I give the kids the character map and the information on the Bastille before they begin reading. They read the article on the Bastille before beginning reading and do the character map as they encounter the characters in their reading. These they do as a group.
As the students do their reading, they will "fill in the blanks" for one another about what two cities, who the characters are, and the history. If you feel like you need, you could do a presentation on the history of the French Revolution. However, my students seem to already have enough background before starting.
Once they begin reading, they will have each other to share questions with. They really do fine without us providing all the information. It's hard not to do so - believe me I know that. If you would be more comfortable, you might have them go on-line and garner information about the time period before they read.
I use the essays only if I have concerns about if they read. Most of the time, I can monitor well enough to tell if the reading is being done. It's almost impossible to fake the daily papers.
Be sure that you keep your groupings diverse. It's nice for the slower kids to have the really bright kids to help them understand what is going on.
I do not use the reading tests at all, but if you need them, you have them. Again, if kids don't seem to be reading, you may need to use the reading tests to "remind" them of consequences of not reading.
If you need more information, send me a note.
July 15, 2013