Students will begin their year-long study of human nature by reading To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel tells the story of a young white girl’s growing awareness of racial injustice in the Jim Crow South. When protagonist Scout’s father takes on the task of representing a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, Scout is forced to face the individual and systemic racism present in her small town and the impact of racial prejudice on the lives of all members of the community. This text pushes students to face an uncomfortable past, consider the ways that many of the book’s themes continue to resonate today, and think about how its warnings and lessons should inform the way we move toward the future.
While the majority of lessons in this unit focus on the core text, students will begin the unit by building a very basic contextual understanding of the time period and setting of the text. Additionally, one day is reserved to discuss the book’s use of the N-word, and students will read an article about the use of that word within a contemporary context. The majority of the nonfiction texts students will read are part of writing tasks, which address issues raised by To Kill a Mockingbird in a more contemporary context.
As the first text of the year, this unit primarily focuses on the first four literature standards. Authentic practice with these standards will provide students with a foundation as the year progresses and they begin to work with other standards (and continue to circle back to these).
In the writing tasks in this first unit, students will begin to develop skills in three different types of writing: analytical, informational, and argumentative. Although these three writing styles require students to think and write in different ways, the skills they develop in each task are transferable to the next. The aim of this unit is to provide students with an introduction to three major forms of non-narrative writing, with a focus on collecting quality evidence from a variety of sources to support ideas.
In the first task, students will write a short literary analysis. This task is very close to what students are asked to write every day during their target task writing. It will, therefore, be an opportunity for teachers to provide careful feedback on students’ ability to develop clear claim statements, select the best evidence, and write compelling analysis. The second task is an informational writing task in which students will begin to develop their research skills by pulling information from multiple nonfiction texts in order to write a coherent, informative article on the existence of racial bias in the application of capital punishment. In this task, students will focus on providing different types of information in their writing, including statistics, examples, and quotations, and focus on providing an unbiased account of the issue. In the final task, students will write an argumentative letter in which they will have to provide background on an issue—the debate over whether or not To Kill a Mockingbird should continue to be taught in schools—and then take a clear position. Students will implement research skills developed in the second task, as well as analytical skills developed in the first task. Additionally, these writing tasks provide students the opportunity to dive into a number of nonfiction texts that will supplement their understanding of To Kill a Mockingbird, particularly the ways in which the issues raised in this text continue to resonate today.