Resources and ideas for instructors who teach RL.9 in middle school ELA.
I love a great historical drama set in the 1800s with just enough accuracy to be interesting but not enough accuracy to be a bore or downright depressing.
You know what I mean.
Sometimes we don’t want the real history. We want a semblance of the time period rather than anything real or actually historical because, let’s face it, sometimes real history or historical events just don’t have the same pizzazz as something a good writer or screenwriter can create.
Take the 1997 Titanic film. We all knew the boat was going to sink, and yet the screenwriters put in just enough fiction and interesting additions to the real history to make us feel like this time, it just might not.
It’s like we are really interested in the olden times as long as they have enough of a modern twist to appeal to our current sensibilities and interests to keep us invested in the characters and their problems.
That is what makes the RL.9 standard so interesting. This standard is all about dissecting how writers and directors play with history and what elements they use to do just that.
So, without further ado, let’s dig into the actual standards and learning targets for RL.9.
A big part of teaching ELA in middle school is making sure that all of the many standards are given due diligence, and there are a lot of standards that ELA teachers are responsible for. To help keep it all straight and to make a plan for the year, I just the standards checklist below.
When starting to deconstruct a standard, start with the learning targets. To get the learning targets, break down the standard into 3-5 parts or key skills.
To begin our discussion on RL9, I will list the actual standard for each grade level and the learning targets. We’ve broken the standard down below. These are the learning targets that we focus on in our standards-based units for RL.9, which are also linked below.
7th Grade Standard: Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history
7th Grade Learning Targets
- I can distinguish between historical fiction and historical accounts.
- I can identify how the author used or altered history to write a fictional portrayal.
- I can compare/contrast a historical portrayal of a time, place, or character against a historical account of the same period.
8th Grade Standard: Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works
8th Grade Learning Targets
- I can analyze how a modern work of fiction integrates themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works.
- I can describe how the material is rendered new.
Growing through Middle School
As students move through middle school, the RL.9 standard is one that actually changes quite a bit. At the beginning of middle school, the focus of this standard is mostly historical. It is not specific to any kind of history, part of history, or a specific type of writing; however, once students get into 8th grade, that changes.
In 8th grade, the standard takes a spin and starts to be more selective with the kind of works students are expected to interact with. Students need to look at any work that draws from history in 7th grade; in 8th grade, they are specifically looking for how the patterns of myths, traditional stories, and religious works are being used and how they are made new in the more modern version.
This is much more specific and puts a lot more pressure on teachers to find the right kinds of resources and works to draw from as part of that unit of study.
Historical Accounts vs. Historical Fiction
Probably the most important point that you need to get through to students when you teach RL.9 in middle school is the difference between historical accounts and historical fiction.
The goal of a historical account is to narrate the actual events as accurately as possible.
The goal of historical fiction is to entertain. The writer of historical fiction may draw from and use historical events in their writing, but they are not required to retell the events accurately or even use the right people or places or any actual historical data as part of their story. They are ultimately creating their own universe that draws on history. They are not married to it.
In contrast, a historical account is expected to be as accurate as possible with correct people, places, and depictions that people can count on as aligning with people’s interpretation of the actual historical event.
The sooner your students can identify and pick out the differences between these two different types of depictions, the better!
Resources for teaching RL.9
When picking resources to help teach RL.9, you’ll want to make sure the resource teaches, practices, and reviews the standard at the appropriate level for the students you’re teaching.
Each of our resources we’ve created to practice the skills associated with this standard work through the skills using grade-level-specific passages and activities that allow students to thoroughly practice and review the standards. They also provide opportunities for both formative and summative assessment. Click on the links below to learn more about each resource!
Activities and Projects for Practicing and Assessing RL.9 in Middle School
We’ve covered the standards, the learning targets, and discussed the difference between historical accounts and historical fiction. We’ve also provided some links to the resources we have available to help you set up these units, and we’ve discussed how the standards grow from grade level to grade level in middle school. Now, we want to give some ideas of activities that you can do with your students to practice this standard.
- Create a chart of words, phrases, and cultural points that someone writing about ‘today’ might use in the future. Basically, ask students to think into the future and try to figure out what writers then might pull out of our current year/decade. We have a worksheet dedicated to this activity in the 7th-grade resource.
- Do movie trivia, where students have to pick the fictional elements out of a scene from a historical fiction film. We have an activity in the 7th-grade resource that asks several of these questions for students to grapple with.
- Study allusions and how they appear in myths, religious, and historical works. Learning some of the idioms and allusions that were popular at different time periods or in different kinds of works can give students a deeper understanding of how people spoke and interpreted those works. We do this activity in 8th grade.
- Use an example of a story that is retold over and over (like a Cinderella story or something like that) and ask them to pull out the key elements of that story. Then have them brainstorm all the different places (books, movies, lyrics, etc.) where references or elements of that story show up. We do this activity in full in the 8th-grade unit.
When you teach RL.9 in middle school, it can really be a lot of fun, but finding all the right stories and deciding what pieces of history or mythical literature you’re going to use can be super overwhelming. Hopefully, having these fully built-out resources will help save you a whole lot of time and a bunch of questions as you work on this standard with your students.