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.



Unit 6

4th Grade

Unit Summary

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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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.

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 have racist ideas and racism shaped United States history and policies?
  • What are some of the key events in United States history since the 1600s? How did each event impact life for African Americans? 
  • How can courageous individuals create and drive change?

Reading Focus Areas

  • 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.

Writing Focus Areas

Informational Writing

  • 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.

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • Question and clarify to build understanding. Seek to clarify a particular point a peer makes by asking follow-up questions.

  • Build on and challenge a partner's ideas.

  • Synthesize to build deeper meaning. Synthesize everything from the discussion into a coherent statement at the end of the discussion.



abolitionist abolish affairs ancestry apprehensive assassinated banned boycott contradict condemn confederacy conviction cringe cultivate degrading deserted despite defiance debts distinction dreaded drafted ease eavesdropping embrace enraged endure enacted enslaved expose flee fugitive gossip guidance harassed illiterate import integrating invading intolerance innovation justify kin longed lynching overseer persisted practical prejudice privilege resisted reconstruction reputation scolded slavery superior sympathy taunt tension tense union vowed

Idiom/Cultural Reference

"back on feet" "boiling point" "fruits of labor" "in the limelight" "swallow your pride"


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To see all the vocabulary for Unit 6, view our 4th 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

Notes for Teachers

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: 

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards

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Unit 5

Believing in Yourself: The Wild Book

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