45 Ways to Teach US History & Geography with Literature

Trying to recreate public school at home, right down to the textbooks, is something new homeschoolers often do (especially those pulling students out of school).  Literature studies, however, are so much more FUN!  As an added bonus, because they incorporate knowledge through relating to a character and / or story, your students are apt to retain more once the year ends. 

What are living books, and how can you use them to make your homeschool shine? Get all the tips & tricks in Using Living Books to Homeschool.

us history

Novel studies can be used to cover concepts from language arts and history to science and math.  It’s been our students’ preferred learning method for years, and we’ve created well over one hundred of them! If you’re looking to teach American History and Geography through literature, here are 45 units to try….and don’t discount audiobooks, too! They’re a great addition to a busy homeschooling day!

Another fun option for teaching history are the US History and Government/Constitution classes at Sparks Academy! This is an online co-op, with weekly student interaction in the private classroom forum. Learn more here.

american history pin
  • Casualties of War & Vietnam War
  • No Promises in the Wind & the Great Depression
  • Out of the Dust & the Dust Bowl
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham & Civil Rights
  • Dusty Sourdough & Alaska
  • The King of Mulberry Street & Ellis Island Immigration
  • Paper Son & Angel Island Immigration
  • The Red Menace & McCarthyism
  • Johnny Tremain & Faces of the American Revolution
  • Sounder & Sharecropping
  • World War II Code Talkers
  • Flashback Four: Hamilton-Burr Duel
  • Within These Lines & Japanese Internment Camps
  • Flashback Four: Titanic Mission
  • Flashback Four: Lincoln Project
  • Freedom Summer & the Summer of 1964
  • Farenheit 451 & Types of Government
  • The Great Gatsby & the Roaring Twenties
  • Witch of Blackbird Pond & Salem Witch Trials
  • The World Made New & Early Explorers
  • Stitching a Life & Jewish Immigration
  • We Were There on the Oregon Trail
  • We Were There at the Battle of Gettysburg
  • We Were There at the Boston Tea Party
  • We Were There in the Klondike Gold Rush
  • We Were There with the Mayflower Pilgrims
  • We Were There with the Pony Express
  • We Were There with the California Forty-Niners
  • We Were There with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys
  • We Were There with Jean Lafitte at New Orleans
  • We Were There at the Oklahoma Land Run
  • We Were There on the Chisholm Trail
  • We Were There at Pearl Harbor
  • We Were There when Washington Won at Yorktown
  • We Were There at the Battle of the Alamo
  • We Were There at the Opening of the Erie Canal
  • We Were There at the Battle of Lexington and Concord
  • We Were There with Lewis and Clark
  • We Were There when Grant Met Lee at Appomattox
  • We Were There with the California Rancheros
  • We Were There at the First Airplane Flight
  • We Were There on the Santa Fe Trail
  • We Were There at the Driving of the Golden Spike
  • We Were There at the Opening of the Atomic Era
  • We Were There on the Nautilus
  • We Were There with Lincoln in the White House

You can find all of these in the three unit bundles below! (Sample units are in blue.) Enjoy the journey, and remember….DO THE VOICES!!!

Homeschool Planning for Parents & Teens

Homeschooling is a big job!  If you’re trying to be mom, wife, housekeeper, chauffeur, and teacher…you’re going to tucker out quickly.  Homeschool planning can help you start off on the right foot! 

Remember this, you can be flexible and creative with your schedule.  There are as many different ways to homeschool as there are homeschooling families.  Also, your home is not a school, and you don’t have to re-create school, so don’t be afraid to do what works for you!

Homeschool Planning: Getting Started

You’ve heard the phrase, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Some folks may think they don’t need a planner (I’m guessing these folks are under 40), and truthfully, failing to plan may not be quite that bad, but it does mean forgetting important things.  Maybe you’re a tech person, or maybe you prefer pen and ink, but find a planning method that works for you!

Start by outlining the year.  Make a note in each month of birthdays, holidays, vacations, and any planned time off.  This could include upcoming moves, pregnancy due dates, or other big events.  After noting these, make sure you have the minimum number of required school days for your state (usually 180). 

While you’re planning, include some field trips.  If you like routine, maybe plan a specific day each month (eg, third Friday), or you can just wing it!  Also be sure to leave some blank spaces – days for catching up, following bunny trails, and for those #LifeHappens moments.

Homeschool Planning: Choosing a Groove

Now that you have an idea of what your calendar year looks like, decide what rhythm you want the school year to have. 

  • Do you want to follow a traditional school schedule, mimicking the public school calendar of August through June, with similar breaks?  This might be a good option if your children have cousins or friends that they want to see on school breaks.
  • Do you want to school year-round, spreading out the work at a relaxed pace and taking time off regularly?
  • Do you want to have a four-day school week, leaving one day each week free for field trips, appointments, and playdates?  This can be a good option if you need to schedule regular appointments, as you’ll know you always have this day of the week free.

When you’re making your plan for the year, you’ll want to put in scheduled appointments and schedule out the first few weeks of school work, but don’t plan too far in advance.  Why?  Because life happens.  You might need to adjust the class work load, adding more or relaxing it, depending on your student’s progress.  No need for you to waste time planning every single day of school when it will change.

Each month, reevaluate where your student is and plan out schoolwork for the next month around the appointments, field trips, and blank spaces.  Oh ya.  And write in pencil.  Because things change.  When it comes to planning, we follow the Robinson’s advice with curriculum lessons and just, “Keep Moving Forward.” 

For older students – in middle and high school – it’s never too early to help them start their own planning as well.  This teaches personal responsibility and time management.  Check out the Five Best Planners for Teens to find an option perfect for your teen. 

Homeschool Planning: Ages & Stages

Depending on the age of your student, you’ll need to plan a little more or a little less.  In general, the younger the child, the laxer you can be.

Birth to Age 3

This age is about learning through play.  Life skills, motor skills, and language development are the primary goals.

Preschool and Kindergarten

While children should still be focusing on learning through play, there can be a slight switch to academic goals.  Learning letters, numbers, sounds, how to print their name are the primary goals.

Elementary School

There is still some learning through play, but more focus on academic goals.  This is the time to decide what type of curriculum you want to use – classical, traditional, unit studies, Charlotte Mason, etc – and be sure to cover reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as introductory science and social studies.  Follow your student’s interests and curiosities!

Learn more about types of curriculum here 

Middle School

This is when students really begin to buckle down in academics, becoming more intentional about learning.  Classes become more difficult, electives are added into the day, and students begin to think about career options for down the road.  Students become more independent and start taking more responsibility for their learning at this age, too.

High School

Start with the end in sight.  Have an idea of what your child might like to do after graduation, and plan courses around this.  Classes are divided into core subjects (science, math, language arts, history) and elective classes.  Don’t forget to plan for standardized testing if college is a possibility.  Internships, hands-on projects, and volunteer hours should all be recorded, too.

Find more specialized advice and inspiration for a variety of lifestyles and challenges in the Homeschooling the Upper Grades series.  If you are confused, overwhelmed, or frustrated by the thought of tackling homeschool planning in the high school years, Sparks Academy offers academic advising and college planning assistance.

Homeschool Planning: Outside of School

Meal Planning

You may not consider meal planning part of homeschooling planning, but it’s really important!  Without having a plan in place for dinner, it’s suddenly five o’clock and you have nothing thawed out.  This leads to a lot of take out, going out to eat, and stressed, hungry family members.

Consider your weekly schedule when meal planning.  If Tuesdays are a full, busy day with evening activities, plan a freezer meal.  Or make a large meal on Monday and serve the leftovers the next day.  Save those time-consuming family favorites for days that are more flexible.

Freezer meals and slow cooking are two easy methods for getting healthy dinners on the table every night AND doing so while saving money.  Try these simple meal ideas to help you get started!

Take a Deep Breath

You have everything in place to have a wonderful homeschool year!  But don’t forget to attend to yourself, too.  Homeschool moms are notorious for wearing twenty hats at once!  We go and go and go and go until we just can’t do it anymore…it’s called burnout. 

Plan a few ‘blank spaces’ and Moms’ Night Outs in that yearly calendar.  Pick up an encouraging book specifically for homeschooling mamas.

homeschool coffee

Frequently Asked Questions About Sparks Academy

frequently asked questions

FAQ Answers

What’s a blended class?

So glad you asked!  These are classes hosted online that include textbook and video elements, discussion feeds with peers, So glad you asked!  These are classes hosted online that include textbook and video elements, discussion feeds with peers, and live, virtual meetings.  Each week, the students are interacting through facilitated discussion in a private forum.  Rather than labeling these live classes, we have labeled them blended because we will not be meeting live every single week.  

How and when will the class meet?
Each class has its own class join code in Canvas. Classes “meet” weekly via shared assignments and moderated discussion during the school year (August 15,2022 – May 5, 2023 for the ’22-’23 school year). Most classes are pre-recorded with community discussion and group chats. Periodically we have live class meetings. These are on the syllabus for your student to plan ahead. If you are unable to attend a live class, it will be recorded for later playback. Self-paced coursework will be assigned between classes. Scheduled classes are posted in Central Standard Time.

What it my student is absent?
Since the coursework is assigned on a weekly basis, students have the flexibility to complete it on their own schedules. If your student will absent for an extended period of time, or you are predicting an act of nature (eg, hurricane at your home), please contact us so we can make arrangements. If a family emergency arises, please do the same. We understand that life happens occasionally.

I don’t think I quite understand how a pre-recorded class works with group discussion? If it isn’t live, how do they get to interact with the instructor and each other?

  • That’s a good question, and one our test group grappled with, but currently what it looks like is: periodic live classes (once per quarter), discussion threads, peer reviews, and digital interaction through the platform with face-to-face interaction in those live classes (which will be recorded for any students who miss attending). Some of the classes also contain a group project component, where they will be working together, virtually.
  • Our original plan had been to stream every class live as live interactive, but the internet capability where we live simply isn’t up to the task. And I’m not moving just for streaming. 🙂 However, we are able to secure a place up in the city every so often to hijack their net for those live streaming classes.

What technology will we need?
Required technology: Digital notebook (Google Docs or One Drive), internet access, Canvas (you will be sent access instructions), and the ability to use camera & microphone during class discussions

Who is teaching these classes?
History and language arts classes are taught primarily by Yvie Field, a homeschool mom with close to twenty years of educational experience (both homeschool and classroom), as well as some adjunct appearances by parental figures who are retired teachers, particularly in high school language arts. We may bring other, experienced and vetted, teachers on board, as well as guest speakers who are experts in their field and / or bring a unique perspective on the material. As the academy expands, we are looking to licensed teachers for our science and math classes.

Where can I see a sample class?
Currently, there is a Language Arts 1, a Physical Science class, and an American History class for sample on the Academy page.

What if my student has questions?
Within our online platform, Canvas, there is an email icon which will allow your student to directly contact the teacher with any questions.

How do you ensure students’ privacy?
None of our students’ personal information is revealed in the online classroom. Students log in using a screen name. They do not provide last names or any contact information in the online classroom. Only teachers can see any personal information about each student.​ Work assignments are submitted via email and will only be shared with student permission for educational purposes. Teachers are not responsible for archiving data, so be sure to keep a copy of your work. Sparks Academy uses security protocols, but is not liable for data breaches or lost data.

Do I have to buy the curriculum, or will it be provided?
All co-op members are required to purchase the PDF or physical copy of each course that they are participating in. (Purchases are verified. There are a few different options for verification.) In most cases, you will only need the student textbook. This information is provided in the course description. The student text for Economics comes as part of the enrollment fee.

All students receive a grade based on projects, quizzes, journals, and class participation.

Why is it called Sparks Academy?

Our oldest son is a blacksmith, and also a fan of word play. When we were hanging out in his shop one afternoon, watching him work (and making sparks), it just developed. Then he came up with the slogan, and the rest is history…

What if I just want someone to help with writing assessment, but don’t need an entire class?

We offer writing assessment and feedback packages for The Good & the Beautiful Levels 6, 7, and High School. If you are using any writing curriculum other than TGTB, please purchase the high school level.

If you usually use The Good & the Beautiful, why did you choose Notgrass for history?

TGTB is currently revamping their entire history program. Once they release it, we will examine the changes to see if it is still a good fit. In the meantime, Notgrass is an amazingly comprehensive program that will prepare your high schooler for further academic challenges! There is still a possibility that we will offer both Notgrass and TGTB history options for you to select from in the future, but we simply cannot say for sure right now.

What if my student just needs assistance with focusing on college prep?

One of our new classes is College: Applications & Essays, but if you’re more of the DIY type, you can pick up all the information in one easy download, here!

Behind the Scenes at Sparks Academy…

The new year is always exciting, but for us 2021 was a time of looking forward to this new endeavor!
January kicked off our recording sessions
In February, writing options were created for parents who just need writing assistance.
Finally, the skeleton was rolled out for six classes, and our test group began to work their way through the system, noting kinks and places for improvement so we can bring you the best experience!
Our February poll showed just how many people were craving quality teacher-led programs in high school science and math!
With folks expressing interest in science, we decided to share the lesson plans we developed for our own children.
March showed that recording was happening, but slowly. Technological quirks made for a steep learning curve!
Some folks wanted to know what a class looked like…so before there were sample classes, there was a peek inside the ‘making of a class.’ Students can find citations and links for every class in the lecture video.
….and then those sample classes went up! You can find them at the Sparks Academy tab.

We’re glad you’re here and hope to see you in class soon. Have a wonderful day!

Essential Reading List for High School Girls

After polling several homeschooling families on what they thought was the one must-read book for high school girls, we’ve put together a list of thirty-two books that all girls should read in middle and high school.   They include old classics and new favorites, and have lots of character-building lessons, too! Parents should always preview books first….many of these are only appropriate at the high school level.

Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre

L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables series

Pam Munoz Ryan

Riding Freedom

Jerry Spinelli


Gene Stratton-Porter

A Girl of the Limberlost

Julie Berry

Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

Audrey & Jeremy Rolloff

A Love Letter Life

Margaret Mitchell

Gone With the Wind

Jane Austen

Pride & Prejudice

Robin Jones Gunn

Christy Miller series

Corrie ten Boom

The Hiding Place

Bruce Wilkinson

The Dream Giver

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter

Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale

Louisa May Alcott

Rose in Bloom

Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Maud Hart Lovelace

Emily of Deep Valley

Nancy Demoss Wolgemouth

Lies Young Women Believe

Brené Brown

Daring Greatly

George Orwell


Louisa May Alcott

Little Women series

Mabel Hale

Beautiful Girlhood

Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning

Robert T. Kiyosaki

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights

Henry Cloud

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

Og Mandino

The Greatest Salesman in the World

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Women Who Run with the Wolves

Mary Pipher

Reviving Ophelia

Jordan Christy

Dave Ramsey

How to be a Hepburn in a Kardashian World: the Art of Living with Style, Class, and Grace

Total Money Makeover

Download your Essential Reading List here!

For more literature resources, check out SchoolhouseTeachers! It includes all classes, for all grades…and it’s one price for the entire family. There are many different learning styles to select from, so if you have one visual kid who needs a relaxed pace and one aural kid who needs a more stringent pace, there are classes that will fit them each. With over 475 classes available, plus extras for mom and dad, this is my favorite resource to offer new families wanting to dip their toe into homeschooling! You may also like…

Essential Reading List for High School Boys

Boys tend to fall staunchly into the ‘reader’ or ‘non-reader’ category.  Sometimes it just takes a little push toward more action-packed, exciting, adventure-filled stories to move them from one category to the other!  We’ve put together a list of thirty-two books that all boys should read in middle and high school.   Not only are they full of adventure (which they’ll love), but they have lots of character-building lessons, too! Parents should always preview books first….many of these are only appropriate at the high school level.

Rudyard KiplingJust So Stories
L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Robert WestallThe Machine Gunners
Madeleine L’EngleA Wrinkle in Time
Theordore TaylorThe Cay
Jack LondonCall of the Wild
S.E. HintonThe Outsiders
William GoldingLord of the Flies
Mary StewardThe Crystal Cave
Robert HeinleinStranger in a Strange Land
Mark TwainAdventures of Tom Sawyer
HomerThe Odyssey
Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird
John KnowlesA Separate Peace
Erich Maria RemarqueAll Quiet on the Western Front
Thor HyerdahlKon-Tiki
Claude BrownManchild in the Promised Land
Michael ShaaraThe Killer Angels
F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby
Earnest HemingwayThe Sun Also Rises
George Orwell1984
Ken KeseyOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Woody GuthrieBound for Glory
Gary PaulsenHatchet
Patrick O’BrianMaster and Commander
Robert Penn WarrenAll the King’s Men
E.M. ForsterA Passage to India
Fyodor DostoevskyThe Brothers Karamazov
Richard  YatesRevolutionary Road
James CainThe Postman Always Rings Twice
Sebastian JungerThe Perfect Storm

Download your Essential Reading List here!

For more literature resources, check out SchoolhouseTeachers! It includes all classes, for all grades…and it’s one price for the entire family. There are many different learning styles to select from, so if you have one visual kid who needs a relaxed pace and one aural kid who needs a more stringent pace, there are classes that will fit them each. With over 475 classes available, plus extras for mom and dad, this is my favorite resource to offer new families wanting to dip their toe into homeschooling! 

You may also like…

Must-Have Supplies for Homeschooling Moms!

This is sure to be the most-unusual back-to-school season in our lives…  How will it work?  Where will we school (for those families who outsource some or all of the school day)?  What will we need?  Will masks be a school day requirement?

Seasoned homeschool moms will attest to this list. We welcome new homeschool moms into our fold…..no denim jumper required! Here are fourteen must-have supplies for moms homeschooling middle and high school…

Food / snacks

The number one most-under-projected purchase is the amount of food you’ll need to keep on hand for any one day of school. These are teens…and they’re home ALL DAY….and don’t forget about Second Breakfast!

Library Card

Each December, our library spits out a little piece of paper showing us how much we’ve saved that year by using the library instead of purchasing the items we checked out. Without fail, that number has been over $25K every year! And it’s only grown as the kids have gotten older and their materials have gotten pricier. That’s not to say we don’t buy curriculum, because we definitely do, but those subject-specific books (like “The Real Fighting Stuff“) can be really expensive…thank heavens for the library!

3 hole punch

One of the most underappreciated members of the secretarial lot, the 3-hole punch allows you to take a chaotic mess of papers and organize them into binders. There is not beauty in the chaos when you have three kids’ papers scattered all over the kitchen….punch them, put them in binders, and put them on the shelf until you need grades.

Coffee / wine

Whether it’s 6 am or 6 pm, one of these is always going to be appropriate. Which end of the day you choose to put them is entirely up to you…. Just don’t let your stock dwindle. That could be a bad day.

Shortcut to ST on desktop

We can’t say enough about SchoolhouseTeachers, which basically lets you sign the kids on and then teaches them all their classes. Video-based, downloadable, interactive…pick your poison. Each student’s desktop needs a shortcut directly to their SchoolhouseTeachers dashboard so you can turn over the algebra headache instruction… What is ST?

Favorite chocolate hidden in a tampon box

You made cookies and didn’t get any. You bought your favorite candy and only found empty wrappers. We’ve been there. Solution? Get your favorite chocolate, and hide it in an empty tampon box! No one will steal it now…


This one seems like an easy oversight, but every home office needs a stapler. ‘Nuff said.

Desktop / laptop

Whether you choose cumbersome or portable – and they each have their benefits – it’s good to have an actual computer on hand, rather than just tablets and cell phones. There are so many things that require all the functions of an honest-to-pete computer, both online and offline.

Printer & ink

Did you buy digital curriculum? What about that nifty five-page freebie you just had to have? Are you really going to pay someone to print out eight pages of flashcards for you?

Computer paper

See above. Seriously… Must. Have.

Sense of humor

None of us got out of high school unscathed…so why would we think we can get out of teaching high school unscathed? Some days are going to be better than others. Pull on your big girl panties, try to keep it light, and remember what Annie said…. ‘You’re never fully dressed without a smile!

Quiet place / lock on bathroom door

Hmmm. Those days when our toddlers would just barge into the bathroom? They’re not gone. The kids just stand behind the door now talking to you. I like to keep the tap running…for an hour…so that I can’t hear them…while I read quietly in the bathroom.


Everyone thinks they don’t need a laminator. Until they do. And you do. Need one. That is if you don’t already have one. Flashcards, printable games, and dry-erase worksheets are all vastly improved and gain an extended life with a laminator. We also like to make booklets, like the Memorization Book, which will last kid after kid after kid…

Plan / goals

Um, yeah. Your kid is in high school. Which means that s/he is about to leave the nest (hopefully). Do y’all have a plan? College, votech, career? This is the time to make goals and help your student move ever closer to the edge of the nest…get those wings ready!

Dry Erase Pouches

Not just for elementary school parents! These dry erase pouches are fantastic for reusing with things such as graph paper, mapwork, and geometry graphics. Students who need a little extra practice on math facts and handwriting can put them to use as well.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

If your older student has younger siblings who are doing schoolwork or playing, it can be distracting and frustrating trying to concentrate on schoolwork. Noise cancelling headphones help your student tune out the pitter and tune in to classwork.

Coil binder

You might think you don’t need a coil binder. If you have a great printer – such as Family Nest Printing – you might not. But you’ll want to ask them to bind your printed books for you. This allows you to buy digital curriculum once, print a book for each kid (as it’s needed), and bind it up like printed textbooks!

Pre-Planned Goodies

Remember that analogy about putting on your own mask on an airplane before putting one on your children?  Homeschooling moms can easily fall into the trap of forgetting to take care of themselves, too… Schedule a monthly reminder to step back and regularly take care of yourself! See our Seven Ways to Pamper Mom!

Want to know what’s on your kids’ back-to-school checklist? Check our the Must-Have Supplies for Homeschooling Teens!

Secure your entire curriculum by purchasing a family membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com. One membership covers every subject. Every grade. Every student.