About Great Chicago Stories

Using Great Chicago Stories

Enrich your curriculum with Great Chicago Stories, a suite of twelve powerful historical fiction narratives and supporting educational materials inspired by artifacts in the collection of the Chicago History Museum. This award-winning resource for elementary and high school students can support and enhance your classroom instruction as well as make valuable connections for students both pre- and post-field trip. Developed and tested in collaboration with Chicago-area teachers, Great Chicago Stories explores key themes of place, identity, and contested space while making local, regional, and national connections to the following topics:

Recommended for Grades 3 to 4

Recommended for Grades 9 to 12

Great Chicago Stories uses primary sources as the means for telling these stories. Students can locate settings for all twelve narratives on an Interactive History Map, where continuity and change are explored through then-and-now photographs. Click-to-enlarge and zooming tools offer students virtual access to some of the Chicago History Museum's most intriguing artifacts and the power to explore them like never before. Downloadable map guides for both Elementary and High School narratives offer focused questions for directed inquiry and writing.

Great Chicago Stories also offers Full Audio Recordings of all twelve narratives in both streaming multimedia format and MP3 format that can be downloaded to any portable audio player. The audio recordings enrich student engagement with the narratives while meeting multiple learning styles and needs. Struggling readers, special education students, and English language learners can benefit especially from this component.

Curriculum resources include five-day unit plans for both Elementary and High School narratives. Written and tested by Chicago-area teachers, these unit plans offer high-quality, inspirational educational materials that align with Illinois State Standards. All have been designed for maximum flexibility and can be easily adapted to meet the particular needs of individual teachers and their classes.

Great Chicago Stories advocates using narrative to teach history as an effective instructional method. Narrative-based teaching increases student engagement and develops "historical habits of mind" as originally defined by the Bradley Commission on History in Schools and further developed by the National Council for the Social Studies and the National Council for History Education. The story form encourages students to critically engage with history, asking why things happened instead of memorizing rote facts. Facts become meaningful and memorable within the framework of a story: causality, conflict, complications, and character. A two-year evaluation study of Great Chicago Stories found the following results:

  • Students made significant gains in four kinds of learning—skill-building, understanding, historical habits of mind, and content knowledge.
  • Gains in content knowledge averaged 43% from pre- to post-test.
  • Students made gains in self-guided learning—asking questions, investigating artifacts, making observations, and creating "spectacular" works.
  • Students showed high levels of engagement—requesting more stories, sharing with family, sharing with other students, and mentioning the stories, characters, and content for days and weeks after the lesson.

Great Chicago Stories offers narratives that cover significant historical events in Chicago and our nation. The site also provides resources that involve students in developing their historical thinking skills as they examine and interpret primary sources from the museum's collection as evidence of the past. Through reading, discussing, and weighing evidence, your students can become informed and practiced interpreters of the past.