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Back-to-School Planning 1: Teaching Social Studies with Books

Teaching Resources for the American Revolution, Civil War, WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, the Cold War, Civil Rights, Vietnam and Immigration

· Teachers
Keep Calm and Teach Social Studies

Teachers, I know you're busy planning for back-to-school. Here's a few links to resources I've taught and tested and books that will help you hit your 7th / 8th grade Social Studies Common Core standards.

If you're lucky, you'll have a colleague across the hall or in the same pod who teaches English Language Arts, and they'll be willing to coordinate with you and teach at least some of the English Language Arts standards using the recommended fiction books.

If you have any books you'd like to recommend I add, please let me know in the comments.

Here's to having a GREAT school year!

For novel units and other English Language Arts book related resources, check out my next post, Back-to-School Planning 2: English Language Arts Resources. For a year's worth of Independent Reading assignments, check out my post, Back-to-School Planning 3: Independent Reading Assignments By Quarter. And finally, end the year right by reading Ian Doescher's William Shakespeare's Star Wars and using the resources in my post, Back-to-School Planning 4: Fun with Star Wars!

American Revolution

American Revolution Reads.

This post suggests pairing Year of the Hangman, by Gary Blackwood, with the non-fiction biography, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, by Steve Sheinkin and offers comprehension questions and ELA standards-based questions for both books.

Recommended Post-Revolution Reads

Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson. This book is about the yellow fever epidemic of Philadelphia a decade after the American Revolution. This post features links to several free teaching resources for this book, including: a publisher's discussion guide, a publisher's literature circle guide, a 45-page teaching guide correlated to 8th grade Common Core Social Studies standards and a separate project assignment and chapter quizzes.

Civil War

Gendered POV in Literature.

This post recommends pairing Soldier's Heart, by Gary Paulsen, with The Girls of Gettysburg, by Bobbi Miller and provides teaching resources for each.

Crossing the Deadline: Teaching Resources.

Author Michael Shoulders and his wife offer lesson plans and a guided reading based on the book.

Recommended Civil War Fiction Books

Excellent Historical Fiction! Crossing the Deadline: Stephen's Journey Through the Civil War, by Michael Shoulders

Read Through Your Tears... Crossing Ebenezer Creek, by Tonya Bolden. Set during Sherman's march to Atlanta, this book is a powerful account of what happened to the many African Americans at Ebenezer Creek.

World War I

Teaching World War I

This post suggests pairing the documentary, Arizona Heroes of WWI, with the book War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo. It includes links to excellent WWI teaching resources offered by Scholastic and War Horse the UK Tour.

Recommended WWI Fiction Books

Historical Fiction for Veterans Day. Winnie's Great War, by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut

The Great Depression

Great Depression: Economics and Literature. This post includes lesson plans for four classroom simulations of key economic concepts: free trade, inflation, how banks grow money, and a bank run. It suggests teaching these to build prior knowledge of economic concepts during the time period before reading Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, and includes a link to a Library of Congress reading journal, and watching the Ken Burns documentary, Dust Bowl.

Recommended Great Depression Books

Great Depression in Word and Image. Crash: The Great Depression and the Fall and Rise of America, by Marc Favreau. Non-fiction.

World War II

War-Torn Historical Fiction

This post links or provides downloadable files to all of L.M. Elliott's teaching materials for her books, Under a War-Torn Sky, Across a War-Tossed Sea, and A Troubled Peace.

Fly Girls: Injecting Women into WWII Curriculum

This blog post suggests you pair the non-fiction Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII, by P. O'Connell Pearson with the moving, dual-point-of-view fiction account of a woman pilot and a spy in Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, and gives links to teaching resources for each. Wein's book is appropriate for older and more advanced readers. There are three other suggested readings at the end of this section that would work equally well as substitution reading, if necessary or if your classes' ages and maturity levels are not quite up to Wein's book.

Surviving Hitler

This post suggests you use the non-fiction book by Andrea Warren about holocaust concentration camp survivor Jack Mandelbaum and provides a downloadable Student Journal with comprehension and reflection questions (I have the answer key, and if you write me directly I'll send it along) and the author's truly excellent Teaching Guide.

Teaching Empathy vs. Sympathy

This post suggests you pair Junko Morimoto's excellent picture book, My Hiroshima, with Steve Sheinkin's The Bomb, and provides teaching resources, including a link to a video interview and reading of Morimoto's book, a free lesson plan comparing both perspectives (Japan and US), and a discussion guide for Bomb!

We've Played Shostakovich

This post suggests you use Symphony for the City of the Dead, by M.T. Anderson, to introduce your upper level history students to how Stalin defeated Hitler, who tried to starve the more than 2 million people of St. Petersburg during WWII. This is appropriate for older or advanced reading students.

Excellent for CCS 8th grade

Of the three points of view (POV) used in Refugee, by Alan Gratz, one is a German Jewish child in WWII. Three compare and contrast graphic organizers are provided for easy comparison of the fictional narratives, each from the POV of a child (Cuba and Syria are the other two countries represented).

Faith-Based WWII Teaching Resource

This post suggests using John Hendrix's graphic novel, The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler, to teach Common Core and faith objectives in 8th grade. It includes a link to the free Teaching Guide and the author's website and detailed account of how he researched the book and drew the true story.

Paired Texts: WWII and the Cold War Espionage

This posts suggests pairing the historical fiction book, How I Became a Spy, with one of two possible non-fiction texts: The Lady is a Spy, about American Virginia Hall who worked for the French Resistance in WWII, or one of 10 articles about different spies in Spies: The Secret Showdown Between America and Russia. It includes classroom activities using different ciphers, including the Atbash cipher and frequency ciphers.

Recommended WWII Fiction Books

Best Friends and Spies. Skylark and Wallcreeper, by Anne O'Brien Carelli

Diverse Family Drama. The Length of a String, by Elissa Brent Weissman

Historical Fiction for Veterans Day. Genevieve's War, by Patricia Reilly Giff

Heroines in Historical Fiction. Island War, by Patricia Reilly Giff

The Cold War

Introducing the Cold War Arms Race

This post links includes teaching ideas for using Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book to introduce the arms race escalation and links you to Ike Education's Cold War Kids: Space Race lesson plan.

Teaching the Cold War 1

This recommends your English Language Arts students read The Enemy: Detroit, 1954, by Sara Holbrook, provides a link to a starter lesson for the book, a downloadable Red Dot Simulation lesson plan and materials, and recommends the vocabulary-building game, Codenames.

Teaching the Cold War 2

This post recommends you use Suspect Red, by L.M. Elliott, in your Social Studies classroom for it's rich collection of photographs. It has a publisher-provided Educator's Guide, with the link to download, and I provide a downloadable Air Raid Simulation lesson plan and materials. The role-playing game, Covert, is recommended for its spy-building network and European geography, but only if your students have considerable time to play (say, end of the year?).

Teaching the Cold War 3

This post recommends Spy Runner, by Eugene Yelchin. There is a link to a TpT pay-for set of comprehension questions for the book, and I offer a free Readers Theater lesson plan with 6 Cold War scenarios for a Social Studies classroom. The role playing game, Red Scare, is recommended as an end-of-year game. The film, Bridge of Spies, is also recommended to end this unit, with a free set of comprehension questions for students as they watch.

Civil Rights

Civil Rights, Picture Books & Readers Theater.

This post suggests using Dramatizing the Content with Curriculum Based Readers Theater, or CBRT, by Rosalind Flynn and picture books to encourage students to research and discover Civil Rights leaders and events. Students write and perform their own readers theater scripts in class. It uses the picture book, Freedom on the Menu, and its readers theater script (link and PPT backdrops provided) to establish student expectations. Includes the following downloadable materials: list of suggested picture books, the project assignment, sign up sheet, checklist, script grading and performance rubrics, suggested web sites for research and tips for writing a script.

Books Full of Stars.

This post suggests teaching two historical fiction books by Linda Williams Jackson, Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars. Set in 1955, right before and after the Emmett Till murder, Rosa Lee Carter must first decide if she'll remain in Jim Crow Era Mississippi with her extended family or flee to Chicago. Then after she makes her decision, she explores what it means to be brave after the sham-trial. (See writing assignments for following post.)

Moving Historical Fiction

This post suggests teaching Ghost Boys, by Jewel Parker Rhodes. Set in modern day, the parallels to the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio are explicit, although the story is historical fiction and features the ghost of Emmett Till. There is a link to an excellent teaching guide, developed by the author and Boogie Down Books.

Mississippi Trial, 1955

For English teachers, this post suggests teaching Chris Crowe's book, Mississippi Trial, 1955, to demonstrate white privilege and compare / contrast the choices between his main character, Hiram Hillburn, and the main character in Linda Williams Jackson's book, A Sky Full of Stars. Two expository writing prompts are provided, one compare / contrast, the other argumentative.

For Social Studies teachers, this post offers a link to's lesson plan, Plessy v. Ferguson and the Roots of Segregation. It offers an introductory lesson plan for the unit asking students to research Jim Crow laws in states and then plan a trip, also using The Green Book, on the New York Public Library.

Civil Rights and Desegregation in our Schools.
This posts suggests teaching The Long Ride, by Marina Budhos, and offers a link to several excellent teaching ideas for this book. It recommends using the " UN-equal Simulation" in the "School Segregation" lesson plan, provided by, and provides the editable Power Point slides and a Guided Note Taker for this lesson.

Vietnam War

Paired Texts: Vietnam War.

This post recommends pairing non-fiction Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, edited by Bernard Edelman, with the fiction books, Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai or Everything Else in the Universe, by Tracy Holczer. It includes a Vietnam War research project assignment, grading rubric, websites for research and more.

Recommended Vietnam Fiction Books

Vietnam Era Summer. Jelly Bean Summer, by Joyce Magnin

Immigration / Refugee Crisis

Sci-Fi / Alien Immigration Allegory This post includes a review of Immigrant from the Stars and the link to the free Power Point teaching guide on Teachers Pay Teachers by the author, Gail Kamer.

Immigration: Days of the Dead. This post includes a review and link to the free teaching guide to the book by Kersten Hamilton.

Excellent for CCS 8th Grade.

Refugee, by Alan Gratz. This post includes three compare / contrast graphic organizers to easily allow students to compare the three narrative points of view included in the book: one from Nazi WWIIl, one a refugee coming by boat to Miami from Cuba, and the other a boy fleeing violence in Syria. There is also a link to the publisher's lesson plan.

Immigration: Powerful Non-Fiction

This post recommends The Far Away Brothers: Two Teenage Immigrants Making a Life in America, by Lauren Markham, for slightly older audiences, 9th grade, and offers links to both a 9th grade and 11th/12th grade teaching guides provided by the publisher.

Recommended Fiction Books

Immigration: Beast of a Ride Beast Rider: A boy's journey beyond the border, by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads

Touching Refugee Story Nowhere Boy, by Katherine Marsh

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