Highlighting Our History: American Revolution Read-alouds PLUS for the Common Core

For Upper Elementary Students

Anderson, Marcella Fisher and Elizabeth Weiss Vollstadt. Young Patriots: Inspiring Stories of the American Revolution. ISBN: 1-59078-241-0. Lexile: 835.
While much of history is documented, it is generally an adult perspective that we see and read about. Anderson and Vollstadt wanted to tell the story of the American Revolution using the voices of young people. Their research using primary sources of the day, family legends, and the work of historians resulted in this collection of fifteen stories, which puts fictional characters into historical situations, and incidents of the Revolutionary period. Historical context for each story, sidebars, and a timeline and glossary at the end of the book make this a useful and engaging text for students and teachers alike. Like Rappaport's text below, each selection can be read aloud in one or two sessions. Chart key ideas and details as you read and discuss each to scaffold the following writing extension.

Writing extension: My Simpleshow can be used by students to create a slideshow for the stories in this text. Challenge individuals or small groups to contribute a slide or several slides that capture the essence of each individual's contribution. Students will practice keyword searches to find appropriate stunning images in the tool's gallery. The guiding question for the work might be something like:  “Why is ____'s story inspiring? Write a sentence or several phrases (one for each image you use) that sums up the importance of their story.”                    

Brown, Don. Henry and the Cannons. ISBN: 978-1-59643-266-6. Lexile: AD820.
Brown's text tells of an almost impossible mission. Bookseller Henry Knox believes he can haul fifty-nine cannons from Fort Ticonderoga for Washington's army to drive the British from Boston. By weaving in very specific details and quotes from Knox himself, Brown gives readers that “you are there” feeling. Knox's dogged determination ends with success after almost two months of winter travel under less than ideal conditions. Illustrations extend the text and help students to comprehend this extraordinary feat. The book works well for a character study for Common Core Reading Standards, and it also lends itself to a writing exercise like the one below:

Writing prompt: “You are one of the men who made the trek with Henry Knox to haul the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. Write a letter to a family member (wife, brother, cousin) now that your mission has reached a successful conclusion. Share some of the highlights of the journey—the ups and the downs. Be as specific as you can, recalling evidence from the text, and include thoughts and feelings that you imagine the men must have experienced.”

Fritz, Jean. And then what Happened, Paul Revere? ISBN: 9780698202740. Lexile: 830.
In this book that is part of a series about the Founding Fathers, Fritz portrays Revere as someone who was always busy, often rushing -"hat clapped to his head, coattails flying." The text is full of fascinating facts and interesting details woven expertly into a narrative. Students will learn the backstory behind Revere's ride, and gain an understanding of the many other contributions Revere made. An author's note provides additional information. Follow this text up with Ted Rand's picture book version of Longfellow's poem below.

Writing extension: The author of this text tells readers more than once that some things went well for Revere and company, and that some things went badly. Compose a whole-group piece that illustrates this with a point/counterpoint structure. Use Remy Charlip's classic book Fortunately or Margery Cuyler's That's Good! That's Bad! as mentor texts. If time allows, students could illustrate the pages and add the book to the classroom library.

Additional extension activities for this text are available from Scholastic, including the following: 

  • Write a conversation between Paul Revere and John Lowell as they carry John Hancock's trunk across Lexington Green. Then act out the dialogue for the class with a friend. (CCSS writing, speaking-and-listening)
  • Choose one of the crafts that Paul Revere mastered. Use the encyclopedia and other nonfiction to find out more about the craft and the steps it involves. Write a brief report about it, and share it orally with the class. (short, focused research project for CCSS)
  • Imagine you are Paul Revere in his old age. Write a memoir of your famous ride as you might describe it for your great-grandchildren. Share your writing with the class.

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Paul Revere's Ride. ISBN: 0-525-44610-9. Lexile: not available.

Longfellow's poem presents a number of opportunities for working with Common Core standards. The images from the poem that Rand chose to illustrate will aid in student understanding, and the expert use of light in his watercolors conveys a mood of secrecy and danger. (Students will know from Fritz's account that April 18, 1775 was a moonlit night, which was of some concern to Paul Revere and his partners.) Extend the poem with supplemental materials available at The Midnight Ride.    

Because of its unusual syntax, vocabulary, and archaic language, consider doing a close reading of this complex text to ensure that students have a deep understanding of it. (For more information about close reading, see this TeachersFirst article.)

Speaking extension: Once you are certain that students thoroughly understand the poem, individuals or small groups of students could prepare oral recitations as part of the CCSS Speaking and Listening standards. Break the poem down into chunks that are manageable for your particular students, and challenge them to use their voice to convey its rhythm and mood. Have students search for a copyright-friendly image to represent their section of the poem, and then use Slide Story to narrate.

Rappaport, Doreen and Joan Verniero.  Victory or Death!  Stories of the American Revolution.  ISBN: 0-06-029516-3. Lexile: 810.
The authors of this collection have provided a look at the Revolutionary period through the eyes of eight individuals in order to give a more complete picture of the struggles and contributions of the many facets of colonial society. The stories highlight both famous and lesser-known individuals; Patriots, Loyalists, slaves, women, children, and various ethnic and religious groups are represented. Each story can be read in one daily read-aloud session.

The book is well researched, and the authors used primary sources extensively. In their Acknowledgments section they discuss particular sources they used (journals, diaries, letters, etc.) and what, if any, details were fictionalized for each particular story. This provides an excellent introduction to primary sources for this age group, and a model for students’ own work as researchers through the grades.  

Read the “About this Book” section carefully with students at the very beginning and as a group decide what the authors’ purpose is. Keep notes of student thinking and impressions as you read each story over a period of time. Did the authors do what they set out to do?

Writing extension 1:  Using evidence from the book, have students respond in writing to one of these prompts:
“No matter which side you were on, the life of every American was affected during the war.”
“Wars are not just fought on the battlefield.”
“There are many forms of heroism in times of war.”

Writing extension 2: Challenge students individually, in small groups, or even as a whole class to portray the significance of one or several people in the book through poetry. By using either the haiku or acrostic form, for example, they will have to distill down the historical facts and incidents they read about to very few words in order to craft a poem that captures the essence of the individual or incident.

IntroductionThe Power of Daily Read-aloudsFor Lower Elementary Students
For Middle Elementary StudentsFor Upper Elementary StudentsAdditional Resources

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