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HistoryFix: Now & Then...Contrasting the Past and Present

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from HistoryFix
Historical Topic: any past era Students Write: two illustrated paragraphs

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Lisa Larson has been a Northern Nevada Writing Project Teacher Consultant since 2009. She teaches middle school in Reno, Nevada.

Lisa keeps a personal portfolio of work here at WritingFix.

Now and Then

This writing across the curriculum lesson was created by Nevada teacher Lisa Larson.

Lisa considers this history lesson to be appropriate for students in grades 4-8.

Lesson Overview:

Objectives/Overview: Are your students bored with ordinary compare and contrast? Now and Ben puts a fun twist on boring historical facts! Students will research specific categories of history pertaining to a unit of study and contrast them with how things are today. Students will show their understanding of the differences by writing two paragraphs for each category and illustrating it. Students will learn to: contrast elements in history with modern-day elements; show understanding of these elements in sentences while utilizing precise word choice, correct, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar.

Time Needed: two or three 60-minute class sessions.

Writing skills (traits) to stress while teaching this lesson:

  • Word Choice (using precise nouns to assist the reader's understanding; incorporating interesting adjectives into the writing; and using strong verbs to keep the sentences interesting)
  • Conventions (spelling skills; punctuation skills; capitalization skills; grammar and usage skills; indenting)

Materials List:

Setting the Stage:

Display a picture or artifact from your unit of study (a picture of or an actual vinyl record might be fun if you are studying the 1950s, for example) and discuss how things have changed since then.

Teacher Instructions:

  • Read Now and Ben by Gene Barretta to the class.
  • Discuss the differences between our time and Ben Franklin’s time and how these changes have affected the way we live today. Use the graphic organizer on the overhead to record this information.
  • Specific to your unit of study, brainstorm areas of contrast that could be explored. Decide on at least five. Some suggestions for a unit on war might include weaponry, medicine, transportation, participants and causes. Note: This will also work for a unit on a famous person. You will need to decide who you are contrasting that person with. Some suggestions would be a past president with the current president, famous generals from different eras or opposing sides, or the famous person with the student themselves. Categories might be jobs, food, culture, entertainment and religion.
  • Pass out the graphic organizer to the students and have them label the areas of focus that you decided on. In small groups, ask the students to complete the left side (now) of the graphic organizer together, writing down as much information as they can.
  • Share as a whole group, asking students to fill in areas where they lack information. The teacher can contribute information where necessary, so the students have complete lists. For older students, you may wish to include a short time for research in each of the contrast areas.
  • Students will complete the right side (then) of the graphic organizer using the textbook or other information source.
  • Students will write ten paragraphs; two for each area of contrast. The final draft of the assignment will focus on word choice and conventions.
  • Illustrate each category per the example.

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