I use this graphic organizer to help students think about the time in which a story takes place:
-"Why is there an arrow at the end?"
-"What does fairy tale time mean?"
-"Couldn't a fairy tale story happen in the present?" (Ooh, great question!)
Then, we used the graphic organizer to help us find the time period of the story we had just read, "Last Day for School". (This story can be found in Character Traits and Emotions.) The date, 1951, is provided in the text. Past or present? Students talked in pairs about how this is kind of the present, because it isn't that long ago, but still the past.
The next step was to find sentences to support the setting. Quoting accurately from a text is an important standard for fourth graders, and it's hard for them to do early in the year. Sometimes a square of brightly colored paper and a fine-point marker helps the process along. After we identified the setting, we worked to find sentences from the text to support the time period setting. Of course there was the one sentence that stated the year, but were there others?
Students had to comb carefully through the text--just the kind of careful, thoughtful reading that I am trying to cultivate.
Finally, just a quick word about the inspiration for the story! Around here, the last one-room schoolhouses were still open into the beginning of the 1950s. I've talked to quite a few people who went to one-room schoolhouses, and their feelings about the end of the era ranged from Claire's to her brothers'.
Schoolhouses dot the landscape, from nicely decorated houses to abandoned hulks. Each year I stop by this crumbling place, conveniently situated along the route to Penn State from my house. I always think about the teachers and the students who went here and the lessons that were taught. Of course the modern schools of today are much, much better...but in my heart I think I feel a bit like Claire, sad to leave her old school behind.