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Featured Lesson Plan: Historical Novel

Students read an historical novel, based on a period in history, and arrive at its meaning and main ideas, discussing it "all class." This can be done in conjunction with the social studies teacher, as an interdisciplinary unit, and students use their understanding of the time period to arrive at the meaning of the plot, theme, and characters' actions. Various Google tools are used for information gathering, working with partners, and final student projects.

This lesson uses My Brother Sam is Dead, an historical novel based on the American Revolution. The lesson can be modified for any historical novel.

By Carol LaRow, leading online educator who just spoke at the NECC in Washington DC. View student directions here.

Using Historical Fiction in the Classroom. This week while sorting and categorizing my "favorites list" I found a link to an article I had saved years ago that contains a wealth of information about Historical Fiction and how it can help you excite students about history.

This is a great article that explains what Historical Fiction is and how it can be used in the Classroom. Below I've posted tid-bits that stood out to me, below that is a link to the full article:

The writer of good historical fiction recreates the past with an immediacy neither expository history nor pure fiction can achieve alone. Good historical fiction must not only be good history, but must also be good literature. The historical novelist presents the reader with characters caught up in a conflict and builds his narrative from historical details. As the reader becomes involved with the characters and story line, he begins to absorb the historical data and begins to recognize the many human qualities of the character . Gradually the characters become real to the reader and the reader begins to “root” for this character if he or she is being treated unjustly. The reader might question in his own mind the need for law or government to protect this character’s individual rights.

And, at this moment, the reader is unconsciously using his cognitive ability to sort and group these historical details; he compares them to his own society, and begins to discern the differences in the historical period he is reading about and to compare it to his society today. If the historical novelist accomplishes this kind of reader involvement, he has made some impact on the reader’s conscience. He has made the reader think, consider, discover, and, most important, begin to realize the importance and usefulness of studying history. He has, of course, as his central purpose, also described and explained some significant historical tendency.

The writer of good historical fiction is aware of the various interpretations of the same period of history and, if he is sophisticated about the historiographic view, he will integrate historiography in his novel. James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier, authors of My Brother Sam Is Dead, attempt to deal with the histoiographic dimension in this novel. They include the Whig, Progressive, and Imperialist interpretations of the American Revolution within the framework of the novel. The Whig interpretation is that the American Revolution was justified because of the tyranny of George III against the colonists. The Americans were patriots who organized to fight for freedom. This historiographic view is expressed through the character of Sam, the hero of the novel...

When the history teacher brings this kind of fiction into the classroom he is providing the student with another understanding of the past. The historical novel uses imaginative and figurative language to entice students into a historical exploration. The character and drama interact with past events in such a way as to involve the student in a study of the past on an emotional level as well aa a cognitive level. This student involvement is a logical reason why history teachers should be persuaded to use historical fiction.

Once students become immersed in the novel’s setting, character, plot and theme, they become interested and stimulated by the novel’s story. They begin to draw inferences while reading the novel, about geography, governmental organization, religious beliefs, social attitudes manner of dress, types of food, size of towns or cities, modes of transportation, distribution of wealth, social classes, and laws. They begin to absorb the historical details in the novel without even realizing they are being instructed. In contrast, if these same historical facts were presented in a textbook and the teacher asked the students to memorize or know them, it is likely that little information would be retained by many students.

The events become more significant because the students must understand them in order to understand the novel. Students retain the historical information more easily because it has been understood within the context of the plot, character, setting and theme of the novel. Students begin to consider the relevancy of this segment of the past in relation to the society they live in. The students begin to see how a study of the past helps them to understand the present. The impact of a historical novel on students cannot be minimized. The range of their imagination and understanding can be broadened. If they respond to a good historical novel, they might be motivated to research the novelist’s use of historical data. They begin to discern the novelist’s biases and they might decide to search for historical data to support or contradict the point of view expressed by the author...

Most students like a good story, a story with excitement, adventure and challenge; if a historical novel is well written, it includes these elements and more. The “more” is historical accuracy in detail and theme, the necessary elements of a meaningful historical exploration through fiction. The conflicts of men and women in history become real to the student because these men and women can be presented in their human dimension. They are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, who are caught up in a particular event. Their defeats and successes evoke an emotional response from readers. This response is the draws students into the world of the past and embues his perspective with an historical dimension. The historical figures emerge as human beings responding to a human condition in the context of history.

The history teacher can devise numerous strategies and techniques for sifting the fact and the fiction. The historical clues may be picked out by students who see textbook history spring to life in historical fiction. Students can become experts or “nitpickers” about the writer’s use of historical data and the exercise can be stimulating for class discussion. Reference sources for checking the accuracy of historical data include encyclopedias, almanacs, biographical dictionaries, dictionaries of history, serious local and national histories, and numerous other readily available sources. Students may check school and town libraries as well as local historical societies and the state library. Primary source materials are often available locally in church records, deeds, wills, probate records in town halls, local cemeteries, local tax lists, federal census, town meeting records, old maps, letters and diaries, sermons, industrial records, local newspapers and elders who have resided in a community for a long time...

Read the Full article which includes Guidelines and Strategies for using Historical Fiction in the Classroom:


Teaching Historical Fiction Online Resources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPmI0E8Qx_E How to teach historical history by Goggle.

Google Historical Voyages and Historical Events Amazing research from Carol LaRow.

Other Historical Fiction books covering topics related to the American Revolution:



My Brother Sam is Dead Resources Available at the History of Redding Website:

Resources Available Online:




Putnam Memorial State Park- This is where Sam Meeker was encamped during the winter of 1778-79. This is the same camp Tim describes when he attempts to free Sam from the stockade.

Keeler Tavern Museum- Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Keeler Tavern Museum has been a farmhouse, tavern, stagecoach stop, post office, hotel for travelers and a private residence. The Meeker Family Tavern was very similar and thus Keeler Tavern gives a glimpse at the way Tim, Sam, Life and Suzanne lived and worked.

Putnam's Cottage / Knapp's Tavern Museum- Putnam's Cottage is intimately connected to the Revolutionary war, having housed General Putnam and hosted General Washington for lunch. The house has long been associated with General Israel Putnam and his heroic escape from the British during the Revolutionary War. General Putnam was Sam Meeker's General in the novel.

Compo Beach- The British landed on this beach in 1777. From here they marched north through Redding where they halted for several hours before their attack on Danbury Connecticut's military depot. Tim describes their visit in the novel.





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