Standard Lesson

Using Historical Fiction to Learn About the Civil War

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Ten 40-minute sessions
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This lesson uses the book Meet Addy by Connie Porter to teach the characteristics of historical fiction, making inferences and using visualization, and Civil War history. The book tells the story of a young girl who escapes from slavery during the war. Students learn how to visualize and infer events from the author's choice of words and then refine their comprehension by questioning the text together.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Illustrations can help with comprehension by prompting image making to combine the verbal and nonverbal representations.

  • With struggling readers, picture books can be an effective tool to build the background knowledge needed for understanding the information they are reading. The illustrations serve to create or confirm understanding.


  • Inferencing is the strategic process of generating assumptions, making predictions, and coming to conclusions based upon information given in text and in illustrations.

  • The How Do You Know? strategy is a think-aloud questioning strategy used during a read-aloud. It involves stopping the reading to ask students a question that prompts them to infer important information.

  • Using the think-aloud questioning strategy, teachers can gradually shift the responsibility for identifying inferential connections to the student.

  • These types of questions provide opportunities for students to interact with their peers through group discussions and to engage in a reading and writing connection.

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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 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

  • Materials and Technology

  • Meet Addy by Connie Porter



Student Objectives

Students will

  • Access historical information from a variety of sources

  • Examine the characteristics of historical fiction

  • Interpret the author's craft of visualization through writing and drawing

  • Formulate inferences to explain the author's word choices

  • Analyze the author's message of discrimination using group think-aloud discussions to develop and refine comprehension of the text

Building Background Knowledge

1. Have students gather in a large circle and explain that they will be learning about the Civil War and what life was like during that time.

2. Begin the lesson by activating students' prior knowledge of the Civil War. Schema is crucial to comprehension. Linking known information with new information helps learning to occur.

3. Explain to students that they will be reading a historical fiction text (i.e., a text where the characters, plot, and setting are fictional, but the time period is true). The text will be used to create more vivid visual images about slavery and the plantation lifestyle. In addition to reading the historical fiction, students will also refer to nonfiction texts that depict the realities of the Civil War era and explain the reasons the war was fought.

4. Build upon students' prior knowledge by using several picture books about the Civil War that focus on slavery, plantations, and the lifestyle of people in the 1860s (see the Civil War Booklist). Welcome to Addy's World, 1864: Growing Up During America's Civil War by Susan Sinnot includes excellent examples and illustrations.

5. Have students access BrainPOP: Civil War to view a brief movie clip about the Civil War.

6. Read aloud the last section of Meet Addy by Connie Porter called "Looking Back 1864: A Peek Into the Past." This section includes many slave pictures and artifacts of the time. It describes the slave culture, how it began, what the laws were concerning slaves, the various slave conditions, and the Underground Railroad. You can use this reading to further build students' background knowledge from both the historical and cultural perspectives.

7. Supplement your reading using other nonfiction texts to show visual images. Online resources, such as the Images of the Civil War and The Underground Railroad can also be used to provide additional information and visual images. Students can read these nonfiction texts and access the online resources independently later in the lesson.

8. After focusing two or three sessions on building background knowledge and using pictures to reinforce information, begin reading the narrative text aloud.

Reading Historical Fiction

1. Plan to read a chapter at a time from Meet Addy for five days.

2. Stop at places in the chapter that lend themselves to inferences, and use the think-aloud questioning strategy to ask students to make a particular inference. For example, in Chapter 3, Addy is forced to eat worms because she did not get them all off the tobacco plants. Ask students why the overseer is making her do this.

3. Explain how inferencing is like figuring out a mystery. Model specifically how to use background knowledge to answer questions when a book does not directly provide the information. Record students' inferences on a chart as a visual reminder. These inferences can be revisited and revised later if new information from the story changes the original predictions.

4. After reading each chapter, model how you can retell the events in the chapter using the beginning, middle, and end format.

5. Ask students to independently retell the events in each chapter in writing. Students can also draw pictures to enhance their writing. This drawing and writing exercise enables you to assess students' comprehension of the story and also reinforces their visualization of the author's word choices. The escape scene in Chapter 4 with Addy and her mother can create a powerful visual image for students.

Reading and Writing Connection

After the book Meet Addy is read, summarized, and compared with information in nonfiction texts, invite each student to write a continuation of the story. Students can predict what happens to Addy after she obtains her freedom. Although their stories will be fictional, students should also incorporate historical facts wherever they can. This writing can be used to evaluate their understanding of the characteristics of historical fiction, the realities of the Civil War era, and their visualization of the time period.


  • Divide students into groups of five. Have each student in the group select and read a different Addy book from the series:
  • Addy Learns a Lesson
  • Addy's Surprise
  • Happy Birthday, Addy!
  • Addy Saves the Day
  • Changes for Addy

While reading their selections, students should summarize the major events in each chapter and draw an illustration to go along with their writing. After reading the entire book, students can then use their writing and drawings to retell their Addy stories to the other members in their small group. You can determine students' comprehension of the stories by assessing their drawings and their abilities to retell the beginning, middle, and ending of the stories.

  • Invite students to research the Civil Rights Movement from Addy's time in 1864 to the present, noting significant laws and changes that were made. Students can record their findings on a timeline that shows how slavery began in the United States and was prevalent until the late 1960s. Depending on the age and ability of students, the amount of information and level of detail will vary.

  • Have students reread Meet Addy to gain and clarify information. Ask them to respond to the following statements made by characters in the story:
  • Addy's father: "She [Addy] go out in the morning, her eyes all bright and shining with hope. By night she come stumbling in here so tired, she can hardly eat. . . . Addy getting beat down every day. I can't stand back and watch it no more. We can't wait for our freedom. We gonna have to take it" (8).

    Why is it important to stand up for what you believe in?

  • Addy's mother: "But Addy, people can do wrong for such a long time, they don't even know it's wrong no more" (25).

    Tell of a situation in today's world where you feel something is wrong, but people may not realize it because it's been done that way for such a long time.

  • Uncle Solomon: "It's magic. You hold on to that dime. You gonna need it where you going. Freedom cost, you hear me? Freedom's got its cost" (34).

    Why does freedom cost? Does it always mean money?
  • Have students write in their journals about their personal experiences with discrimination or how they would cope with being discriminated against.

  • Have students write about a time when they were faced with a difficult situation and needed to show courage. Do they feel they have as much courage as Addy?

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Before reading each chapter, assess what students know by giving them short quizzes either orally or in writing. You can gather information about the story structure by asking specific questions about what happened in the previous chapter, such as about the setting, characters, plot, resolution, and ending. Predictions should be prompted on an ongoing basis by asking students how they feel about what is happening in the story and what they think will happen next. Based on students' responses, you can then decide whether to reread the previous chapter again, move on to the next chapter, or discuss inferences some more.

  • Before each part of the lesson, have students work together to create a rubric to determine the criteria and expectations for the assignment. To do this, students should brainstorm all the things that would constitute a rating of "4," "3," "2," and "1." For the final reading and writing connection for example, a rubric may specify criteria for including the characteristics of historical fiction; developing the fictional characters, setting, plot, and resolution; clarifying and presenting historical facts and story ideas; and demonstrating correct punctuation and grammar.

  • To further extend the lesson and assess student's knowledge of the Civil War, you may wish to have students research different related topics and creatively present their information to the class. Students should be encouraged to use a variety of sources to gather information, such as historical fiction, nonfiction, and online resources. A rubric should be developed in advance by students to establish criteria and expectations for the research project and class presentation.


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