Integrating Social Studies Texts
and Trade Books with Formula Poetry

Elizabeth C. Webre

Integrating the use of a trade book with a social studies text can make for an interesting lesson. In an effort to model such a lesson effectively, for pre-service elementary teachers, I created a history lesson that included a social studies text, a trade book, and a writing exercise involving formula poetry. I selected one section of a fifth grade American history text that we could use in planning a model lesson that linked studentsí prior knowledge to assigned text readings and that challenged students to apply what they have learned by writing.1 The lesson included a trade book to reinforce the information given about a historical figure in the social studies text and culminated with the creation of biopoems.

The settlement of New Amsterdam and the influence of Peter Stuyvesant provided the core content of the lesson. Selection of lesson content was based on the following rationale:

A. The textual introduction of the topic of Dutch settlements in North America provided an opportunity for the modeling of two separate prereading activities, one designed to activate or build schema and a second designed to set the purpose for reading a specific portion of the text.2

B. Disconnected presentation of content in the text provided opportunity for the modeling of selective text utilization based on the teacherís purpose.3

C. Reference to a historical figure in the selected text provided an opportunity to share a trade book and to have students write formula poetry.

The lesson began with a prereading activity: brainstorming. The term New Amsterdam was displayed. The students were asked to write down anything that came to mind with regard to this name, then their responses were recorded on the board for discussion. This initial activity served to activate schema for some students and, for others, build schema.

Following the brainstorming activity, a second prereading activity was presented, which was designed to set a purpose for reading the assigned text selection. The following cloze sentence was displayed and students furnished some possible words (their best guesses) to fill in the blanks.

New Amsterdam was settled around __________________ (year) by ______________ (country) near _______________ (geographic feature). It became ________________.

Students then independently read a passage from the textbook, studying the map, illustration, and accompanying captions, and compared information in the text with their guesses (given earlier in the cloze sentence), discussing any discrepancies they perceived.

The introductory information supplied by the text was then linked to a second reading in the history book that provided more information about the era. Students learned about a colorful Dutch governor and how New Netherland came to be known as New York. A discussion followed this reading, which centered on Peter Stuyvesantís stubbornness and the loss of the Dutch colony to England.

Finally, the teacher read aloud a trade book, On the Day Peter Stuyvesant Came to Town by Arnold Lobel.4 As students listened, they were encouraged to write down descriptive words used to depict the Dutch governor. Following the read-aloud, the instructor handed out an open ìbiopoemî (biographical poem, inset).5 Students were then paired, and each pair was instructed to create a biopoem about Peter Stuyvesant. The instructor had created a biopoem prior to implementation of the lesson and was prepared to guide studentsí first attempts in creating the formula poem. Each student pair presented their completed Peter Stuyvesant biopoems by copying final versions onto transparencies and sharing them with the class with the use of an overhead projector.

The creation of biopoems reinforced knowledge of Peter Stuyvesant, a colorful figure in our nationís history, and provided an opportunity for incorporating meaningful writing in a cooperative group setting.6



1. Herbert J. Bass, Our Country (Morristown, NJ: Silver Burdett, 1993).

2. Richard Vacca and Jo Anne Vacca, Content Area Reading, 6th ed. (New York: Longman, 1999), 372.

3. Bass, ìThe Netherlands Start a Colony in North America,î section C; ìNew Netherlands Becomes New York,î section A.

4. Arnold Lobel, On the Day Peter Stuyvesant Sailed into Town (New York: Harper Trophy, 1971).

5. Cynthia Pino, Rx for Formula Poetry in the Content Areas: An Activities Book (ERIC Document Reproduction Service, 1983), microfiche, p.12, ED272880.

6. The lesson as described above was implemented and completed during a seventy-five minute block of time. For middle level students, two fifty-minute periods are recommended for the lesson.


Elizabeth C. Webre is an associate professor in the Department of Education at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.

Open Biopoem Format


Line 1. (first name)

Line 2. (4 character traits)

Line 3. Relative of (name of family member, ethnic or national group)

Line 4. Who loves (3 people, things, or ideas))

Line 5. Who feels (3 items)

Line 6. Who needs (3 items)

Line 7. Who fears (3 items)

Line 8. Who gives (3 items)

Line 9. Who would like to see (3 aspirations)

Line 10. Resident of (where he or she lived)

Line 11. (last name)