Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another View of Writing

A colleague of mine shared this blog post from the Writing Teacher with me. It is all about how history can be taught through the eyes and skills of creative writing. Here is a blurb in case you don't have time to read the whole post:

My first year I taught English, history, science, and two periods of physical education. I was completely unqualified to teach science and physical education, but I did have a minor in history. What I had to do then was figure out how to make history interesting.

All my life I had read historical novels. Every Christmas and birthday my parents bought me books, mostly historical fiction about young girls who lived in times past. I loved these stories. History was stories—stories with real people, not just key figures. History was stories with real time periods, not just dates. History was stories with exciting action, not just names of events. How could I make these stories happen in my classroom? By involving the students in reading and writing activities that put them in those times, those places. By telling them that the study of history should be the study of well-told stories, and of reading and writing well-told stories.

And that’s what I did. I taught history as if it were a literature class. The textbook became a launching pad for research into what really happened, who was really there, and who the participants were. I wanted more for my students than sound bites.

So we researched and we wrote. We wrote letters from one historical character to another, even across time zones. We wrote editorials and obituaries. We wrote speeches to be given at award ceremonies and thank-you speeches for the awards. We drew storyboards for the movies we wanted to make and then wrote about them. We wrote poetry.

And my students said: “When we become the characters and write as if we were those people, we learn so much more than if we were just reading about them.”

I, as an English teacher and fellow literature lover, would LOVE a class like this. But I would like to get the opinion of someone who teaches history and was not an English major. Does this type of approach -- and more specifically this type of writing -- have a place in a history class? Can it meet writing goals you have? Or can it be blended with other writing? In the end, as a history teacher, what goals do you have for your students as writers and for what you hope they gain by writing? I am in the midst of a great discussion with my history colleagues about writing across the disciplines, so I really look forward to your responses to add to our conversations.


  1. I'm not a history teacher, but I was an English teacher, and for 8 years I team-taught an interdisciplinary course with a Social Studies teacher. It was one of my favorite classes to teach, and we really tried to blur, if not remove completely, the lines between the "English" content and the "Social Studies" content.

    Even in my traditional English classes, I used to joke that I was a Social Studies teacher trapped in an English teacher's body. My students did historical research and thoroughly examined the historical context with just about every work we read. If I was able to do it as an English teacher, I'm sure a Social Studies teacher could use literature as representative of a larger theme or time period (e.g., reading Night during a study of the Holocaust).

    There's a part of me that thinks students, to varying degrees, dislike the disconnect and compartmentalization of their academic day. I tried to incorporate social studies, statistics, and science into my English classroom as much as possible, and I think my students dug it more or less, if for no other reason than it appealed to a wider variety of academic strengths and interests than just those that fall under the heading of Language Arts.

  2. i think writing about things help you understand them. i think trying to envision yourself as someone else is the first step toward empathy.
    i like to write poems from the perspective of others; such work forces me to consider myself in light of others.

  3. Can't wait till our run to discuss tomorrow!

  4. I am right there with you on this. Having the history background brings the literature to life. I wish we were able to integrate more effectively at FA.

  5. I have been a High School history teacher for over 20 years. I have also taught numerous English classes, and have just had my first novel published (see below). Wherever possible, I like to involve literature in the history classroom. One successful example is reading excerpts from All Quiet on the Western Front in studying WWI. My novel is entitled The Fuhrer Virus. It is a fictional WWII spy/conspiracy/thriller for adolescent/adult readers and can be found at,, and at


    Paul Schultz