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Relating Fiction to Social Studies: Creating Links Across the Curriculum to Aid Understanding

written by: Sarah Degnan Moje • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 10/14/2013

How do you get your students engaged in their history subjects? Team up with their English teacher and use fiction to help your students better understand a historical period. In this lesson plan, students will analyze a poem to learn more about the Civil War.

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    Social Studies teachers, are you students lacking the passion you feel for historical events? Do they not seem to fully grasp the horrors of slavery, the cries for freedom during the American Revolution, the rockets blaring during The War of 1812? Although you do your best to bring history to life, for some students, it remains as dead as the language of Latin. However, there are some brief, one day lessons you can use to help connect your students to history. Your first task? Make friends with an English teacher.

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    Connection Social Studies & English

    Perhaps the best way to get students to read in the Social Studies content area is to connect your Social Studies curriculum to your English curriculum. If that is not possible, sit and talk with your colleagues in the English Department. Tell them what you are teaching and ask them for works of fiction that may help with your lesson.

    Just like the Primary Source documents, the fictional excerpts are out there. Are you teaching the 1920’s in America? Give students a chapter of The Great Gatsby. The history of Ancient Greece? Try an excerpt from Black Ships Before Troy. The American Revolution? Revisit that elementary school favorite “Paul Revere’s Ride." The Civil War? Uncle Tom’s Cabin drives home the slavery issue for all readers.

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    Quick History Lesson with "Southern Mansion"

    800px-Lakeport Plantation, Lake Village, Chicot County, Arkansas If you just want to use fiction to introduce or close out a topic you are covering, poetry is perhaps the best way to go. Poems are short, easy to reproduce for class copies, and students, because of what they are learning in English classrooms, already have the ability to deconstruct poems. Take a look at the quick, downloadable lesson below that illustrates the idea of how to incorporate poetry into a Social Studies classroom.

    Let’s start with the poem Southern Mansion. It’s a quick, one period lesson that paints a picture of life on a plantation for slaves. Students will be familiar with the literary terms used in the assignment from their literature class. More importantly, they will start to see CONNECTIONS between English and Social Studies. This reinforces reading skills.

    Distribute the Student Worksheet and go over vocabulary. Have three students read the three stanzas aloud. Other students should underline any words within poem that make them think of an image/picture. Explain simile and ask students if they can find a simile within the poem. (If nobody can, the teacher will identify.) Explain imagery and ask students what words they underlined in the poem. Find how why they chose certain words. On the top of Student Worksheet, have students illustrate one of the images they identified in the poem. While students are drawing the image, circulate to ensure understanding. Explain briefly the meaning/content of the poem to the students. Students should answer the Comprehension Check questions on the worksheet. Go over answers briefly. If time permits, have each student develop an opening sentence for the writing assignment. Place the opening sentence in Thesis Box on the worksheet.

    At the end of the class period, you have a writing assignment that any English teacher would be proud of. This is an alternative assessment grade in the form of an illustration that allows students who learn in different ways the chance to excel on an assignment, and most importantly, you have had a class discussion that allowed students to use sensory images to really gain an understanding of a historical time period. Poetry is a great teaching tool and recourse for Social Studies teachers!

    Downloadable Resources:

    Lesson Plan

    Student Handout

    "Southern Mansion" Power Point

    Teacher Notes


  • Photo by Jeff Noble (Flickr user journeyguy) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Reading Primary Sources in Social Studies

There is sometimes a disconnect in High School students between English and History classes. Students need to be reading primary source documents but have not yet learned the skills to do so. Bridge that gap in your Social Studies class by having students interact with primary source texts.
  1. Integrating Primary Source Reading Strategies in Social Studies
  2. Acting Out! How To Use Primary Sources as Performance Pieces
  3. Musical Interludes: Using Songs as Secondary Historical Sources
  4. Relating Fiction to Social Studies: Creating Links Across the Curriculum to Aid Understanding