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School: Pioneer Charter School

City/State: Fort Collins, CO

Grade(s): 8

Format(s): Character file: Historical

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Social Studies, Visual Arts

Project Overview

8th grade students at the Pioneer Charter School in Fort Collins, Colorado each created a historical character file (HCF) as part of a Learning Expedition on slavery. The process took 2 months and included multiple drafts of writing and art work.

As the students write in their introduction (included as the first page in each student’s “file”), each HCF is a fictionalized account of a historically/geographically accurate character. Each file contains a portrait, a narrative/biography, a character map, a bibliography, and artifacts based on their character’s life.

These HCF encouraged students to truly understand the details of slavery while acknowledging the humanness of slaves. This product/project is a means for exploring history through a deeply personalized accounting of experience.

Students used multiple sources to research their HCF including primary, secondary and expert sources. At the end of this HCF are the resources this student used.

Bessy tells the story of a young female slave who died at the age of 18, after a living as a slave on a plantation in the south. Bessy was an avid reader and storyteller, and in this HCF, there are several stories within the story as told by Bessy. This HCF includes detailed information about what Bessy’s life was like, including some of the physical and sexual abuse she endured.

The artifacts this student created for Bessy include a handkerchief and footprints of a baby girl born to the master’s wife.


Models of Excellence recognizes the challenges of teaching students history that includes sensitive topics such as enslaved people, genocide, and human rights abuses. Student projects that involve topics like this should be planned with care for the emotional safety of students, respect for the people and cultures studied, and should use reliable primary and secondary sources so that content is not built upon assumptions or stereotypes. Written simulations (e.g., fictional diaries or documents) should be closely informed by student research, fieldwork, and adult experts. 

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Highlights a format that allows for a deeply personalized account of an historical period
  • A unique and engaging way for students to explore a topic and show the depth of their knowledge and understanding
  • Contains an unusually helpful introductory project overview, which combines a few words from the teacher as well as orienting concepts from the students
  • Format contains multiple components, each allowing for some degree of student choice, to increase student interest and input
  • Writing style is engaging and carefully done
  • Compelling combination of writing, portraiture and the creation of artifacts
  • Portrait of historical character is very well done
  • Demonstrates a format in which individual work can be assessed
  • Highlights the candid exploration of troubling topics

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can write narrative texts about real or imagined experiences using relevant details and event sequences that make sense.
  • With support from peers and adults, I can use the writing process to ensure that purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • I can use a standard format for citation.
  • I can write narrative texts about real or imagined experiences using well-chosen details and effective event sequences.
  • I can use correct grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • I can intentionally use verbs in active and passive voice and in the conditional and subjunctive mood.
  • I can use resources to build my vocabulary.
  • I can use evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
  • EL has not created long-term learning targets for WHST standards.
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