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HistoryFix: A Primary Source Picture Book inspired by the Journals of Teddy Roosevelt

A Writing Across the Curriculum Lesson from HistoryFix
Historical Topic: any Students Write: a children's book based on a primary source document

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A Primary Source
Picture Book

This writing across the curriculum lesson was created by Northern Nevada Writing Project Consultant Corbett Harrison, who believes it would work with students in grades 4-12.

Lesson Overview:

Background on this lesson: In 2007, author Ellen Jackson contacted me and offered me a perusal copy of My Tour Of Europe: By Teddy Roosevelt , Age 10. She had been following the development of our HistoryFix website, and felt her picture book might inspire the types of writers and teachers for whom we were building the site. The book arrived during a very busy time for me, and I had only a chance to glance at it at the time it showed up. Because I was swamped, I had to temporarily shelve the book. Over 6 months later, I was working with some teachers from the American History Project, and their discussion of using primary source documents in the classroom jogged my memory of Ellen's unique book, which is a primary source (Teddy Roosevelt's actual boyhood journal) translated into a picture book. When I grabbed it from the shelf and re-read it in a new context, I became genuinely exicted. I created this lesson, which is intended to be an end-of-year lesson for any teacher who uses many primary source documents in the classroom.

Lesson Objective/Overview: Inspired by Ellen Jackson's picture book, My Tour of Europe by Teddy Roosevelt, Age 10, students will explore primary source documents they have studied throughout a year of study to decide which primary source from their notebooks would translate into the most interesting picture book. Working in teams of three or four, students will serve as editors, layout designers, illustrators and publishers of a book. The teacher will keep the best books in the classroom library for next year's class, and each contributing student will sign

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

  • The focus trait in this writing assignment is idea development; students will look for a theme--or BIG idea--in the primary source document they choose to use, and their illustrations and book title will need to hint at this theme throughout its pages.
  • The support trait students will work on is conventions; Jackson explains how she made several important editing decisions when transferring the primary source into her picture book. Students will be encouraged to think similarly and be able to justify their editing decisions as part of their book's assessment.

Materials List:

Teacher Instructions:

(The Roosevelt family around the time of their European trip.)

Step one…sharing the mentor texts:   Share from My Tour of Europe: By Teddy Roosevelt, Age 10 by Ellen Jackson. Discuss how great it is that we can know more about a fascinating man like Theodore Roosevelt because he actually kept a diary as a boy. Explain that author Ellen Jackson wanted students to really enjoy the diaries of this future president as he went on a life-changing journey with his family, so she took the primary source documents--his saved diaries and journals--, edited them, and illustrated them in picture book form.

Next, share with students several of the passages about T.R.'s European trip from The Boyhood Diary of Theodore Roosevelt, 1869-1870. Have students compare the complete primary source documents in this book to the version in Ellen Jackson's picture book. Talk about what good editors do and the decisions they would have to make. Most primary source documents would not make a very interesting text for a picture book, but might one if it was edited?

Finally, revisit My Tour of Europe: By Teddy Roosevelt, Age 10 once again. Ask students to find a theme or BIG idea in the picture book. Ask, "What did Ellen Jackson want us to learn about the president? What lessons about life do her pictures and text hint at more than once in this story?" Discuss, hopefully discovering themes like

Step two…introducing student models of writing:  To give them an idea of the writing assignment at hand, in small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups should certainly talk about the idea development and conventions, since these are the focus of the lesson.

  • Because this is a new lesson at HistoryFix, we're looking for student samples for all grade levels for this prompt!  Help us get some, and we'll send you a free resource for your classroom!  Contact us at for details.

Step three…thinking and pre-writing: 

Step four (revising with specific trait language):   To promote response and revision to students' first drafts, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.

Step six (publishing out loud and on-line):   If your students had fun doing this writing, they might enjoy sharing their original podcasts whole-class or in small groups.

Interested in publishing student work on-line?  We invite student writers to post final drafts of their original at WritingFix's Community of Student Writers.  This is a safe-to-use blog for students and teachers. No writing is posted until it is approved by the moderator. Contact us at if you have questions about getting your students published.


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