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 5

1st Grade

Unit Summary

Please Note: The text Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum by Robert Andrew Parker, used in Lesson 16, is out of print. If you can't access this text, you can skip this lesson.

In this biography-based 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 how 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.

It is assumed that, by the time students engage with this unit, they 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 to better understand a person’s life. While the standards do not name a particular way in which details may be connected, students are learning about cause and effect, chronology, and sequence when thinking about how different events in a person’s life are connected. Students also begin to think about reasons an author gives to support a particular point in a text, noticing details in both the text and the illustrations that support a particular point about the artist or their life. 

When discussing the text, 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 by responding to the comments of others. Students also learn how to ask questions to clear up confusion about the topics or texts under discussion. Both focuses allow students to get a deeper understanding of the content and their classmates’ ideas.

Students continue to build their writing fluency by writing daily in response to the Target Task question using a variety of simple and complex sentences to show a nuanced understanding of the content. Students also have chances to practice their narrative, informational, and opinion writing and are given the opportunity to craft their own unique poems, inspired by the artwork from the unit. The unit concludes with students participating in a shared research project on Misty Copeland, building on the research and informational writing skills learned in previous units.

Please Note: This unit's cold-read assessment text, Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan, has gone out of print. If you can't access this text, teachers can use the read-aloud video available on YouTube and pause at the times indicated in the cold-read teacher instructions.

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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

Before you teach this unit, unpack the texts, themes, and core standards through our guided intellectual preparation process. Each Unit Launch includes a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning to ensure you're prepared to support every student.

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?

Reading Focus Areas

  • To understand events in a text, readers need to think about how multiple details are connected.

  • Authors include specific reasons in the text and illustrations to support points in a text.

Writing Focus Areas

Narrative Writing

  • Write prose that includes details.

  • Use rhyming words and/or repetition.

Informational Writing

  • Name a topic.

  • Supply facts about the topic.

Opinion Writing

  • State an opinion. 

  • Include two to three reasons to support the opinion.

  • Provide a sense of closure.



awe biography compose courageous deny dignity enraged genius humiliations improvise influential inspiration intrigued mural original passionate persistent prejudice radiant remarkable resourceful segregation successful technique

Literary Terms


To see all the vocabulary for Unit 5, 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 4

Love Makes a Family


Unit 6

The Power of Reading

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