Monday, April 4, 2016

Chris Eboch: Fiction Makes Learning Fun

Writers, teachers, and parents know that the way to get kids excited about reading and learning is to make reading and learning fun. This means telling exciting stories, not merely teaching boring lists of facts.

I often get e-mails from teachers who are using one of my historical novels in the classroom, and they report enthusiasms from the students. A teacher at a middle school in Washington state once told me, “We have been using your book, The Well of Sacrifice, as one of our lit circle books this year. Your book has been a very popular one for the kids … all levels of reading ability, and strongly supports our social studies theme.”

Offering a teaching guide can make it easier for teachers to incorporate your book into their classroom. One teacher used my Egyptian mystery, The Eyes of Pharaoh, in a gifted class of fourth and fifth graders in New Mexico. She said, “Using this historical fiction has been a window into Ancient Egypt – its people, culture, and beliefs. My class enjoyed doing research on Egyptian gods and goddesses, and hieroglyphs. Projects extended their knowledge of this fascinating time and place.”

Getting Your Guide

Today the educational buzzwords are Core Curriculum State Standards (CCSS), and lesson plans that align with those standards may have special appeal to teachers. It’s not hard to find educational experts who offer services in creating CCSS-aligned teaching material. Expect to pay $150-$250 and up, depending on the type of guide. Debbie Gonzales, who wrote the curriculum guide for The Eyes of Pharaoh, says, “Through the sharing of a well-crafted Curriculum Guide, we can be of tremendous support to educators in sharing our passion for the craft and our enthusiasm for reading by helping students hone their CCSS skills.”

You can also develop your own teaching guides if you’re willing to study the standards. “Most well-written books cover multiple CCSS and it’s easy to relate them to a good book,” says Shirley Duke, coauthor of Teaching STEM and Common Core with Mentor Texts, K-5, which illustrates how to do lesson plans and can serve as a template. “Read the CCSS standard and then consider how the book illustrates that idea.” Possibilities include everything from identifying theme to understanding cause and effect to identifying metaphors.

CCSS alignments aren’t the only possibility. Some states, such as Texas, have their own standards, and it might be worth researching those depending on your novel’s topic.

Beyond Language Arts

You might also have content that’s a better fit with social studies or science standards. I worked on a book called Walk like an Elephant along with a family interested in science. The book tells an exciting story about two kids helping to rescue a baby elephant in Africa. It’s also packed full of science information about animals, habitats, and much more. The teaching guide I helped develop has Common Core literacy tie-ins for each chapter, plus science projects on ecosystems, food webs, and the scientific method. We also included ways young people can help save the elephants – a great way to teach them science, social studies, and civic action.

Spellbound River Press, a new company, is releasing teaching guides for each of its books. The first list includes the re-release of The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, the fourth in my Haunted series. That teaching guide has discussion questions that cover everything from science to ethics. It also has some writing and mapmaking projects. The teaching guides for The Sweet Spot and Magic Mayhem: Jinnie Wishmaker focus more on understanding characters, while Operation Golden Llama will have an extensive guide that covers vocabulary, comprehension, and questions about Peru. It also has writing projects and an excerpt for theater.

Novels can be used to teach almost any concept you can find in the classroom. Ask teachers what would help them in the classroom. Or if you’re lucky enough to already have teachers using your book, see if they’ll share their projects with you and allow you to share them with other teachers.

Another teacher who used The Well of Sacrifice in her fourth/fifth grade classroom said, “This book is not only a great adventure for middle grade readers, but it is a useful tool for classroom teachers…. We used the book as the backbone of several language arts exercises such as: written and oral reports about the Maya; literary criticism of characters, plot, and sequence; persuasive essays on human sacrifice vs. murder and Mayan culture vs. our own culture; and art projects from wood burning to mapping. We studied geography and the rainforest. The students’ enthusiasm for this book pushed our curriculum into other disciplines including math.”

Wow, what lucky students!

Something for Every Student

Enthusiastic teachers get students involved with a text through a wide variety of projects, some clearly academic and some that appear to be mainly for fun. Students enjoy drawing cartoons or developing skits of scenes in the book. Persuasive letters or group discussions get a playful boost by having the students write or speak from the point of view of one of the book’s characters. Some teachers plan a party (perhaps with accompanying author visit) to wrap up use of the book. Parents may send in appropriate snacks, and the kids give presentations, using posters or dioramas to illustrate their areas of research.

To some, this may not look as educational as reading textbooks and memorizing information. However, people learn in a wide variety of ways. Some are more visual, benefiting from seeing lots of images. Others are verbal, learning well from words in speech and writing. Yet others need physical activity to help lock in information. Some students may learn best in social groups, while others work better on their own. Using a variety of projects in the classroom offers something to all of the students.

Lesson plans

What do you do after you develop your lesson plans? You have to get them into the hands of teachers. I offer mine on my website and also make them available for free on sites where teachers can find lesson plans, Share My Lesson and Teachers Pay Teachers (you’ll have to open accounts). If you have other ideas of where to share lesson plans, or how to let teachers know about them, please post in the comments.

For lesson plans for The Eyes of Pharaoh and The Well of Sacrifice, visit my website’s for teachers page. For lesson plans for The Ghost Miner’s Treasure and other books coming out from Spellbound River Press, visit the SRP For Teachers page. The other series launching this spring are Cousins in Action: Operation Golden Llama by Sam Bond, Magic Mayhem: Jinnie Wishmaker by Deanna Roy, and The Sweet Spot by Stacy Barnett Mozer.


Teaching STEM and Common Core with Mentor Texts: Collaborative Lesson Plans, K-5, by
Anastasia Suen and Shirley Duke

Writing for the Common Core: Writing, Language, Reading, and Speaking & Listening Activities Aligned to the Common Core, by Darcy Pattison

The Next Generation Science Standards (NSTA):

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies:  

Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a hierarchy of thinking skills, with examples of questions for each level, from knowledge to evaluation:

Marcie Colleen’s website offers a free download of Picture Book Month Teachers Guide, which shows how picture books can work with CCSS.

Teachers Pay Teachers:

SCBWI’s The Book lists people who do curriculum and book club guides under “Resources for Published Authors & Illustrators.”

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show.

Chris’s writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.


  1. What fantastic resources! Thanks for sharing them, Chris.

  2. Chris, thanks for sharing all of these resources! I've thought about tackling a teaching guide and this is a great start.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!