a great way to practice multiple skills at once and teach students to think about history in creative and unique ways. These activities can help you connect your students with historical fiction writing. Updated: 12/14/2019

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.

Research

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

Topics

Fictional Protagonist

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.

Multiple Perspectives

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.

Fictionalized Biography

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.

Alternative History

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.

Fantasy History

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.

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