Teaching History Through Literature Classically

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I teach a classical program at a public charter school independent study program.  For those not familiar with this, imagine a homeschool program which pays for your curriculum and sometimes even offers classes at a resource center.  Our Resource Center is rather special in that most of the families know each other and love each other.  My students come one day a week (Mondays) and then complete their work during the school week. A credentialed teacher reviews and signs off on any work done by the student and gives the official grade.

This year, I teach the 7th and 8th grades, and unlike years past, we are moving beyond the Story of the World Volume 3, a chronological series of history stories. All of our younger grades are using this excellent program.  With great time limitations during my teaching time, we decided to use historical fiction to teach early U.S. history.

Most people have used unit study programs (which I will use to a certain extent) incorporating vocabulary, comprehension, literary devices, and the like.  This year, to feature the historically rich context of our novels, I am adding a timeline project perfect for the dialectic stage student.  Each student is given a timeline template, where they will research facts and information on several historical events each week.  With each of the historical events, they will complete a quick survey of Aristotle’s 5 Common Topics of Invention.   I’ve outlined the topics below and then I will explain how I apply this to teaching history.  For the sake of space, I’ve crunched this down.  Please see citation and visit the site for a more detailed list.



1. DEFINITION: How do I (or others) define X?

A. Genus: What group of things does X seem to belong to?

B. Division: What parts can X be divided into? How is X different from other members of the class?

  1. COMPARISON:A. Similarity: What is X similar to? Why?B. Difference: What is X different from? How is it different? Why?

    C. Degree: To what extent does X differ from Y?


    A. Cause and Effect: What Causes X? What are the effects of X?

    B. Antecedent and Consequence: What should precede (or follow) X?

    C. Contraries: What is the complete opposite of X?

    D. Contradiction: Is there something which cannot be (or be true)


    A. Possible and Impossible: Is X possible? Is X impossible?

    B. Past Fact and Future Fact: Because Y happened, X will happen.

    5. TESTIMONY: What have others said about X? (These require research)

    A. Authority: What does an expert (or experts) on X say about X?

    B. Testimonial: What does a respected (or popular) person say about X?

    C. Statistics: What has been counted or measured about X?

    D. Maxims: What old saying applies to X?

    E. Law: What laws, regulations, or rules apply to X?

    F. Precedent and Example: Are there similar cases or examples of X?


Students begin by Defining their terms.  What was the “Continental Congress” or the “Declaration of Independence?”  Is it part of something bigger? (genus/species).

They then use Comparison to contrast this event with other events.  How was the American Revolution different than the French Revolution?  How different (degree) were they?

Then they examine Relationship. If they are different, how much so and why?  What is the relationship between the Magna Carta and the Declaration?

Then they examine the Circumstance.  What was going on at the same time in other areas? How do those circumstances influence the event?

Finally, they look at Authority.  What valid testimony or quotes are made about the event?

If teams of students (PBL) work together and present their findings, the class can make a collective timeline of all of the necessary events.  This methodology is more dialectic, educational and covers more information and standards than any book.  Moreover, it teaches students to understand anything they must study.

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Posted in Classical Methodology.