I usually have students select a historical fiction chapter book from our library to read independently during reading workshop. I like to use the My America series for this, as well as favorites like Sarah, Plain and Tall. I also read aloud When the Soldiers Were Gone by Propp each year. Before sending students off to work in their different books, we spend a few weeks getting ready as a class first.
I think the hardest part for my students each year is putting themselves in the past in order to understand just how different life was. It's hard for students to imagine life without all of our technology and inventions, and they often don't understand subtle facts woven into the story. They also point out pieces of the story that aren't necessarily historical fiction, like a character using a wooden spoon. This year, I tried a few different ideas in addition to old favorites.
First, I had students create a quick sketch of a scene from the beginning, middle, and end of the historical fiction story. We used a large piece of construction paper folded into third vertically. They labeled items in the picture that supported the historical fiction genre (wood stoves, wagons) and wrote historical details around their sketch (gold rush, town development). The visual helped them focus on the character details, setting clues, and plot events that were from the past.
After that, I made a t-chart. Students wrote important events from the book on the left and their inferences about the past on the right. We had to work really hard to use clues from the book and information we learned during guided reading to pick out the important details. You can grab a free copy of my chart here.
Finally, we used some of my favorite printables from The Mailbox to create a log cabin and wagon wheel about our stories. It's a long process, but I think we just might be on the right track!