Unit 3: Expressing Yourself: Women in the Arts
Students explore the topic of "coming of age" through stories about the experiences of professional female artists of color who have fought to claim their space in a world that has long excluded people who look like them.
In this unit, students will continue their yearlong interrogation of what it means to come of age by studying the transformative power of artistic expression. By focusing on the experiences of professional female artists of color, students will learn about barrier-breaking women who have fought to claim their space in a world that has long excluded people who look like them.
Students will spend the first two weeks reading Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, the memoir of ballet dancer Misty Copeland, who made history as the first female African American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, the most prestigious ballet company in the United States. Students will read about the ways that Copeland overcame obstacles in her life, and think both about how ballet shaped Copeland’s coming-of-age experience, and the broader impact that Copeland has had on the art form of ballet. Students will finish off this first part of the unit by writing a short analysis of a dance performance.
Students will spend the next five days studying women in the visual arts, analyzing the lives and work of feminist art activists, the Guerrilla Girls, Japanese-American sculptor Ruth Asawa, Native American painter Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, the quilters in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and Latina printmaker and activist, Favianna Rodriguez. Through articles, interviews, and videos, students will learn about the myriad ways that an artist’s identity can shape the work that they make, and the ways that art can be used as a powerful platform for communicating ideas—and changing the world.
In this unit, students will read and talk about artists, but they will also regularly “read” and talk about works of art. For each visual artist that students study, they will spend at least fifteen minutes looking closely at the artist’s work and discussing observations, questions, and reflections with classmates.
Fishtank Plus for ELA
Unlock features to optimize your prep time, plan engaging lessons, and monitor student progress.
Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you click and make a purchase, we receive a small portion of the proceeds, which supports our non-profit mission.
Book: Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland (Touchstone, 2014)
Movie: A Ballerina’s Tale by directed by Nelson George
Article: “The Guerrilla Girls: 'We upend the art world’s notion of what’s good and what’s right'” by Nadja Sayej (The Guardian)
Video: “Guerrilla Girls – 'You Have to Question What You See' | Artist Interview | TateShots” by Tate (YouTube)
Article: “The Enduring Legacy of Ruth Asawa’s Mesmerizing Sculptures” by Daria Harper (Artsy)
Video: “Ruth Asawa: Objects and Apparitions” (Christie's)
Website: What's in a map? Jaune Quick-To-See Smith's "State Names" by Khan Academy
Article: “'It's like we don't exist': Jaune Quick-to-See Smith on Native American artists” by Nadja Sayej (The Guardian)
Article: “Jaune Quick-To-See Smith” (Smithsonian American Art Museum)
Article: “Favianna Rodríguez: ‘Artists are Risk Takers and Truth Speakers’” by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle (Global Voices)
Video: “Printmaking with Favianna Rodriguez” (PBS)
Article: “Gee's Bend Quiltmakers” (Souls Grown Deep)
Video: “How a Group of Women in This Small Alabama Town Perfected the Art of Quilting | Op-Docs” by The New York Times (YouTube)
Article: “Interview with Mary Lee Bendolph and Lucy Mingo by Josephine Reed for the NEA” by Josephine Reed (National Endowment for the Arts)
This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be
given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the
Download Content Assessment
Download Content Assessment Answer Key
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
Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text
point of view/perspective
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 3, view our 6th 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.
Notes to help teachers prepare for this specific unit
Fishtank ELA units related to the content in this unit.
Explain how the prologue fits into the overall structure of Life in Motion and how specific sections of this chapter develop ideas about Copeland’s life.
Explain how Copeland introduces and illustrates ideas about her life as a child and young teenager.
Explain how Copeland introduces significant characters and illustrates ideas about her first experiences with ballet.
Explain how Copeland illustrates characters and elaborates on ideas about her difficult family life.
Explain how Copeland uses figurative and descriptive language to communicate her feelings about dance.
Explain how Copeland responds to stereotypes about ballet dancers, and how those stereotypes and expectations influenced the way she saw herself.
Explain how Copeland explores and responds to experiences of ignorance, racism, and bias within ballet.
Explain how watching a documentary about Misty Copeland has further developed their understanding of her story.
Explain how Copeland illustrates ways that her circumstances and perspective have changed over time.
Explain how Chapter 13 fits into the overall structure of Life in Motion and how specific sections of this chapter develop ideas about Copeland’s life.
Determine central ideas in Life in Motion and identify where and how Copeland develops these ideas.
Analyze the development of mood in dance performance.
Describe gender and racial discrimination in the art world, and explain how the Guerilla Girls have responded to these issues through art and activism.
Synthesize information from multiple sources to explain the events and ideas that shaped Ruth Asawa’s life and inspired her work.
Synthesize information from multiple sources to explain the barriers that Jaune Quick-to-See Smith overcame and how she uses art to communicate her perspective.
Synthesize information from multiple sources to explain who the Gee’s Bend Quilters are and the impact of their unique works of art.
Synthesize information from multiple sources to explain Favianna Rodriguez’s perspective on the purpose of art.
Engage in a Socratic Seminar with peers, providing strong evidence and reasoning to support ideas and posing and responding to questions.
Brainstorm questions and determine individual responsibilities.
Working in small groups, compile and evaluate research for a digital presentation about an artist.
Logically organize the information in their presentations and include all required components.
Present using appropriate volume, eye contact, emphasis, and pronunciation.
Assessment – 2 days
Create a free account to access thousands of lesson plans.
Already have an account? Sign In
The content standards covered in this unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
— Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive).
— Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
— Interpret figures of speech (e.g., personification) in context.
— Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
— Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).
— Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
— Analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas.
— Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
— Compare and contrast one author's presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).
— Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
— Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
— Pose and respond to specific questions with elaboration and detail by making comments that contribute to the topic, text, or issue under discussion.
— Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study.
— Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
— Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
— Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information.
— Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
— Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.
— Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
— Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content
— Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
— Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
— Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.
— Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Use intensive pronouns (e.g., myself, ourselves).
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Spell correctly.
— Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
— Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.
— Maintain consistency in style and tone.
— Use the relationship between particular words (e.g., cause/effect, part/whole, item/category) to better understand each of the words.
— Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., stingy, scrimping, economical, unwasteful, thrifty).
— Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
— Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
— Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.
— By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6—8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
— Follow rules for collegial discussions, set specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
— Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
— Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.
— Establish and maintain a formal style.
— Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the argument presented.
— Use appropriate transitions to clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
— Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
— Establish and maintain a formal style.
— Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the information or explanation presented.
— Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
— With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
— 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 three pages in a single sitting.
— Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
— Apply grade 6 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., "Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not").
— 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.
Challenging Authority: The Giver
Finding Connection: The Outsiders