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Using Content Picture Books in the History Classroom: The American Revolution. American History Rocks! Literacy Fellowship November 17, 2009 Fran Macko, Ph.D. [email protected] Framing the Session. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a good picture book is practically priceless.

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Using Content Picture Books in the History Classroom: The American Revolution

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Using content picture books in the history classroom the american revolution l.jpg

Using Content Picture Books in the History Classroom: The American Revolution

American History Rocks! Literacy Fellowship

November 17, 2009

Fran Macko, Ph.D.

[email protected]


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Framing the Session

  • If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a good picture book is practically priceless.

  • Picture books aren’t just for little kids.  

  • A picture book uses both text and illustration to create meaning; one is not as powerful alone as it is with the other.


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Why teach with content picture books?

  • They are easy and practical to teach with. Most picture books can be read in one session/class period, thereby giving students a holistic, complete feel for the story.

  • They provide a wonderful opportunity for teachers to model fluent reading, critical thinking, and reading as an active process.

  • They are a great way for students to listen and read well crafted writing, and acquire an awareness of language.


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  • They have a clear beginning, middle and end, unlike excerpts from longer texts.

  • They are usually well written and display elements of craft. Sometimes the shorter a text, the more an author works to make each word meaningful.

  • They provide a shared reference/experience for all students.


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  • They provide content through a combination of text and illustration.

  • They present complex concepts, ideas and themes in a manageable format.

  • They lend themselves to re-reading and analysis.


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  • They present information in a way that can be understood by a variety of learners on a variety of reading levels.

  • They can be used in a variety of ways: pictures only, text only, and they can be easily manipulated for teaching purposes.


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Picture books and Visual literacy

  • Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image.

  • Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be communicated through a process of “reading”.

  • The visually literate student looks at an image critically to understand the intentions of the image’s creator.


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  • Students often rely on visual images to assist them in learning new content and concepts.

  • The visual format of picture books appeals to students who are increasingly visually oriented, or who are struggling readers.

  • The illustrations support students in creating a mental model without struggling with the written word, thereby bridging the gaps in understanding.


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Bridging the Gap

  • Picture books support students in becoming strategic readers.

  • Students utilize the same skill set to interpret pictures as they do to interpret print.

    • determining their purpose for reading

    • drawing on prior knowledge, experience and attitudes

    • asking and answering questions

    • inferring

    • visualizing

  • Applying these skills to both illustration and text enhances comprehension.


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What makes a quality content picture book?

  • Not all content picture books are the same.

  • In selecting quality picture books for older readers consider those titles that have:

    • mature themes

    • more complex illustrations

    • more text or more challenging text

    • subtle meanings, symbolism or allegory

    • two levels of meaning: one for younger readers and one for older readers


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What are the features of a quality picture book?

  • Rich Language

  • Illustrations communicate meaning

  • Effective integration of visual and verbal

  • Language is not “controlled”

  • Highly engaging

  • Hold reader’s interest

  • Historically accurate

  • Have universal theme or appeal

  • Asks reader to think deeply about something

  • Believable and realistic

  • Free from stereotypes

  • Supports teaching objectives/outcomes


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How can content picture books be used to enhance history instruction?

  • Content picture books:

    • introduce historical concepts, people, complex ideas and vocabulary in a meaningful context.

    • provide students with exposure to “big ideas” that enrich and engage.

    • make historical periods and distant lands come alive for students.

    • create relevance through the emotional appeal of the characters.

    • extend the textbook and support differentiation.


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What are some quality American Revolution picture books?

The Scarlet Stockings Spy


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George vs. George


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Everybody’s Revolution


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John, Paul, George and Ben


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The Declaration of Independence:

The Words That Made America


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Patience Wright

America’s First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy


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Taking a Closer LookThe Scarlet Stockings Spy


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Teacher Resource Guide:The Scarlet Stockings Spy

  • The Teacher Resource Guide is divided into four sections:

    • before reading activities

    • during reading activities

      • vocabulary

      • discussion questions (content and literary craft)

    • after reading/ extension activities

    • activity templates (models and blank versions)


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Before Reading Activity: “Reading” the Cover Illustration

  • Introduce the book by asking students to “read” the cover.

  • Display the book for students or make copies of the cover art.

  • Ask students to complete the three column chart titled: “What I See, What I Think, What I Wonder”.


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  • This chart gives students the opportunity to first observe and note what they see, then to think about and infer what their observations might mean and, finally, to wonder about what questions the illustration raises.

  • Point out to students that point of view/perspective figures prominently in both the story and the illustrations.

    • The story is told from the point of view of a young patriot, Maddy Rose, who is fiercely loyal to the American cause for independence – even though it is dangerous.

    • The illustrations also place the viewer in very specific vantage points.


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Discussion Questions

  • Look carefully at the cover illustration – what might the title The Scarlet Stockings Spy refer to?

  • Where does the illustrator place you, the viewer? From which perspective are you looking into the picture?

  • What has the illustrator done to make you feel as if you are peeking into this picture?

  • What clues do you have as to the time period in which this story is set?

  • What can you infer about the story after thinking about the title and the cover illustration?


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During Reading Activity:Blending Text and Image


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Extension Activities

  • Have students research women spies during the American Revolution. http://www.nwhm.org/spies/2.htm

  • Have students research how spies sent secret letters and codes during the American Revolution.

  • Have students compare the fictional story of Maddy Rose to the real life story of Patience Wright.


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  • Have students research the life of Revolutionary War spy Anna “Nancy” Smith Strong, a member of the Culper Spy Ring.

  • Anna worked from her farm in the New York area and used laundry on her clothesline to secretly signal other undercover operatives.


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  • Compare the actual events of the Battle of Brandywine to those described in The Scarlet Stockings Spy. www.ushistory.org/brandywine/thestory.htm

  • Chart the conditions that led to the American loss and British victory.

  • Make a map of the area around the Brandywine River and identify key locations.


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Final Thoughts

  • High quality content picture books:

    • provide content through a combination of text and illustration.

    • present complex concepts, ideas and themes in a manageable format.

    • make historical periods and distant lands come alive for students.

    • create relevance through the emotional appeal of the characters.

    • extend the textbook and support differentiation.


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