Alternate Unit 2: Friendship Across Boundaries: Return to Sender
In the novel Return to Sender, students explore the complexity of immigration and stereotypes, and interpret how authors highlight different characters' perspectives.
Alternate Unit 2
In this unit, students begin to explore the complexity of immigration and immigrant rights by reading the core text Return to Sender. Through the eyes of two children, Return to Sender highlights the challenges of life for Mexican laborers in Vermont and how stereotypes about undocumented workers are formed. Through the eyes of Tyler, the farm owner’s son, students witness the internal struggle surrounding what makes something right or wrong, particularly in regards to whether or not the family should hire undocumented workers even though, without them, the beloved family farm would need to be sold. They also see how the stereotypes Tyler believes about Mexican workers are broken down through his relationships with the Cruz family. Through the eyes of Mari, the daughter of an undocumented worker, students witness the daily challenges and barriers undocumented workers face in the fight for a better life and future. As Tyler and Mari develop a friendship, readers are pushed to think critically about the arguments on both sides of the debate surrounding Mexican and other laborers in Vermont, and how friendships across lines of difference can help dismantle stereotypes.
It is important to note that the scope of this unit is intentionally narrow. Immigration, particularly undocumented immigration, is an incredibly complex issue. This unit serves as an entry point. It is our hope that this unit begins to humanize a controversial topic and inspires students to question things beyond their own world and fight for their own view of what is right.
Students continue to notice how comparing and contrasting characters' perspectives, particularly Tyler and Mari’s, helps the reader to build a deeper, more well-rounded understanding of who a character is. Students also explore how observing the way characters respond to events can illuminate the similarities and differences between characters, especially as Tyler and Mari have different responses to events. Throughout the text, students see firsthand how characters can change and grow based on their relationships with others.
In previous units, students focused on sharing and elaborating on their own ideas when discussing the text. In this unit, students begin to build on their classmates' ideas, seeking to genuinely understand what their peers are saying by asking questions, adding on, or engaging in multiple exchanges. Students continue to build their writing fluency by writing daily in response to the Target Task. Students also continue to work on crafting opinion and literary analysis essays, using what they know about writing strong paragraphs to write multi-paragraph essays.
Please Note: Updated enhanced lesson plans for this unit, including answers to key questions and related student supports will be released in January 2024.
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Book: Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez (Yearling, 2010)
Video: “Mexican Migrant Workers and Vermont Dairy Farms” (The Golden Cage Project)
Video: “No Human Being Was Born Illegal (NIOS)” (Not in Our Town)
Video: “Under the Cloak of Darkness” (Bjorn Jackson, 2015)
Article: “Why Stereotypes Should be Avoided” by ThoughtCo.com, adapted by Newsela staff (Newsela)
Rubric: Grade 5 Literary Analysis and Opinion Writing Rubric
These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.
Download Cold Read Assessment
Download Cold Read Assessment Answer Key
Download Content Assessment
Download Content 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
Comparing and contrasting character perspectives helps the reader to build a deeper more well-rounded understanding of who a character is.
Observing the way characters respond to events illuminates the similarities and differences between characters.
Characters grow and change through relationships with others.
Create topic/introductory sentences that clearly state an opinion.
Provide logically ordered reasons and details to support an opinion.
Organize ideas into paragraphs.
Link opinions and reasons using transition words and phrases.
Provide a concluding statement or section.
Elaborate to support ideas. Provide evidence or examples to justify and defend a point clearly.
Use specific vocabulary. Use vocabulary that is specific to the subject and task to clarify and share their thoughts.
Build on to partner’s ideas. Seek to genuinely understand what peers are saying, and then build on.
Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 6, view our 5th 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.
Explain what stereotypes are and why stereotypes should be avoided.
Describe the conditions for migrant workers in Vermont.
Explain what happens in the chapter that Tyler doesn’t fully understand.
Explain how the letter helps a reader better understand Mari and her relationship with her family.
Defend if hope and fear play important roles in Mari’s life.
Explain what the events of the chapter suggest about Tyler.
Describe what happens on the bus and how the incident influences Mari and Tyler.
Defend if all members of the family have equal amounts of hope and fear.
Close-read a text in order to determine the challenges of being an undocumented Mexican laborer.
Outline a multiple-paragraph essay to describe what life was like for undocumented workers.
Explain what happens to Tio Felipe and how Mari and her family respond.
Discussion & Writing
Compare and contrast Mari and Tyler by comparing and contrasting two or more characters in a text.
Write a multiple-paragraph essay comparing and contrasting Mari and Tyler.
Analyze and defend if Tyler and Mari are developing a true friendship.
Close-read a text to determine what traditions are important in Mexican culture and explain how they help bring the Cruzes and the Paquettes together.
Describe what motion is proposed at town meeting and analyze how different members in the community respond and why.
Summarize what the coyotes are demanding and what impact this has on Mari and her family and the Paquettes.
Summarize the key events from Mari’s letter.
Defend if Tyler has changed and if he truly understands Mari.
Summarize what happened to Mari’s parents and compare and contrast Mari’s response with other members of the Cruz and Paquette family.
Analyze if Mari is a brave and noble young lady.
Write a multiple-paragraph essay to describe what life was like for undocumented Mexican laborers and their families.
Defend if Stars and Swallows is the right name for the farm.
Compare and contrast Mari and Tyler and the way their relationship impacts both of their lives by stating a theory and supporting it with evidence from the entire text.
Analyze and debate unit essential questions using details and understandings from the entire unit.
Opinion Writing – 3 days
Write an opinion piece defending if Mari and her family should have been allowed to stay.
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The content standards covered in this unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
— Explain the function of conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections in general and their function in particular sentences.
— Use correlative conjunctions (e.g., either/or, neither/nor).
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Use a comma to separate an introductory element from the rest of the sentence.
— Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
— Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
— Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
— Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.
— Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
— Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
— Summarize the points a speaker makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence.
— Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
— Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in 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
— Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer's purpose.
— Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
— Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., consequently, specifically).
— Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.
— Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
— Apply grade 5 Reading standards to literature (e.g., "Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or a drama, drawing on specific details in the text [e.g., how characters interact]").
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 5 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., photograph, photosynthesis).
— 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 contrast, addition, and other logical relationships (e.g., however, although, nevertheless, similarly, moreover, in addition).
— Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
— Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
— Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
— Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
— By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 4—5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
— 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, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
— 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 two pages 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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