Mentor Texts for Teaching California History

California has a really interesting history!

There are so many topics to cover and using mentor texts is a great way to help students better understand concepts, from Explorations, to Missions, the Gold Rush, and more!

I’ve compiled a number of books that might be helpful if you teach social studies in the Golden State!

Some of the books pictured come in a series, so you may be able to find books about other social studies topics if you’d like.

For example… You Wouldn’t Want to be an American Pioneer book, is part of a series with other titles like You Wouldn’t Want to Work on the Railroad, which could also be used to tie into a study of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The book, What Was the Gold Rush? is a fun book and there’s also a What was the San Francisco Earthquake in the series too!

If you teach about the Pony Express, I bet you’ll really enjoy, They’re Off! The Story of the Pony Express.

I love to borrow the stick ponies from the kindergarten classes when I teach about the Pony Express. I set up mock stations around the classroom and have student “riders” ride the horses to the next station to pick up or deliver mail, get a fresh horse, and ride to the next station!

Books are a great way to introduce information or review information too! They work well as a discussion starter and I find them to be a great tool to use before we do historical “dramas” in the classroom. I serve as the narrator and start the historical story. As the story moves along, I call on different students to play different parts.

So, if we were doing the Gold Rush, for example, I would start by setting up the scene at the American River near Sacramento, California. When I came to the part about James Marshall, I pause for a moment, choose a student to play that character and have him/her react to finding the gold.

After a bit more narration, I choose the next student to play the role of John Sutter (the sawmill owner) as he and Marshall talk about the discovery and the need for secrecy! These plays are my favorite way to teach social studies because history is a story after all.

I believe that students really learn best through a combination of modes. The mentor texts combined with drama and a variety of other activities makes the story come to life!


If you’d like a new resources to help your students learn more about California, here’s one I think you might like:

I love using this California Travel Journal with my 4th graders!

This unit allows students to create an imaginary trip through California by researching and writing about one State Park, one National Park, one Mission, one Major California City, one Gold Rush Town, and one Tourist Attraction!

4th Grade California Travel Journal | California Report | California Project


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