Unit 6: Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
Students read about and discuss United States history, from slavery to the civil rights movement, grappling with the discrimination and broken promises that African Americans faced.
In this unit, students learn about United States history by reading the core text, Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans, and excerpts from Let It Shine: Stories of Black Freedom Fighters and Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. Throughout the unit, students grapple with the discrimination and broken promises African Americans faced, paired with the endless determination and perseverance that fueled countless triumphs to overcome unfair and unjust treatment. Through a study of slavery up through the civil rights movement, students will be challenged to think critically about different events, influential people, and how they have had a lasting impact on the America we know today. This is incredibly important for helping students not only understand America’s past but also to understand the realities of America’s present. It is our goal that this unit, combined with others in the curriculum, will inspire a passion within students to stand up for what is right and to fight for civil rights in order to attain equality and justice for all human beings, regardless of race.
The goal of this unit is not depth; rather, the focus is more on exposure and building student understanding of the history behind the civil rights movement while simultaneously building a sense of empowerment and empathy. In 5th Grade ELA, students will study the civil rights movement in depth, learning about a wider variety of influential leaders, groups, and events, especially those in which youth advocacy and fight inspired and drove change. It is our hope that the combination of both units will equip students with the tools necessary to begin to challenge injustice in their own lives.
The unit requires students to deeply analyze a text to see how an author develops different ideas and points using vivid evidence in both the text and illustrations. Students will analyze the author's word choice, the different details an author includes, and the way in which an author presents information in order to build a deeper understanding of the time period and the text. Students will also be challenged to carry information across multiple texts in order to build a deeper understanding of content and themes. Because Heart and Soul includes beautiful illustrations, students will also learn to close read illustrations in order to deepen their understanding of key content.
When discussing the text, students focus on critiquing and analyzing the reasoning of others, using what they learned from previous units on how to clarify and share their own thoughts and how to engage with the thinking of others to push the discussion to a deeper level. Students also have multiple opportunities to write informative paragraphs and essays, using what they learned from previous units about topic sentences, supporting details, and elaboration to write multiple paragraphs and essays in response to a question. The unit culminates with students writing an informational report, researching an African American hero in depth.
Please Note: In November 2023, we released updated enhanced lesson plans for this unit, which now include answers to key questions and related student supports. You may notice discrepancies in previously downloaded/printed unit or lesson plans.
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Book: Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray, 2013)
Book: Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013)
Book: Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Pinkney (Disney-Hyperion, 2012)
Book: The Friendship by Mildred D. Taylor (Puffin Books, 1998)
Book: The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D. Taylor (Puffin Books, 1998)
Rubric: Grade 4 Informational Writing Rubric
These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.
Download Content Assessment
Download Content Assessment Answer Key
Download Cold Read Assessment
Download Cold Read Assessment Answer Key
Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit. Essential Tasks can be found in the following lessons:
Suggestions for how to prepare to teach this unit
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.
The central thematic questions addressed in the unit or across units
The point of view of a text directly influences the type of evidence and reasons the author uses to support particular points in the text.
Authors use a variety of text structures to help a reader understand key ideas and information.
Readers close read illustrations in order to deepen their understanding of key content.
Research and take notes on a topic, grouping related information.
Develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details.
Use transition words to link ideas or categories of information.
Provide a concluding statement or section.
Include formatting, illustrations, and multimedia.
Question and clarify to build understanding. Seek to clarify a particular point a peer makes by asking follow-up questions.
Build on and challenge partner’s ideas.
Synthesize to build deeper meaning. Synthesize everything from the discussion into a coherent statement at the end of the discussion.
Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text
"back on feet"
"fruits of labor"
"in the limelight"
"swallow your pride"
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 6, view our 4th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.
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.
Fishtank ELA units related to the content in this unit.
Notes to help teachers prepare for this specific unit
Prior to teaching the unit, we recommend teachers build their own knowledge and understanding of the key understandings of the unit. To do so, we recommend the following resources:
Explain who is speaking in the prologue and why the author would choose to write this way.
Explain the significance of the statement: "It should have been a proud moment for everybody, but, honey, we didn’t have much to celebrate." (p. 13)
Explain how the author uses details and illustrations to build a deeper understanding of slavery.
Analyze what evidence the author includes to support the statement that abolitionists "lit a fire inside many a slave to take their freedom."
Explain where Frederick Douglass found his inspiration and drive.
Analyze the details an author includes to support a quote by Harriet Tubman.
Explain the significance of the quote "Harriet Tubman’s name will never lose its distinction."
Informative Writing – 2 days
Write a multiple-paragraph essay about how courageous individuals create and drive change.
Explain the events that led up to the South being ready for a fight.
Explain why the chapter was titled "Lincoln’s War" and if Lincoln’s actions helped or hurt the conditions for enslaved people.
Analyze and discuss unit essential questions by stating a claim and supporting the claim with details from multiple sources.
Write a multiple-paragraph essay to answer a unit essential question.
Defend how Reconstruction was supported by segregationist beliefs.
Explain what life was like on the frontier for Buffalo Soldiers and freed Black people.
Explain what effect the Great Migration had on the lives of African Americans and the challenges they faced in their new communities.
Describe the progress African Americans made in the early twentieth century.
Describe how the experience of fighting in World War II changed the people who returned home and how it changed the country.
Explain why the author titles the chapter "Black Innovation."
Explain how Jim Crow was dying.
Explain why the author titles the last chapter "Revolution" and why what happened was a revolution.
Explain the significance of the final quote in Heart and Soul.
Debate and discuss unit Essential Questions.
Write a multiple-paragraph essay to answer a unit Essential Question.
Informative Writing – 6 days
Research and present about an African American leader.
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The content standards covered in this unit
— Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
— Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
— Compare and contrast a firsthand and secondhand account of the same event or topic; describe the differences in focus and the information provided.
— Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
— Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.
— Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
— Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).
— Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
— Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
— Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
— Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information
— Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
— Introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
— Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
— Link ideas within categories of information using words and phrases (e.g., another, for example, also, because).
— Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
— Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented
— Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
— Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.
— Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
— Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
— Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., telegraph, photograph, autograph).
— Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
— Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal precise actions, emotions, or states of being (e.g., quizzed, whined, stammered) and that are basic to a particular topic (e.g., wildlife, conservation, and endangered when discussing animal preservation).
— Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
— Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
— Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
— Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.
— By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4—5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
— Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
(Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1—3 above.)
— With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
— With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.
— Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
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