Teaching from the Archives | Lesson Plan

This past week, I attended a fun, four-day workshop hosted by the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin. This training was designed to aid teachers in creating lesson plans based in primary source materials offered in the archive.

I decided to add a Latin American female author to the collection of texts I’ll be teaching next year, so after some preliminary research I focused my curriculum project on In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Here are some of the main theme from this two-day lesson plan:

Lesson Description & Overview

Grade: 10, English II

This two-day lesson plan frames the reading of Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies by focusing on the theme of “preserving history.” While familiarizing students with Alvarez’s archived research materials, students will explore questions of representation, memory, accuracy in fiction, and the research process.

As this instructional material was specifically designed for the first two class days of a larger unit on In the Time of the Butterflies, its scope is limited to framing activities, discussion questions and supplemental materials supporting the reading of Chapter One and the postscript of the novel. Depending on the needs of the teacher and classroom, these lesson plans can be taught in isolation in lieu of reading the novel in entirety and may be used to scaffold toward a variety of assessments. Some suggestions for types of assessment projects are included, with activity suggestions for each.


  • Preservation of story (memoir, historical fiction)
  • Value in archival material (primary and secondary sources)
  • Author’s credibility and/or accuracy in fiction (the research process; the writing process)
  • Cultural representation in biographical and/or research writing

Paired Project Suggestions:

  • Research essay focusing on historical events or social issues
  • Analysis essay focusing on In the Time of the Butterflies
  • Time Capsule project focusing on preservation of modern culture
  • Memoir / Biographical essay
  • Historical fiction selection

Thematically-Connected Topics and Texts

  • Propaganda and persuasive writing
    • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Historical dictatorships and political tyranny
    • Trujillo government in the Dominican Republic (1930s-60s)
    • Instances of tyranny and revolution across Latin America
    • The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Memoir / Vignette form
    • House on Mango Street  by Sandra Cisneros


Students will explore the impact of primary source archival material on biography, memoir, and historical fiction writing and consider the effect of lost artifacts on writing historically accurate stories in order to understand how Alvarez’ historical fiction novel In the Time of the Butterflies is a preservation of story and history through extensive research blended with creative writing.

Enduring Understandings & Essential Questions


  • Preservation and archival of individuals’ artifacts and tangible materials enables members of society to interrogate and verify the perspectives they hold on history and culture.
    • How do we know that the information we use to tell stories or form arguments is accurate? (f)
    • What strategies might a researcher use to generate accurate knowledge about an historical figure, event, or culture? (f)
    • In what ways do we “control” the past from the present? (c)
    • How does our control of the past impact our future? (c)
    • Is history “almost always written by the victors”? In what instances is history not written by the winners? (c)
    • Is it possible to achieve absolute equity in the way we preserve and memorialize individuals? Why or why not? (p)

Reader/Writer Craft:

  • Authors of historical fiction combine verifiable facts and research with realistic creative details in order to produce a narrative the relates a theme pertinent to both the past and the present.
    • What kinds of research did Alvarez conduct prior to writing In the Time of the Butterflies? (f)
    • How is her research present throughout the novel? (f)
    • Does the novel reflect accuracy more than fiction, or is it mostly fictional? (c) This question would be included if the entire novel is covered with historical context lessons included.
    • How does reliance on first-hand accounts elevate certain voices over others? (c)
    • Does an account have to be first-hand–from a primary source–to be considered “true?” (c)
    • Is it fair or appropriate to memorialize history through a work of fiction, even one infused with a great deal of verifiable fact? (p)

Please contact me for the detailed lesson plan.