Students read August Wilson's play Fences, in which Troy Maxson paves the way for his children to have opportunities under conditions he was never free to experience as an African American migrant from the South.



Unit 9

8th Grade

This unit has been archived. To view our updated curriculum, visit our 8th Grade English course.

Unit Summary

Fences by August Wilson is the most beloved unit year after year by our 8th graders. Students quickly sympathize with the complicated and tragic character of Troy Maxson, an African American man in the 1950’s, who helps pave the way for his children to have opportunities under conditions he was never free to experience.  Maxson, who dreamed of playing professional baseball but was viewed as too old when the major leagues began accepting black athletes, works as a sanitation worker in Pittsburgh. Still angry over his missed opportunity, Troy creates tension in his family by squashing his son’s dreams to play college football. 

Fences is paired with the subsequent unit The Warmth of Other Suns, about the Great Migration, in order to explain the historical context that led people to emigrate from the South and the conditions the emigrants found in their new surroundings. The setting of Fences will further push students to analyze how the historical context impacts the development of characters as they begin to understand Troy Maxson in the context of the Great Migration. 

The focus of this unit is for students to recognize that there is a playwright or author behind every drama and story and to understand that this writer is making deliberate decisions about word choice, stage directions, setting, and symbolism in order to move the plot, create perspective, and convey meaning. Students should see an author or playwright as a social commentator and/or change agent who makes these deliberate literary decisions to have a powerful impact on his society.
In order for students to make these discoveries, they will engage in multiple close readings and literary discussions.  As students read, they will refine their annotation skills by continuing to look for characterization and conflict and by adding in specific annotations for symbolism and perspective. The unit culminates in an exciting acting project in which students perform pivotal scenes in the play with a special focus on their volume, pacing, emotion and accuracy. 

Texts and Materials

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.

Core Materials

  • Book: Fences by August Wilson (Plume, Penguin Group 1986)

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 9 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

  1. Read and annotate the Unit Summary and Essential Questions.
  2. Read and annotate the text with Essential Questions in mind.
  3. Take unit assessment. Focus on questions 1, 2, 9 (father-son/masculinity), 3 (symbolism), 4 (stage directions), and 10 (tone). Write the mastery response to the essay question.
  4. Lessons that align directly with test:
    • Lessons 7, 9, 13 (masculinity, father-son relationships)
    • Lessons 1, 8, 12 (symbolism of the fence)
    • Lessons 10, 11 (stage directions)
    • Lesson 9 (tone)
    • Lesson 9 (theme)

Essential Questions

  • What is a man? What is a man according to August Wilson?
  • How did society put limits on black men’s ability to achieve this ideal? What is the heroic response to these limits?
  • Is there a hero in this story? If so, who is it?
  • How does society impact the individual? How does the individual impact society?

Writing Focus Areas

Students will continue to dissect the prompt by breaking it into parts in order to fully grasp the questions before starting their outline and draft pages. They will focus on fine-tuning their introductions with clear thesis statements that answer the prompt directly and preview reasons that will be addressed in the body paragraphs. They will also work on varying their transitions in order to enhance the flow of the entire essay. Importantly, students will provide accurate evidence to support their claims and then explain how the evidence supports the thesis of the essay.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

W.1a (lead)

  • States their claim and previewed reasons that accurately support the claim
  • Gets their readers to care by including a cool fact or jazzy question about topic
  • Makes sure the introduction matches the organization of the body paragraphs
  • Interests readers in their argument and helps them to understand the backstory through purposeful word choice

W.1b,d (elaboration)

  • Supports their claim by giving at least three accurate reasons/examples and information to support their reasons, perhaps from a text, their knowledge, or their life, that were parallel and did not overlap
  • Discusses and explained the way that the evidence supported the claim in at least two sentences
  • Puts reasons in an order that would be most convincing
  • Provides context for evidence/introduced quotations
  • Makes choices about how to angle evidence to support main points

W.1c (transitions)

  • Consistently uses transitions in order to introduce new body paragraphs, evidence, and explanation, and used transitions within explanation when appropriate
  • Uses transitions to lead readers across parts of the text and to relate to earlier parts (despite this, as stated earlier, by doing so, etc.)


Literary Terms

characterization, playwright, symbolism, conflict, tension, allusion, juxtaposition, epic, tone, theme, literary nonfiction, extended metaphor, monologue

Roots and Affixes

con- (with), vi-/vig- (life), ir- (not)


desolate (intro, p. viii), congruence (Setting, root: CON-), destitute (The Play), guile (The Play), emulate (p. 1), integral (p. 5), vigilant, vigilance (pp. 11, 77, root: VI-/VIG-), scrutiny (p. 13), ridicule (p. 13), methodical (p. 40), rogue (p. 45), irrespective (p. 49, root: IR-), commence (p. 52), consume (p. 77, root: CON-), engulf (p. 79), scarce (p. 81), maneuver, (p. 85), atavistic (p. 101)

Idioms and Cultural References

“To take the crooked with the straights.”

Content Knowledge and Connections

  • The Last Judgment or Judgement Day
  • Gabriel the Archangel
  • Uncle Remus
  • The Great Migration
  • The Berlin Wall

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.

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

icon/arrow/right/large copy

Unit 5

Facing Calamity: Climate Change Facts and Fictions

Request a Demo

See all of the features of Fishtank in action and begin the conversation about adoption.

Learn more about Fishtank Learning School Adoption.

Contact Information

School Information

What courses are you interested in?



Are you interested in onboarding professional learning for your teachers and instructional leaders?



Any other information you would like to provide about your school?