Teaching a unit with historical fiction

Hatshepsut chapel image.

Ancient Egypt tells a tale

Above is a link to a little unit of work I created to teach ancient history using historical narrative; specifically a short story called Little Hatshepsut. The story is available, along with 32 other stories (and brief historical notes on each story) via Amazon in the book hiSTORY, by Stephen Kimber. You might also like to visit the site: https://www.historynarratives.com

Please note that the unit on teaching ancient history (specifically history related to ancient Egypt) is slowly unfolding on my other blog: https://historiographerplus.wordpress.com/  This act of unfolding may of course be a little different to what is on the creatavist site.


Gapminder – what a great resource


Many an IDEAS FESTIVAL wants people to think about ‘the way we think, eat, move, build, care, communicate and share information’. Gapminder.org is a phenomenally useful site and resource, particularly for Years 9- 12, though with opportunities to be employed even in the upper primary Years.

Gapminder’s primary focus is on using statistics to explore developmental issues (and to perhaps debunk myths). This VERY USEFUL site contains interactive graphs related to development issues (via the Gapminder World tab), videos, downloads, notes and other resources for teachers. The interactive graphs [press PLAY] are particularly appealing and offer potential lessons in a number of subjects; they initially load a modern set of data but can be played (and paused) to run from 1809 to the present (or, in some cases, to some projected year in the near future). Statistics used to create graphs can also be reconsituted to display against a global map. The videos are also informative, with great potential to engender discussion. The site would perhaps work best with Year 9s and above but, with teacher assitance and judicous selection of what is used, the site offers pedagogical potential from Year 6 onwards. One glitch was found: tutorial videos such as ‘Learn to select indicators…’ would not load for the evaluator. The issue may be bandwidth or speed of connection.

Top 10 teachable novels – a list of sorts

Here’s my list (the order is not important.)

Tomorrow when the war began. For year 9 or 10. Students, even reluctant readers, respond to this book and it would be eminently teachable given that there is now a recent film.

Holes: Easy reading, big themes; an apparently simple book but the result of skilled writing – for Years 7 or 8 (I’d do it at 8). The video adds a good visual comparison.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Year 10 – 11: despite its apparent difficulties (let’s face it – the vocabulary and focalisation {adult sensitivity via a young female} are difficult for many) this is very teachable – even to reluctant readers. I always read and contextualise the opening chapter (show excerpts for the film vesion to help establish the tone and feel of 30s Southern USA. I have also taught this novel in conjunction with the film (what has four eyes and cannot see – Mississippi) with Year 12s. A great novel for links to other curriculum (Modern History). There is also a host of other great teaching ideas out there in cyberspace; look atwww.enotes.com and enter TKAM in the search panel to see an example of what I mean.

The world according to Garp –
 For year 12 and with the qualification that some parents hate the notion of this book being studied in schools.  This gets them reading (and the film with Robin Williams – despite deficiencies – is a good visualisation).

Animal Farm – classic novel for Year 9 – 10 (11s via postmodernist critique). A fable which has these benefits. It’s short and so the length does not put students off. It’s concise – every event tells. It’s lucid, lovely for teaching the power of language. It has a mulititude of links to History. I’d also use it in a Modern History or Senior English class. (Positioning, background on Orwell, deconstruction, and such.)

The day of the triffids – Year 10; great, thoughtful sci-fi (post apocalyptic) novel. And it is not all that sci-fi’ish. Also by John Wyndham and eminently teachable is

The chrysalids – and this one works well if taught in conjunction with a film addressing a similar theme (the opposition of most societies to a difference that they see as threatening.) An example isPhenomenon. Imagine the historical and/or contemporary connections you could make with any oppressive regime – Germany’s Nazis, Pol Pot, Spains Franco, the US and its flirtation with McCarthyism (or Patriot acts maybe), the current administration in Myanmar… alas, the list goes on. 

Snow falling on cedars – Years 10 – 11. A ripping plot, subtly handled.Very good for thematic work on tolerance.

 – Still a great novel that appeals to the innate morbidity of many a student in Year 12. The film with John Hurt has some appeal too.

The English patient – but only with a class of Year 12 fliers. This is great for teaching post modernist rejection of historiography.(I also like making links between Ondaatje and his sapper ‘hero’….)

That’s it – 10. I am sure I could think a little longer and add at least another five. I wonder what other English teachers favour teaching – and why?

Book Drum – Great for the new Australian curriculum in English

Within the new National Curriculum for English, the opening sentence beneath the heading – Year 9 Achievement Standard – is:

“By the end of Year 9 students listen to, read and view a range of spoken, written and multimodal texts, recognising how events, situations and people can be represented from different perspectives, and identifying stated and implied meaning in texts.”

Book Drum (www.bookdrum.com) offers a great resource for teachers wanting additional information on many many novels, such as To kill a mockingbirdPride and prejudiceThe great Gatsby and many more. In addition, it is a wonderful way to teach ‘representation’ and contextualisation (particularly since much of what Book Drum calls a ‘profile’ offers snippets of background information on specific text within the book – via ‘bookmarks’). For good examples of this check out the profiles on Dava Sobel’s Longitude or Hemingway’s A moveable feast.

I’d also imagine that getting students to create a profile for a study novel (would work really well as a paired or small group collaboration) is an excellent opportunity to assess how well the student has engaged with the book. This could be done outside Book Drum via Blackboard or Moodle, or using Word or web design software.

Book Drum has been added via evaluation and quality assurance to the Learning Place‘s edusite. Check it out – it’s a wonderful resource.

PS – I selected a statement from the year 9 curriculum as a starting point; Book Drum has great relevance in subsequent Years. Witness the Year 10 statement: “By the end of Year 10 students listen to, read and view a range of spoken, written and multimodal texts, identifying and explaining values, attitudes and assumptions.”