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.



Unit 5

5th Grade

Unit Summary

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: In July 2024, this unit was moved from the alternate units list to the recommended sequence as Unit 5. If you wish to use the former Unit 5, Belonging to a Movement: One Crazy Summer, it is now on the alternate units list.

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Texts and Materials

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Core 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 do people develop stereotypical ideas? How can stereotypes lead to prejudice and discrimination? 
  • How can friendships and learning across lines of difference help build empathy and stop the spread of stereotypes? 
  • What is life like for undocumented Mexican laborers and their families? 

Reading Focus Areas

  • 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.

Writing Focus Areas

Opinion Writing

  • 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.

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • 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.



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To see all the vocabulary for Unit 5, view our 5th 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

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards

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Unit 4

Young Heroes: Children of the Civil Rights Movement

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