Students explore the topic of "coming of age" through the story of an African-American boy growing up during the civil rights era, and his family's strong bond in the face of tragedy.
In this unit, students explore themes around coming-of-age as they read Christopher Paul Curtis’s historical fiction novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. This award-winning text tells the story of Kenny, a young African American boy growing up in Flint, Michigan in the 1960s, and the events—both small and large—that shape his life. His story is at once universal and rooted in a specific time and place. Like any young person, Kenny makes new friends, bickers with his older brother, and jokes around with his parents; however, his story is also one of trauma and loss as he witnesses the (true-life) bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. By reading about relatable characters in a historical setting, students are more likely to understand that these historical events actually happened to real people.
The supplemental texts in this unit were selected to reflect the “everyday” aspects of Kenny’s life, as well as the historical significance of the time period in which the book is set. Students will read two nonfiction texts about sibling relationships, as well as a poem about the connection between parents and children. These texts provide students with another lens through which to view the text. Additionally, students will read nonfiction texts about life for African Americans during that time period, as well as a poem that described the events of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.
As 6th grade students begin their year of studying texts that address questions around what it means to “come of age,” it is our hope that this unit will provoke students’ thinking about how both everyday and historically significant events in a young person’s life events can influence the person they become.
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Book: The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (Yearling, 1997) — 920L
Article: “Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities” by Alix Spiegel (NPR)
Article: “How Much Does Birth Order Shape Our Lives?” by Allison Aubrey (NPR)
Poem: “The Children's Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Poetry Foundation)
Book: The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1949 Edition (Victor H. Green & Co., Publishers, 1949)
Audio Interview: 'Green Book' Helped African Americans Travel Safely (NPR.org, 2010)
Article: “Six Dead After Church Bombing” (United Press International, 1963)
Article: “16th Street Baptist Church bombing was 55 years ago today: Photos of the tragedy” by Jeremy Gray (AL.com)
Article: “'Segregation Forever': A Fiery Pledge Forgiven, But Not Forgotten” (NPR.org, 2013)
Poem: “The Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall (Cities Burning, Broadside Press, 1968)
Photo: Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 by Gordon Parks (The Gordon Parks Foundation)
Photo: At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama by Gordon Parks (alibi.com) (from "In Living Color" by Brandon Call)
Photo: Segregated Laundry Service by Birmingham Public Library Archives (Encyclopedia of Alabama)
Photo: Keep Birmingham Schools White by Associated Press (The New York Times)
Photo: Firemen turned their hoses on demonstrators in antisegregation marches in Birmingham, 1963. by Charles Moore (NY Times)
Photo: Police dogs attack demonstrators in Birmingham, 1963. by Charles Moore (NY Times)
Assessment Text: “Dion Diamond: Reflections on 60 Years of Civil Rights Activism” (StoryCorps.com)
Assessment Photo: “A sit-in demonstration at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Miss., on May 28, 1963” by Fred Blackwell/Associated Press (Wisconsin Historical Society)
This assessment accompanies Unit 1 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.
atrocity conscientious emulate enhance hostile incentive narcissist prevalent profound trauma vehement vital wily
colloquial language coming of age connotation dialect dynamic extended metaphor objective perspective
To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 6th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.
In the Fishtank English Language Arts elementary curriculum, students spent a significant amount of time studying the civil rights movement. Because of this, it is assumed that students already have a substantial amount of schema to draw from in order to understand the historical events discussed in the text.
The remainder of the 6th grade units will address questions around coming of age, and also around the way that significant life events and relationships shape who a person becomes; the ideas that students will begin thinking about in this unit will transfer across the texts we read this year. In terms of content-specific connections about the African American experience, students will read texts in 7th and 8th grade, as well as in high school.
TWGTB pp. 1 – 7 — end at "...cold can kill you!"
Describe how author Christopher Paul Curtis establishes setting in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
TWGTB pp. 7 – 19 — Start at “I didn’t hear any sound”
Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the narrator’s unique point of view in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
TWGTB pp. 20 – 46
Determine the meaning of unknown words using context clues and reference materials.
Explain how Christopher Paul Curtis develops Kenny’s point of view of himself and other characters.
TWGTB pp. 47 – 63
Explain how and why characters respond and change in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
TWGTB pp. 64 – 85
Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the point of view of his narrator and other characters in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
“How Much Does...”
Provide an objective summary and determine the central idea of a nonfiction article.
TWGTB pp. 86 – 99
Write an objective summary of a section of text in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
TWGTB pp. 100 – 120
Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the point of view of his narrator and characters through word choice.
“The Children's Hour”
Explain the impact of literary devices and how they help develop mood and meaning in a poem.
“The Children's Hour”
TWGTB pp. 104 – 106
Write a strong paragraph explaining how two texts use different perspectives to approach a similar topic.
TWGTB pp. 121 – 137
Write an objective summary of a section of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
The Negro Motorist...
Explain the purpose and impact of “The Green Book” using text, audio, and visual resources.
TWGTB pp. 138 – 161
Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops and contrasts characters’ perspectives in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Identify the features of a strong narrative and begin to structure own.
Use descriptive details and sensory language to convey emotions and experiences in a narrative.
Use pronouns in their proper case and complete a final draft of a narrative.
TWGTB pp. 180 – 190
Explain how Christopher Paul Curtis uses sensory details to develop mood in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
TWGTB pp. 191 – 206
Identify Kenny’s point of view and explain how it changes over the course of a chapter and the text overall.
Explain the events of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and its aftermath using text and visual resources.
Outside Looking In
Explain the purpose and impact of George Wallace’s “Segregation Forever” speech using text and photographic resources.
Explain how the poet develops the perspective of narrators and characters in “The Ballad of Birmingham.”
Take a clear position on a question and share evidence to support that point of view in a Socratic dialogue.