Inspiring Artists and Musicians

In this inspirational biography unit, students read and learn about a diverse assortment of artists, musicians, and dancers, while focusing on identifying evidence from texts and illustrations.



Unit 3

1st Grade

Unit Summary

In this biography unit, students read and learn about a diverse assortment of artists and musicians. By reading a wide variety of biographies, students will be challenged to think about where people get their inspiration, and how a person’s decisions and actions can change his or her life, especially when facing instances of prejudice and discrimination. Students will also be challenged to think about the ways in which a person can be influential and how reading about other people’s lives can help them in their own lives. It is our hope that this unit will open students’ eyes to different life paths and passions, particularly those in the arts.

In reading, this unit builds onto the work done in previously informational units. It is assumed that students are inquisitive consumers of an informational text, asking and answering questions about key details. In this unit, students focus on understanding connections between individuals, events, ideas, and information in a text in order to better understand a person’s life. Students also begin to think about reasons an author gives to support a particular point in a text.

In writing, students focus on crafting strong sentences using frequently occurring conjunctions. In reading lessons, students will frequently be asked to write a few specific sentences using conjunctions in order to show a more nuanced understanding of the content. In longer writing lessons, students will write both opinions about the artists they study and participate in a longer research project.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


These assessments accompany this unit and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

Unit Launch

Prepare to teach this unit by immersing yourself in the texts, themes, and core standards. Unit Launches include a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning.

Essential Questions

  • How can a person’s decisions and actions change his or her life?
  • What makes a person remarkable?
  • How can art impact/change a person’s  life?

Writing Focus Areas

Sentence-Level Focus Areas

  • Write simple and complex sentences
  • Use frequently occurring conjunctions

A big focus of this unit is using frequently occurring conjunctions, particularly “because,” “but,” or “so,” to show understanding of different people’s lives.

Narrative Writing Focus Areas

  • Write prose that includes details. 
  • Use rhyming words and/or repetition. 

This will be students' first exposure to writing poetry. Students will use artwork from the unit to develop their own unique poem that includes rhyme and/or repetition.

Informational Writing Focus Areas

  • Name a topic. 
  • Supply facts about the topic.

In this unit, students participate in a shared research project about an additional artist. 

Opinion Writing Focus Areas

  • State an opinion. 
  • Include two to three reasons to support the opinion. 
  • Provide some sense of closure. 

In this unit students continue to work on writing opinion pieces, particularly pieces that state an opinion about which artist is their favorite and why. 

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • Build on others' talk in conversations by responding to the comments of others.
  • Ask questions to clear up confusion about the topics or texts under discussion. 
  • Use specific vocabulary. Use vocabulary that is specific to the subject and task to clarify and share thoughts.

In this unit, students transition from focusing on clarifying and sharing their thoughts during a discussion to engaging with the thinking of others. Students learn how to build on others' talk in conversations and to ask questions. The focus areas and discourse in this unit align with Tier 2 of the three tiers of academic discourse and row 2 of the Academic Discourse Rubric (K-2). See the Teacher Tool on Tiers of Academic Discourse to help support students with the focus areas for this unit.



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Literary Term


To see all the vocabulary for Unit 3, view our 1st Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Supporting All Students

In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.

Content Knowledge and Connections

  • A biography is a text written about someone’s life.
  • There are many inspiration painters, each with their own style and technique.
    • Horace Pippin was a self-taught African-American painter who painted about pivotal experiences in his life.
    • Jackson Pollock was an influential American painter known for his abstract “drop” paintings.
    • Diego Rivera was a Mexican painter known for his murals.
    • Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter known for her folk art and paintings that represented her dreams.
    • Jose Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican printmaker known for his calaveras, or skeletons.
  • There are many inspiration musicians, each with their own sound and genre.
    • Duke Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and bandleader of jazz orchestras.
    • Marian Anderson was an African-American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century.
    • DJ Kool (John Bowman) is an American DJ and rapper who produced several popular rap singles.
    • Art Tatum was an American jazz pianist. He was visually impaired from childhood, but he did not let that hold him back from showing his talent as a pianist.
    • Robbie Robertson is a Canadian musician who was part of the rock and roll band The Band and also produced many solo albums that highlighted his indigenous roots.
    • Carlos Santana is a Mexican and American guitarist whose music combines rock, jazz, blues, and Afro-Cuban rhythms with Latin sound.
    • Trombone Shorty is a well-known jazz trombone player from New Orleans.
  • Authors are often recognized for their outstanding writing or illustrations. Some awards that authors can receive include the following:
    • The Pura Belpré Award is given to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.
    • The Caldecott Medal is given to the artist of the most distinguished illustrations.
    • The Newbery Medal is given to the author of the most distinguished children’s book of the year.
    • The Coretta Scott King Book Award is given as a way to recognize outstanding books for young adults and children by African-American authors and illustrators that reflect the African-American experience.
    • The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is presented for most distinguished informational book.

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards

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Unit 2

The Seven Continents


Unit 4

Movements for Equality