People Who Changed the World

In this unit, students improve reading and writing standards and skills as they explore biographies of famous leaders and change agents.



Unit 4

2nd Grade

Unit Summary

In this biography-based unit, second graders explore biographies of changemakers around the world. The unit has three main sections.

In the first section, students research and learn about people who have changed the world by inventing or discovering something new. In this section, students will explore the ways in which inventions or discoveries can change the world and what it takes to turn an idea into action. In the second section, students research and learn about people who have changed the world by making the world and environment a better place for everyone. In the third section, students research and learn about people who have changed the world by standing up for what they believe in and fighting for what others think is impossible. In this section, students will explore the ways some leaders have persevered in the face of obstacles and stood up for themselves or ideas when many had stopped believing in them. In this section, students are asked to compare and contrast two biographies about the same person. Compare and contrast in this unit should go deeper than text features and structures. Although students can note differences in text features, the main focus should be on comparing and contrasting the different points and the reasons the authors use to support the points in two texts about the same person.

In each of the sections, students read biographies that expose them to a wide variety of themes, content, and history. Because of this, it is incredibly important that the necessary framing is done prior to reading a text so that students can deeply engage with the biographies and fully understand the challenges and successes of the different people being studied. Without framing or context, students may miss why each person’s actions are inspirational. It is our hope that this unit will open students’ eyes to the multitude of ways in which a person, regardless of race or gender, can influence and inspire change.

For readers, this unit is a combination of Read Aloud and shared/independent reading. At this point in the year, second graders have been exposed to almost all of the high-frequency informational reading standards; therefore, this unit is a chance to review some standards and skills students need to practice. There are two new standards that are a focus in this unit, however: describing how reasons support particular points the author makes in a text (RI.2.8) and comparing and contrasting the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic. (RI.2.9)

This unit, as part of Fishtank ELA's second grade Science and Social Studies curriculum, focuses on teaching targeted informational reading standards while at the same building social studies and science content knowledge; therefore, it can be used as both a reading and/or social studies unit.

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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

  • What does it take to change the world?
  • Why is it important to speak up for those without a voice?
  • Why is it important to ask questions about the world around you?

Writing Focus Areas

Sentence-Level Focus Areas

  • Use subordinating conjunctions to write more interesting and complex sentences.

In this unit, students will learn to begin sentences with subordinating conjunctions. Students also learned this in Grade 2 English Language Arts Unit 4: Finding Your Power: Freddie Ramos. If you have already taught that unit, this will be a review. Practicing subordinating conjunctions promotes the use of complex sentences, enables students to vary sentence types, and even improves reading comprehension. When students learn to use this kind of syntax in their writing, they are better able to read and understand complex texts. Learning to write with subordinating conjunctions will help students craft strong topic and/or concluding sentences as they begin to write paragraphs.

Informational Writing Focus Areas

  • Participate in shared research and writing projects
  • Brainstorm and outline using a Single Paragraph Outline
  • Introduce the topic with a strong topic sentence
  • Provide a strong concluding statement
  • Use facts and definitions to support a point

A paragraph is a group of sentences that includes details supporting a specific point. In this unit, students will use a Single Paragraph Outline to plan for their informational paragraphs. A Single Paragraph Outline provides structure and is easier to revise than a paragraph. Students will practice using a Single Paragraph Outline to generate a strong topic sentence using given details. Then, they will participate in a shared reserarch project at the end of the unit about a local changemaker. In this writing project, they will work on turning key ideas and details from the outline into strong sentences and revising their topic and concluding sentences using subordinating conjunctions.

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • Build on others' talk in conversations by linking their comments to the remarks of others 
  • Ask for clarification and further explanation as needed about topics and texts under discussion 

In this unit, students work on using all of their strategies to participate in discourse. When building on others' talk in conversation, students may begin to critique and analyze the reasoning of others, the key work of Tier 3 of the three tiers of academic discourse. The focus areas and discourse in this unit align with Tier 2 and Tier 3 of the three tiers of academic discourse and all rows 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.



"dark times" "her roots" Indigenous aghast ambition archeologist atom autism catastrophe cautious champion courageous compost dedicated disobey discouraged diabetes empower encourage federal flinched grueling heritage honor hope indefatigable irrigation judge mechanic nagging nominate ozone layer physics poverty prove prejudice precise resourceful reputation right scholarship scarce textiles thrive unsuspecting


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compare contrast

To see all the vocabulary for Unit 4, view our 2nd 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 about a person's life that is written by someone else. An autobiography is a text about a person's life written by the person.

Bend 1: You can change the world by inventing or discovering something new.

  • Soichiro Honda worked relentlessly to build motorcycles and cars that were safe and better for the environment.
  • Temple Grandin, who has autism, built a “huge machine” that allows people to control the force and length of a hug.
  • Julio Torres, or Sharuko, was a Peruvian archaeologist who made revolutionary discoveries at archaeological sites around Peru, proving that the country’s Indigenous cultures had been established thousands of years ago and celebrating their brilliant accomplishments.
  • Wu Chien-Shiung was a Chinese physicist who made important discoveries in the field, despite never being recognized because of her gender and race.
  • Charles Henry Turner was the first Black entomologist, teaching us that insects and small animals were thinking beings. 

Bend 2: You can change the world by making the world and environment better for everyone.

  • Wangari Maathai empowered the people of Kenya to take care of themselves and their environment by encouraging them to plant trees.
  • Jane Goodall studied chimps in Tanzania, discovering they were more like humans than we realized. She spoke out against the destruction of their habitats and continues to do so.
  • Mario Molina was a chemist who discovered that CFCs were destroying the earth’s protective ozone layer. He was adamant about warning the public and putting a stop to it.
  • Farmer Will Allen turned an abandoned city lot into an urban farm that would feed people across the city.

Bend 3: You can change the world by standing up for what you believe in and fighting for what others think is impossible.

  • Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latinx Supreme Court justice.
  • Barack Obama was the first Black President of the United States.
  • Malala Yousafzai spoke up for girls and women who were being denied an education.

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards

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