Standard Lesson

Book Report Alternative: Writing Resumes for Characters in Historical Fiction

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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Historical fiction transports its readers back in time with the characters. Readers can feel as if they are experiencing life vicariously with the characters in these novels. Invite your students to engage even more with the characters and setting of the historical fiction that they read by helping a character from their reading choose and apply for a job. What would it be like to search for a job in the past? What qualifications would be needed? Students explore help wanted ads, in print and online, to see what employers want. Then, students draft a resume so their characters can apply for jobs.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

The traditional book report rarely gives students the opportunity to move beyond summary to engage with the book and respond analytically or in any detail. Chris Crowe warns teachers: "Forget traditional book reports. Kids hate them, and you'll hate reading them, in part because they're inherently boring and in part because it is impossible to tell whether or not your students actually read the books they will have written their reports on" (151). Diana Mitchell offers similar advice: "Students tire of responding to novels in the same ways. They want new ways to think about a piece of literature and new ways to dig into it" (92). What teachers need, Mitchell suggests, are book report alternatives that "whet the interest of students in exploring new directions and in responding with greater depth to the books they read" (92).

Using a resume as an alternative to the traditional book report encourages students to think more deeply about the books that they have read and provide responses that move beyond plot summary.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Historical fiction novels (see booklist)

  • Resume books with samples (optional but highly desirable)

    • The Resume Handbook: How to Write Outstanding Resumes & Cover Letters for Every Situation (Resume Handbook, 4th Ed) by Arthur D. Rosenberg, et al.

    • Adams Resume Almanac by Adams Media Staff (Editor), et al.

    • Resumes for Dummies, Fourth Edition by Joyce Lain Kennedy

  • Internet access to appropriate sites

  • Word processor




Student Objectives

Students will

  • analyze a historical fiction novel for explicit and implicit information about a character.

  • identify character traits.

  • research career options appropriate to the setting of a historical fiction novel.

  • synthesize character information to identify an appropriate job.

  • write a resume outlining the character's qualifications for the job.

Session One

  1. Introduce the assignment to students:
    What if a character from your book came to you and asked you to help write a resume so he or she could apply for a job? What would you need to know to help that character? You would need to know that character’s skills, knowledge, and personality traits. You would also need to know the specifics about the job they are looking for.

    You will be writing a resume for a character selected from a historical fiction novel you’ve read. To research this topic, you will investigate want ads to see what employers want and the setting of your novel to determine the kinds of jobs that were available in the time and place of the story. After that, you will choose a character from historical fiction. You will then brainstorm everything you know about your character, with the final step being to turn that information into a resume.
  2. Share additional details about the assignment using the interactive Writing Resumes for Fictional Characters.

  3. Model the process for students, so that they have an example for the activity. First, choose a character from a historical fiction novel that students are familiar with. For this activity, we’re using Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton, the protagonist of Sarah, Plain and Tall.

  4. Write down everything you already know about the character. Encourage students to think about what the character says, does, and thinks as well as what we know about the character from other characters and the narrator. For instance, Sarah is strong and hard-working. She cares about others and has taken care of family members (her brother and aunts). She’s also an artist who knows a lot about the ocean.

  5. Additionally, brainstorm the kinds of jobs represented in the novel or appropriate for the setting of the novel. In Sarah, Plain and Tall, students can point directly to Jacob’s want ad for a wife, but there are additional jobs that Sarah would be qualified for. For example, Sarah is an artist and might draw portraits. She’s also a good housekeeper. All these jobs are tasks that a woman like Sarah could do in Kansas or Maine in 1910.

  6. Using the brainstormed ideas, lead a class discussion where you construct a sample resume. Distribute copies of the Sarah Wheaton’s Resume to the class, and explain the assignment. If desired, distribute copies of the Careers for Characters Rubric and/or the Resume Component Checklist as well and discuss the assessment criteria.

  7. For homework, have students gather information on the character that they’ve chosen from the novel and jobs for the setting of their novel they’ve read before Session Two begins. If desired, add a session to the lesson so that students can spend time doing library research on the time period and location of their novel to learn more about possible occupations for the setting of their novels.

Session Two

  1. Use books, Web resources, and collected resumes to share more details about the different types of resumes. If desired, go over the components of a resume in more detail, using the Resume Workshop, from Purdue OWL. Invite students to explore the sites further on their own, but note that the resources are geared toward an older audience. The resources include sample resumes.

  2. Give students time to look at sample resumes you or your class has collected. Ask them to identify those that have a style or format you might like to imitate or borrow. See how much detail each type of resume includes.

  3. Explore online classified ads to consider job opportunities. Be sure to consider how the jobs would be different in the setting of your novel.

  4. Distribute the Resume Writing Tips handout to review what to include and what not to include. If desired, review with the interactive Writing Resumes for Fictional Characters.

  5. Write an objective for the resume, based on information gathered about the character in Session One. Even if students do not plan to use a Job Objective in their resumes, this step will help them decide what information is needed and what can be safely omitted.

Session Three

  1. Distribute the Resume Component Checklist. Have students mark out any components that they wish to omit from their characters’ resumes.

  2. Explain that during this session, students will arrange the character’s resume information in chronological order, functional format, or another appropriate form.

  3. Have plenty of sample resumes on hand for students to consult as they work. Encourage students to try out different formats to fit their texts.

  4. Using the word processing software, students can transfer their rough drafts to the computer. Microsoft Word has templates that will provide a framework, and with even more ideas.

  5. By the end of the class, students should have printed and submitted their final designs.


  • Have the students write a resume to get promoted to the next grade level. Have teachers from the next level provide feedback.

  • Have students share their character resumes with the class. Have the audience pretend to be potential employers. Take a vote to see if the characters would be hired based on their resumes.

  • Based on student need and experience, you might add a minilesson that will help students strengthen their word choice. The Purdue OWL resource Action Verbs to Describe Skills, Jobs, and Accomplishments in Employment Documents provides a great list of strong, action verbs that are appropriate for resumes. Demonstrate the process of revising for stronger word choice, using the list and modeling how to use the dictionary and thesaurus as necessary. Divide students into small groups, and challenge them to add at least three action words to each character resume. Students can revise and submit their documents at the end of class or the beginning of the next session.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Informal feedback can come from students who respond to the character resumes and then search out the related book is excellent feedback for students. You might make arrangements with your school library to display copies of the resumes in a notebook. Students looking for something to read can then browse through the notebook for suggestions.

  • Interview students, asking them to explain why certain choices were made concerning the job objective, format choices, word choice, and voice.

  • For more formal assessment, use the Resume Component Checklist or the Careers for Characters Rubric.