Developing Resilience: The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

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.

Unit Summary

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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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 1 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • How do personal and historically significant events shape the way a person sees the world?
  • How do family dynamics shape a person’s identity?

Enduring Understandings

  • All experiences in a person’s life, both positive and negative, shape a person’s view of the world and of themself.
  • Coming of age sometimes includes a loss of innocence—a realization that the world is less simple, kind, or fair than we previously believed.

Vocabulary

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Text-based

atrocity conscientious emulate enhance hostile incentive narcissist prevalent profound trauma vehement vital wily

Root/Affix

-ize -ous

Academic

connotation colloquial language coming of age dynamic extended metaphor hyperbole literary point of view metaphor mood objective point of view/perspective sensory details speaker stanza

To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 6th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Content Knowledge and Connections

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Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

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.

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

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.

Notes for Teachers

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  • Students will likely already have a fair amount of schema surrounding the civil rights movement, particularly if they read books from Fishtank curriculum in 5th grade ELA. Be sure to draw on this schema rather than re-teach concepts and events with which students are already familiar. Consider asking students to brainstorm what they already know about a specific topic before moving into explicit schema instruction.
  • This unit focuses on a dark chapter in U.S. history. Although these events occurred more than 50 years ago, issues of racial segregation, oppression, and violence are still very much present today. As always, treat these topics with sensitivity to the emotions they may bring up in your students, and ensure that your classroom remains a safe space to address difficult but important topics.

Lesson Map

6

  • “Siblings...”

    RI.6.2

Provide an objective summary of a nonfiction text.

25

Writing

    W.6.3

    W.6.3.a

Analyze a mentor text in preparation for writing a memoir.

26

Writing

    W.6.3

    W.6.3.b

    W.6.3.d

Add figurative, descriptive, and precise language to a memoir.

27

Writing

    W.6.3

    W.6.3.b

    W.6.3.e

Include dialogue in a memoir and craft a strong conclusion paragraph.

28

Writing

    W.6.3

    W.6.5

Provide meaningful feedback to a peer and incorporate feedback into own writing.

29

2 days

Assessment

  • “Dion Diamond”

  • “Assessment Photo”

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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L.6.1

L.6.1.a

L.6.1.c

L.6.4

L.6.4.a

L.6.4.c

L.6.4.d

L.6.5

L.6.5.a

RI.6.2

RI.6.7

RL.6.2

RL.6.3

RL.6.4

RL.6.6

RL.6.9

SL.6.1

SL.6.1.a

SL.6.1.b

SL.6.4

W.6.1

W.6.1.a

W.6.1.b

W.6.3

W.6.3.a

W.6.3.b

W.6.3.d

W.6.3.e

W.6.5

Supporting Standards

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L.6.2

L.6.2.a

L.6.2.b

L.6.3

L.6.3.a

L.6.3.b

L.6.4.b

L.6.5.b

L.6.5.c

L.6.6

RI.6.1

RI.6.10

RI.6.4

RL.6.1

RL.6.10

SL.6.2

SL.6.6

W.6.10

W.6.2

W.6.2.a

W.6.2.b

W.6.3.c

W.6.4

W.6.6

W.6.9

W.6.9.a

W.6.9.b