American Revolution Literature Circles

American Revolutionary War Literature Circles

Ever wonder how to differentiate instruction, teach leveled reading, have differentiated assessments and do it in a classroom with mixed learning abilities?  Literature Circles may be the answer.  

My specialty is historical fiction.  My husband is a social studies teacher, so it is just fun for my to find ways to teach cross curricular, while meeting rigorous state standards and differentiating instruction.  I have a literature circle assignment that is AWESOME.

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This literature circle unit is focusing on the American Revolution and deeper thinking question skills.  The unit, in its entirety, will take four weeks.  Each historical fiction book is differentiated with specific, leveled questions and vocabulary.  Each book is divided into four sections and follow the same objectives for each assignment.  It is over 50 individual pages and slides.  Each novel is separated in a zip file for planning organization.  All of these books can be used, or they can be used individually.  


Johnny Tremain, by Ester Forbes

My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln and Christopher Collier

Guns for General Washington, by Seymour Reit

The Fighting Ground, by Avi

Dear America:  Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart; The Winter of Red Snow, by Kristina Gregory

Each novel has a packet (10 pages) to follow along with the reading as well as ten tier two vocabulary words (two pages). The book assignments are divided into quarters.  Johnny Tremain, a higher leveled reading book, has a packet with a much more demanding and rigorous work load.  I use this novel to differentiate instruction with my “Honors” level students attempting this novel.  I encourage my struggling readers to try Guns for General Washington or The Fighting Ground.

lit circle bin
Make a bin for each novel.

Please see the detailed description below:

Literature Circle Materials:

All you need to conduct literature circles are in this unit as well.  Groups of 3-5 students, per book, work the best.  Ideally, the groups would all be four students.  There are pdf files for the Book Sign Out Sheet, Book selection form (student can rate books 1-5 of what they would like to read after a quick novel presentation), an activity worksheet (creative assignment) and exit ticket.  There is also an editable calendar to correspond with the tasks.  A PowerPoint presentation gives you role definitions and task cards to print and use to set up your literature circles.  Also included are sheets for “Literature circle Notes” and “Literature Circle Checklist” to use in each individual literature circle for accountability.  Students are responsible to obtaining roles, keep notes of their meetings, discussing passages and questions, and a clear description of who does what.  All students have an active role in each discussion.

Deeper Thinking Questions:

In addition, this unit comes with tools for teaching question types and deeper thinking.  Knowledge, Comprehension, Synthesis, Analysis, Application and Evaluation questions are defined, practiced and then student created.  These are broken into six mini lessons, or bell work.  There are task cards in a PowerPoint which have the question types for the literature circle.  There is also a chatterbox included to use for differing questions during literature circles.  Instructions for making the chatterbox are also included.

Lit cirlce daily work
Learn about questions and create your own!


There is a final presentation assignment for each group.  The assignment is broken into five equal parts, aligning to the social studies frameworks.  Each student in a group will write three paragraphs in an individual document and create 4 slides in a show in a shared Google Slideshow.   There is a two-page pdf explaining the project in its entirety with a one-page rubric.  In addition, there are five individual instructions with graphic organizers and specifications for each slide.

Final Presentation topics include: 

  • cause an effect,
  • noting differing political afflictions
  • key stakeholders and interesting issues
  • evaluating courses of action
  • defining and explaining historical fiction.

Vocabulary Assessment:

There are also 5 Google Forms vocabulary quizzes, one for each book.  (Please note – a Google account and valid email address for ALL students will be needed to assign the quizzes)

Teacher Directions

American Revolutionary War Literature Circles

Book Talk:  Distribute “Book Selections” pdf file.

Introduce each book by reading the summary, giving any outside information, and reading level.  I allow students to browse the books, then make their selection.  They can choose from 1-5 (1 being the book they’d most like to read and 5 being the book they’d like least to read).

I encourage my higher level students to attempt Johnny Tremain.  The book is a higher reading level and the corresponding packet is much more demanding.  Then, I recommend My Brother Sam is Dead.  I recommend Dear America for girls not necessarily interested in historical fiction because usually they really like the book and it changes their mind.  I recommend The Fighting Ground and Guns for General Washington for my struggling readers.

Then, assign books.  I try to keep four students per group.  However, with 5 students, I just divide the role of “Materials Manager”; one student writing and one student organizing materials in their literature circle roles.

Assign literature circle groups.



Johnny Tremain, by Ester Forbes

My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln and Christopher Collier

Guns for General Washington, by Seymour Reit

The Fighting Ground, by Avi

Dear America:  Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart; The Winter of Red Snow, by Kristina Gregory

Distribute books, Literature circle text packets and text vocabulary lists.  Each novel (except Johnny Tremain) has a packet (10 pages) to follow along with the reading as well as ten tier two vocabulary words (two pages). The book assignments are divided into quarters.  Have the students fill in due dates.  Go over expectations for literature circle days.

lit circle tables
Print and laminate task card for each group.

Use the “Book sign out” to keep track of your books and create a bin or box for each book in the classroom to keep materials handy.  In the beginning, I print out the PowerPoint with all the task cards out.  I laminate them all and make one envelope for each table.  I staple the roles and responsibilities on the front of the envelope and keep the task cards, checklist and chatterbox inside the envelope.  I keep the Literature Circle Notes, extra copies of novel materials and exit slips in each novel’s individual box/bin.  However, you can organize this as is most convenient for you.
Then, I begin using the “Question Types” worksheet to teach different question types.  I start with the basic knowledge questions.  Here, I define this type of question then give some knowledge type questions for the students to answer.  Then, I use the online fruit machine to assign a topic for students to create their own questions.  Then, they can write their questions and ask other students for responses.  At the end, we all share our questions and responses.

I repeat this lesson five more times, using the leveled questions and examples.  Then, all of these question types are used in their literature circles.

Literature Circle Days:

Focused team leader will assign everyone in their group a role on the “Literature Circle Checklist” sheet.  The material manager will fill in the “Literature Circle Notes” to be collected at their end of class.   The Energizer will be the first to answer and call on other students.  The Inspirer will check work for completion and choose questions.
After roles are assigned, the Inspirer will note students prepared in the group.  Materials Manager will write down the group’s progress.  Everyone will take out their packets and focused Leader will go through the packets reading all the questions and leading discussion.  Then, Inspirer will choose the task cards needed for the day and chatterbox (as determined by the teacher).  Materials Manager will write each question discussed, as not to repeat.  Students will then “Look forward” and set their goals for next literature circle.  Exit slips will be distributed and collected to use on future lessons.  This will be repeated each day where literature circles take place.
I also give students one computer day a week to work on their final presentations.  These should be discussed and assigned during the first week of reading so students are able to work on this simultaneously.  After each group decides on “who’s doing what role” for the final presentation, I work with each group completing Part One and go over the specific task.  I repeat this for each part of the final project.

As the month moves along, I will have completed introducing the six question types, students will have finished their books and final projects.  Then, the projects can be presented at the end.  There is a final 20 question quiz on Google Forms for each book.  Please note, you and ALL students will have to have Google accounts to access these quizzes.


Please see the detailed description below from website:

Part 1:

Two vocabulary words

Vocabulary enrichment

“Before reading” question

Close reading text excerpt with questions

TDQ (text dependent question)

Figurative language activities

Deep thinking discussion stem

Part 2:

Two vocabulary words

Passage – close read with questions

Partner questions

Part 3:

Three vocabulary words

Comprehension questions

Objective summary

Partner questions

Part 4:

Three vocabulary words

Six think/pair/share questions


Black History Month – Middle School

Showing “Courage in the face of Racism” is a central idea that can be applied to nonfiction, historical fiction, images, video and more when exploring the plight of the African American.  I have taught middle school ELA for many years, and the history and struggle of the African American is a sensitive subject, and can often be confusing for students.  The time period that I like to focus on is the century between the end of the Civil War and Civil Rights movement.  Students are often unaware of the struggles that African Americans still faced after slavery was abolished, but before the Civil Rights movement.  After many years, I’ve adapted the idea of showing “Courage in the face of Racism” to learn about the African American throughout history.

First, I use a list of words that can be categorized as a “courageous” word or a “racist” word.  I assign an individual word to each student and they become the “expert” on their word throughout the lessons.  Using historical fiction, articles, a webquest and a reader’s theater, this topic is explored.  Click here for a free PowerPoint presentation of the words that I use for this unit.

Second, I use Mildred D. Taylor historical fiction pieces to give  accourage-precurate examples of an African American living in the South during the Great Depression.  Click here to view the unit in its entirety or click on the picture to the left.  This was a time of economic struggle and discrimination.  The students are able to see how courage was needed to fight and stand up for basic human rights.  The excerpts in the unit are taken from “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” and “The Gold Cadillac”.  They are also found in the book 101 Read Aloud Classics.  As Mildred D. Taylor celebrated her 40th anniversary, her book covers have been recently updated.  Click here or on the picture to see the article.  roll

Next, I use article from  You do need an account to access these articles, but it is free to use.  Here are the links below:

Slavery in the North

Front of the Bus is an excellent site to find informational text.  You can search by subject, grade level, or Lexile level.

I also like to incorporate technology whenever possible.  Because seventh grade studeimg_0319nts find this century between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement so confusing, I created a simple virtual field trip that gives and overview of the time period.  I use this on
Google Classroom and ask simple questions about the content of the slides, video links and images within the field trip.  The Virtual field trip can be found in the “Courage in the face of Racism” unit above, or in my “Song of the Trees” unit which is available here.

“Song of the Trees” is a short novella which can be used as an extension to this unit, or on its own.  The book describes the white men trying to take advantage of the Logan family while the father is away working because of the Great Depression.  It touches on “courage in the face of racism”, protecting the environment, and paints a true picture of the economic struggles and prejudice at this time in American History.  I use it with my seventh graders, but could be used effectively for grades 4-6 as well.

Lastly, I try and incorporate poetry into the unit as well.  Langston Hughes is probably the most prominent African American poet during the Great Depression.  The unit includes a reader’s theater where the biography of Langston Hughes is acted out and students are called to explain how “their word” is once again exemplified in the piece.

My entire Langston Hughes unit can be found here.

This unit is BRAND new and has not yet been rated.  It is currently at a discounted price, so check it out as this price will be going up soon!  It includes “I, too, Sing America”, “Poem”, “April Rain Song”, “Mother to Son”, “Harlem” and “Dreams”.  This unit also includes the reader’s theater of Langston Hughes, as mentioned above.

Finally, “A Long Walk to Water” is the perfect middle school book to use to study Black History Month.  Especially during this political time where refugees are being banned from Sudan, this unit touches it all.  Please click on the photo below to read my blog post on this incredible unit.


A Long Walk to Water – Activities

The book, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, is one of the best books I’ve ever taught!  I teach this book to my seventh grade students and each year it gets better. You can check out my complete unit HERE!

foldable tn

I roughly follow the NYS Module for the book, but I have so many wonderful experiences to share.  Here is a BUNDLE of PRINTABLES for the unit.  water center

Here are some ideas to enhance this book and make it completely awesome!

  1.  Teach an author study about Linda Sue Park!  Check out my entire unit HERE!


2.  Take your students on a field trip to meet Linda Sue Park!!


3.  Create a timeline of the events in the novel.  Check out student work here:


4.  Personification!  Explore the figurative language in the book!persontn


5.  Create your own Walk for Water!  Raise money for Salva’s organization Water for South Sudan Inc.





Niagara Falls – Taking a field trip or implementing a virtual field trip

This summer, I had the unique opportunity to explore Niagara Falls and all the beauty is had to offer.  I was truly overwhelmed.  Even though I live and work within a 20 minute drive of the Falls, I rarely get the opportunity to take time to explore the area.  As a middle school educator, I kept thinking – WHAT A GREAT FIELD TRIP!  If you can’t make a visit to the falls, check out this Niagara Falls mini-unit plan that will bring you an your students a little closer!

For those who might have the opportunity, there is so much to do on both the American and Canadian sides of the Falls.  Since we toured the American side, I’ll let you know about its highlights.

First, is the Cave of the Winds tour.  This takes place off Goat Island, beside the Falls.  It gives the visitor the opportunity to walk next to, and at times, almost directly underneath the falls, feeling its power. See the visitor’s link here.

cave of the windsPan Am 320Pan Am 324

Next, we took a trip on the Maid of the Mist.  This is a boat ride that departs off the base Terrapin Station and takes you to the base of both the American and Canadian Falls.  It is truly beautiful.  Here is the link.

They do sell a 5 pack for admission to a trolley tour, walk out onto the pier, and a movie, but both of these activities can be time consuming and are NOT TO BE MISSED.

Pan Am 360Pan Am 372Pan Am 376Pan Am 389

However, I know it is impossible for some schools to visit Niagara Falls.  So, I have created a unit to meet NYS CCLS and engage themselves with the historical context and power of Niagara Falls.  Please use these photographs in your lesson (free to use even commercially).

How Niagara Falls Helped Light America!

Historical Context: 1901 – Buffalo Pan Am Exposition. Students will learn how hydroelectric power generated from Niagara Falls amazed America when Buffalo was the “City of Light” and center of America’s progress in electricity.

Time frame: 3 lessons – In this three day lesson, the students will complete a close reading activity on a piece of informational text to learn about the history of hydroelectric power. They will use the information from this article to form an opinion defending the industrialist or preservationist during this time. Then, they will complete a virtual field trip on iPads, where they will observe and study different locations that were essential in hydroelectric power. Finally, their assessment with be a writing activity of their choice.

Subjects: ELA, Social Studies, Science

Students will have the opportunity to work cooperatively to answer “right there” and inferential questions based on a piece of informational text. Use iPads to explore Niagara Falls in 1901 utilizing a QR Code activity, and complete a RAFT writing task of their choice for assessment. Photographs are original, taken July 2015 that can be uploaded into a PowerPoint presentation to enhance lesson.

Here is a picture of the hydroelectric power plants that remain today:

Pan Am 392

More photographs available HERE

I have many related activities available centered around Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition.  Here is a freebie of a QR activity relating to the Children of the Pan.

I also have task cards and a QR Code Scavenger Hunt dealing with different aspects of the Pan American Exposition, including Niagara Falls.  However, the Pan An Exposition is another blog entirely.  More on that to come in the near future including:    Louise Bethune – first female architect
Pan Am – photography as art
Forest Lawn Cemetery
Children of the Pan
Buffalo’s Millionaire’s Row
The Darwin Martin House
US Presidents – Cleveland, McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt

Follow this blog for exciting, interactive ideas, activities and lesson plans designed for middle/high school.  My husband and I are social studies and ELA teachers respectively and have a combined 38 years of experience!  Have a great school year.