Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Write Stuff -- Using Creative Writing to Learn about Life in the 1950s

The benefits of student writing have been championed by people much more qualified than me.  Countless research studies support the benefits of having students regularly write.  Although I have not conducted specific research studies, I have noticed that writing helps to increase student understanding, further develops thinking skills, improves communication skills, and promotes reflective thinking.

Despite the numerous advantages, it can be a struggle to get students to write.  I have found that allowing a measure of creativity helps motivate students to write.  Traditional five paragraph essays, research papers, and other forms of expository writing play an important role in a student's academic advancement, but they often turn students off from writing.  Allowing students to incorporate their own thoughts, opinions, and imagination can be a great motivator.  There are a number of ways to allow students to personalize their writing; I have done this with daily journals, RAFTs, letters, diaries, dialogues between historical figures, and many other methods.
Recently I utilized a writing strategy to allow students to creatively express things they learned about American life in the 1950s.  In developing this lesson idea, I wanted to give students a chance to use their imagination while still demonstrating understanding of important concepts related to American lifestyles in the 1950s.  I decided to give students a choice of writing a diary as if they were living in the 1950s, a fictional story set in the 1950s, or a script for a 1950s sitcom.  Regardless of which option they chose, students needed to include an explanation of at least seven aspects of American life in the 1950s.  I gave them a list of potential topics including the following:

Suburbs (Levittowns)
Cars (and automobile culture)
Baby Boom
Beat Movement
Teenage Culture
Changes in Workplace
Rock ‘n’ Roll
Women’s Roles
Revival of Religion

Students were instructed to begin by completing a small amount of research on these topics.  This research could be completed either by using our textbook (American Nation in the Modern Era) or online (a few useful sites include The 1950s: Happy Days, Society in the 1950s, and The 1950s: Lifestyles and Social Trends).  I stressed to students that they did not need extensive information on each topic, rather just enough to offer a brief explanation of how the topic affected American life in the 1950s.  

After completing their research, students were instructed to find a way to creatively depict the effects of seven of these topics on American life in the 1950s.  This portrayal of American society could take the form of a diary, a fictional story, or a script for a 1950s sitcom, but it had to include an explanation of the significance of seven items from the list above and these topics had to fit seamlessly into the context of the writing.

This lesson helped students to better understand American life in the 1950s while allowing them to practice the skill of gathering information and further developing their writing skills.  It also piqued student interest by allowing them to be imaginative and creatively express their own ideas through writing.

For further information on writing in a history/social studies class see Writing in the Social Studies Classroom, Writing to Learn History, and Creative Writing in the History Classroom.