Unit 1: 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.
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.
Please Note: In May 2023, we updated writing lessons in this unit and added several lessons. We made additional changes to the end-of-unit narrative writing project in July 2023. You may notice discrepancies in previously downloaded/printed unit or lesson plans.
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Book: The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (Yearling, 1997)
Article: “Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities” by Alix Spiegel (NPR)
Article: “How Much Does Birth Order Shape Our Lives?” by Allison Aubrey (NPR)
Article: “'Segregation Forever': A Fiery Pledge Forgiven, But Not Forgotten” (NPR.org, 2013)
Article: “The Drive-In Movies” (CommonLit)
Audio Interview: 'Green Book' Helped African Americans Travel Safely (NPR.org, 2010)
Book: The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1949 Edition (Victor H. Green & Co., Publishers, 1949)
Poem: “The Children's Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Poetry Foundation)
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)
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)
Rubric: Narrative Writing: Memoir Rubric
This assessment accompanies Unit 1 and should be
given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the
Download Content Assessment
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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
coming of age
literary point of view
point of view/perspective
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 1, 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.
Fishtank ELA units related to the content in this unit.
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.
Notes to help teachers prepare for this specific unit
Describe how author Christopher Paul Curtis establishes setting in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the narrator’s unique point of view in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Explain how Christopher Paul Curtis develops Kenny’s point of view of himself and other characters.
Unpack a prompt, study a mentor text, and gather evidence in preparation for writing a paragraph response.
Synthesize annotations and create a strong outline for a paragraph response.
Draft a paragraph response and revise for analysis.
Explain how and why characters respond and change in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the point of view of his narrator and other characters in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Provide an objective summary of a nonfiction text.
Provide an objective summary and determine the central idea of a nonfiction article.
Write an objective summary of a section of text in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the point of view of his narrator and characters through word choice.
Explain the impact of literary devices and how they help develop mood and meaning in the poem "The Children's Hour."
Gather evidence and create an outline in response to a writing prompt.
Draft and revise a paragraph response, focusing on writing strong claims, analysis, and introducing evidence effectively.
Write an objective summary of a section of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Explain the purpose and impact of the "Green Book” using text, audio, and visual resources.
Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops and contrasts characters’ perspectives in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Determine the meaning of unfamiliar words using context clues, and then check the accuracy of inferred definitions using a reference text.
Explain how characters respond and change as the plot of The Watsons go to Birmingham –1963 progresses.
Unpack a prompt, study a Mentor Text, and begin a plan for rewriting a scene from The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 from a new perspective.
Outline and draft narratives.
Revise narratives for descriptive language and sensory details, and identify the cases of pronouns in writing.
Explain how Christopher Paul Curtis uses sensory details to develop mood in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.
Identify Kenny’s point of view and explain how it changes over the course of a chapter and the text overall.
Explain the impact of George Wallace’s “Segregation Forever” speech using text and photographic resources.
Explain how Randall develops voice and perspective in the poem “The Ballad of Birmingham."
Take a clear position on a question and share evidence to support that point of view in a Socratic dialogue.
Unpack the expectations of a writing task, study a mentor text, and begin to plan a personal narrative.
Outline and begin to draft narratives.
Write strong conclusions and revise drafts for descriptive language.
Provide peer feedback and self-assess using a rubric.
Assessment – 2 days
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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.
— Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive).
— Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
— Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
— Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
— Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
— Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
— 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.
— 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.
— Determine a theme or 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.
— Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
— Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
— Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.
— Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.
— 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.
— Follow rules for collegial discussions, set specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
— 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.
— 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.
— Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.
— Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
— Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
— Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
— Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.
— Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
— 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.
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
— 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 common, grade-appropriate Greek or Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., audience, auditory, audible).
— 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 the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
— 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.
— Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
— By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6—8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
— 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.
— Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
— 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.
— Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.
— Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
— 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 literature (e.g., "Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres [e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories] in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics").
— 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.
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