ELIZA in the Social Studies Classroom

A Teacher Post About Utilizing Picture Books in Secondary Education

Who do we include in the historical narrative? What has been excluded from the story? How has our history been retold over time?

As a Social Studies teacher, I am always looking for new perspectives to bring in to my classroom. More importantly, my students are always looking for places to find themselves in the content. There is a power in visibility. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton represents a unique opportunity for Social Studies educators – to provide a female perspective that spans through the majority of the scope of a US History I curriculum.

Through the imagination of Margaret McNamara in her new book, Eliza’s story comes alive and proves that one person – one woman – can make a tangible impact on history just by leading authentically and selflessly. Isn’t that what we want all students to take away from their educations – that their decision to do what is right can make an impact? Eliza shows us that the preservation of history is significant, who we remember matters.

As a secondary education teacher I often look for ways to incorporate all kinds of books into my classroom. It’s important for teachers of every discipline to encourage literacy, which I do by providing a classroom library dedicated to non-fiction books as well as historical fiction. These
books give students opportunities to be inspired by the people and events that shaped our nation.

This book has a number of simple, tangible ways that it can be incorporated into any US History lesson plan. My goal is to provide strategies you could use tomorrow, next week, or even next month that can be smoothly adapted into what you already do every day:

Model Close Reading
Using this book, teachers can show students the power of reading closely. I would use a paragraph or two from the piece to show how multiple readings of a text can make the perspective of Eliza become more clear. Then, have students look for bias, as well as making connections to other parts of our unit. I would use this text as a model, then depending on the age group, would have them in a pairing or small group to try a different primary source from the
era of study.

Backchannel Discussion
By taking part of Eliza’s point of view, such as a quote with an illustration from the book, and posing it as a backchannel or digital discussion prompt, you can encourage students to analyze how the letter-writing style of the book shines a light on her motivations. Potential discussion topics include historical preservation, legacy building, or philanthropy. I might also include a
discussion topic on how this view of Eliza complicated your understanding of Hamilton from previous interactions from class or the famous musical.

Project Based Learning
There are so many research based projects that could be inspired by a book like Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton . I would encourage any Social Studies teacher to look at how this could be used to place women in the historical narrative, and provide choice when possible to your students. If you have students doing a research based project, use Eliza as a
springboard for how women contributed to early American history. I have done projects where students start by selecting a driving research question, then end with project creation – websites, Ted Talk-style speeches, flipped lessons, or interactive museums. Eliza met the first fourteen
presidents, how can the students make that kind of incredible interaction with living history into a project they’ll remember?

Remediation or Enrichment Stations
Depending on the population you teach, this could be a powerful, high-interest way to grab students attention. When I have taught English Language Learners I would use a book like this to provide a frame of references and strong visuals to make the content more accessible. As a station activity, this could be paired with a grade-level text like your textbook or other primary source material to compare and contrast.

Through literacy, our students engage with the world outside of just their school, community, generation, or even time period. Increasing their exposure to new and different historical figures allows them to have the past come alive in a new way. The themes in Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton will allow teachers of all age groups to encourage their students to
ask larger questions such as: “what legacy am I leaving?” and “who should be remembered?” These larger questions are at the heart of why we come to the classroom every day and why students come to our classes eager to learn.

Meghan King

Meghan is currently a Teacher of Social Studies in East Windsor, New Jersey. In her 6th grade classroom she looks to engage students by giving them opportunities to be inspired by the American History content she is fortunate enough to teach. Through project based learning, embedding technology, and a passion for teaching she feels that every day in the classroom is a gift. You can follow her and her students on their historical adventures on Twitter @MsKing_MHK.

Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton By Margaret McNamara; illustrated by Esmé Shapiro; afterword by Phillipa Soo

We all know the story of scrappy Alexander Hamilton and his rise in American politics–but how much do we know about his workmate, inspiration, and stabilizing force, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton? Margaret McNamara employs the letter-writing style of the period to tell the story of Eliza Hamilton, who was born into a family of considerable wealth, power, and influence in Albany, New York, in 1757. Eliza was expected to marry into a similarly powerful family . . . until she met and fell in love with the charismatic Hamilton. She stood by him throughout his tumultuous life, and after his death, she single-handedly collected his papers and preserved them for historians and musical-theater writers of the future. Eliza outlived Hamilton by fifty years; during that time she founded the first orphanage in New York State, raised funds for the Washington Monument, and kept the flame of her husband’s memory and achievements alive. Featuring Esme Shapiro’s exquisite, thoroughly researched art, which mirrors paintings from 18th-century America, this is a beautiful and informative biography with extensive back matter.

Random House Teachers and Librarians