4th Grade Literature

Unit 3: The Wild Book

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Unit Summary

In this unit scholars will explore the difficulties of having a learning disability and how a learning disability influences the way a person feels about themselves by reading the core text, The Wild Book. Throughout the unit scholars will be challenged to think about multiple themes—believing in ourselves, accepting differences, persevering through challenges, and trusting in family during difficult times. Exploring the themes will allow scholars to develop a deeper appreciation for people’s unique differences and struggles and learn to accept everyone for their strengths. It is our goal that this unit, combined with others in the curriculum, will help scholars see the world as a diverse place, not just in terms of race but also in terms of abilities, and that no matter what, everyone can be successful.

The text, The Wild Book, was chosen not only for its powerful themes but because Margarita Engle, the award-winning Latina author, chose to write the story in verse. Through reading the verses scholars will be able explore the power of poetry and its influence on Cuban culture in the early 20th century. This unit builds on previous units in which scholars have learned the features of poetry; however, in this unit scholars begin to see poetry as not just stand-alone poems but as an art form in which a poet can express himself or herself freely. When discussing and writing about poetry, scholars should be able to refer to the specific structural elements of a poem and explain how the elements enrich the text. This unit also challenges scholars to deeply analyze how authors develop theme within individual poems and also across a longer work. Scholars will analyze how characters are developed, how word choice and imagery are used to bring power and meaning to different verse, and how the author uses varying experiences to reveal theme. Doing deep text analysis of the poems on an individual level and also on a more broad level will help scholars understand the power of the various themes and how the author develops them.

Texts and Materials

    Core Text(s)
  • Book: The Wild Book by Margarita Engle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2014) — 1050L

  • Supporting Materials
  • Book: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015) — 0550L
  • The Facts about Dyslexia
  • Book: Rules by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2008) — 670L
  • Book: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012) — 700L
  • Reading Standards for Literature
    • RL.4.2 — Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
    • RL.4.3 — Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).
    • RL.4.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
    • RL.4.5 — Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.
    • RL.4.9 — Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
    • RL.4.10 — By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4—5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
  • Reading Standards: Foundational Skills
    • RF.4.4 — Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
  • Writing Standards
    • W.4.1 — Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information
    • W.4.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
    • W.4.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1—3 above.)
    • W.4.5 — With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
    • W.4.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
    • W.4.10 — 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.
  • Speaking and Listening Standards
    • SL.4.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
    • SL.4.4 — Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
    • SL.4.5 — Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
    • SL.4.6 — Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation.
  • Language Standards
    • L.4.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • L.4.1.g — Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to, too, two; there, their).
    • L.4.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • L.4.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
    • L.4.4.a — Use context (e.g., definitions, examples, or restatements in text) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
    • L.4.4.b — Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., telegraph, photograph, autograph).
    • L.4.4.c — Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation and determine or clarify the precise meaning of key words and phrases.
    • L.4.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
    • L.4.5.c — Demonstrate understanding of words by relating them to their opposites (antonyms) and to words with similar but not identical meanings (synonyms).
    • L.4.6 — Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal precise actions, emotions, or states of being (e.g., quizzed, whined, stammered) and that are basic to a particular topic (e.g., wildlife, conservation, and endangered when discussing animal preservation).
  • How does having a learning disability impact the way people see themselves and the way that others seem them?
  • How do we form and shape our identities, values, and beliefs? How does family play a role in this?
  • How do beliefs, ethics, or values influence different people’s behaviors?
  • Why is it important to always believe in yourself?

Key Understandings?

  • Novels written in verse fit together like a puzzle. Each poem in a verse novel captures one moment, scene, idea, or key shift in a character’s life. The poems can function on their own, however, together they communicate the story line and build to the central theme. 
  • The structure of each poem communicates the character’s emotions. Poems are of varied lengths, some may end abruptly while others may be long and flowing depending on the character’s mindset. Lines within poems may also vary to emphasize particular emotions. Poets may repeat particular words and phrases, use different rhyme scheme and line breaks, and play around with figurative language. Each decision a poet makes has a lot of power. 
  • Figurative language is used to make writing more vivid and powerful. Similes are a figure of speech that compares two different things using “like” or “as” to draw a comparison. Metaphors state a comparison without using “like” or “as.”
  • Narratives often have overarching thematic topics (ex. love, hope, bravery) with multiple thematic messages to highlight what the author wants to express about the particular topic. The thematic messages can be lessons or morals, or something more abstract, like an observation or message about life. 
  • In some stories a character changes or realizes something as a result of her struggle, positive or negative. Although usually not explicit, the character emerges from her journey a changed person and therein lies the message.

The main focus of this unit is on exploring how theme is developed over the course of a novel written in verse. Students will explore the craft moves authors use when writing in verse, and analyze how those moves help build a deeper understanding of character and theme. Students will also be challenged to think about the power of specific word choices, especially in regards to figurative language.

See our Writing Rubric as a resource to provide feedback on student writing.

Writing Rubric: View Rubric

Literary Analysis Writing Focus Areas?

  • (Evidence) Selects the most relevant text-based details and examples from the text
  • (Central idea) Makes a correct claim that connects to the topic and shows understanding of the text
  • (Organization) Uses a strong paragraph structure with a topic sentence, key details and explanations, and conclusion
  • (Explanation of Evidence) Uses a variety of strategies for including evidence and reasons 

In this unit scholars continue to focus on drafting a strong claim and supporting the claim with a variety of reasons and evidence from the text. Scholars should continue to gather evidence and determine potential theories before stating a claim about a text. This ensures that scholars have found evidence and ideas that they are able to analyze and explain. Scholars should also continue to work on explaining which pieces of evidence they think best supports a particular theory and claim and why. 

The majority of writing in this unit is done through daily target tasks. In daily target task writing, scholars will be pushed to paraphrase and use specific details from the text as a way of supporting a particular claim. Scholars should also practice using a strong organizational structure, which was introduced at the end of unit 2. At the end of the unit scholars will learn how to use mini-stories to describe how authors develop theme. See A Guide to Literary Analysis Writing  for more information on the different strategies scholars can use to introduce and explain evidence.

Language Writing Focus Areas?

  • Uses frequently confused words correctly (to, too, two; there, their, they’re)
  • Uses frequently confused words correctly (past, passed; its, it’s; hear, here
  • Uses coordinating conjunctions and a comma to produce compound sentences 

This unit has two main language focuses. The first is on practicing using coordinating conjunctions and a comma to produce compound sentences. This is a review from Unit 2. The second is on using frequently confused words correctly. Students are introduced to the words to, too, two and there, their, they’re in lessons. The lessons provided in this unit serve as a launch for exploring frequently confused words. Scholars will need continuous and targeted feedback in order to master using the correct form of the word. If desired, add additional lessons on other frequently confused words.

Phonics and Word Recognition Focus Areas?

  • Uses syllabication rules to sound out and tackle new words
  • Uses prefixes and suffixes to decode and figure out the meaning of new words

As part of the vocabulary routine for this unit scholars will practice using syllabication patterns to break down vocabulary words. Scholars will practice identifying the number of syllables and use knowledge of syllabication patterns to explain how they determined the number of syllables. Scholars will also review breaking down words based on affixes and word parts. A sample routine is included as part of lesson 1, however, this routine should happen daily. Additional guidance on teaching syllabication patterns can be found here. 

Using syllabication directly connects with the main character’s struggle to learn how to read. She frequently struggles to sound out words and tries breaking words into syllables. Reviewing syllabication in this unit is a way to help reinforce and build empathy for the main character. Scholars should also be challenged to confirm and notice if the narrator’s syllabication is correct.

Sample routine:

  • Find the word in the sentence. 
  • Sound out the word by breaking the word into syllables. Identify the number of syllables and explain how you determined the number of syllables. 
  • Read the sentence. Determine which words in the sentence give a clue about the meaning of the word. 
  • Determine a potential meaning of the word. 
  • Check to see if the meaning makes sense in the sentence.

Students should also continue to receive feedback on word solving during partner and independent reading. When circulating during independent reading, prompt: 

  • Which words were tricky in this section of text? 
  • What strategies did you use to read the word and figure out the word’s meaning? 
  • How many syllables does the word have? How do you know? 
  • What affixes does the word have? How do they influence the meaning of the word?

Fluency Focus Areas?

  • Reads with proper intonation and expression to show understanding of a text. 
  • Reads verse with rhythm and flow. 
  • Self-corrects when reading difficult words and sentence structures. 
  • Reads with a rate appropriate to task and purpose

The core novel The Wild Book is written in verse, therefore, the main fluency focus of this unit is on how to read poems with the proper intonation, expression, and flow to match the tone and theme of a particular poem. Scholars will also continue to explore how reading a poem initially for comprehension and pleasure versus reading for analysis and deeper understanding lead to different reading rates. 

Suggested Supports: 

  • There are multiple poems per lessons. At least one poem per lesson should be read aloud in order to model fluent reading of a poem. When modeling, make sure to model how to use expression and intonation to emphasize the particular emotion of a particular poem. If needed, include non-examples of how to read a poem in order to emphasize the difference between reading a poem fluently and not. After a model, prompt: 
    • How does a reader decide which words and phrases to stress? 
    • How does a reader decide when to pause? 
    • What effect does the stress or pause have on the message of the poem? 
  • Scholars should read at least one poem per lesson with partners, or as a repeated read, in order to practice reading with fluency. Prompt: 
    • How does reading a poem fluently help a reader better understand the message of the poem? 
    • How does the way the author structures the poem help a reader better understand how to read the poem with the correct intonation or expression? 
  • Towards the end of the unit have students pick one of their favorite poems from the entire novel. Students should practice reading the poem with expression. Have students perform the poem to the class. Score student performance on the Fluency Rubric
  • Scholars should always read each poem at least once for comprehension and enjoyment prior to analyzing the poem. Review with students how the reading rate for pleasure and initial comprehension may vary from the reading rate for deep analysis.

The main vocabulary focus of this unit is on using context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words. Scholars will look for synonyms, definitions, examples, antonyms, explanations and plot clues as guides for figuring out the meaning of words in context. Students will also use knowledge of known affixes. In order to notice and use context clues, however, readers need to have a strong understanding of what is happening in the text at the point where the word is used. Therefore, reading comprehension should always be closely connected to word solving. 

Note: After using context and word solving strategies to break down unknown words, scholars can consult reference materials to find the pronunciation and determine or clarify the meaning of keywords.

Literary Terms?

structural element




figurative language: simile, metaphor, idiom

Roots and Affixes?

Spiral review of all previously taught prefixes, suffixes, and roots


anxious, burden, dread, vanishing, triumph, cringe, dyslexia, ransom, insist, taunt, wisdom, optimism, transformed, defy, frantic, agonizing, advise, weary, looms, outraged, presence, encouragement, relieved, stalling

Idioms and Cultural References?

one picture is worth a thousand words

cut corners

birds of a feather flock together

  • Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols but that do not affect general intelligence.
  • Scholars will be able to explain various aspects of Cuban culture and society in the early 20th century.

Future Connections?

  • Fourth Grade Literature, Unit 5: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Building Content Knowledge:

  • Research Cuba in the early 20th century to develop a deeper understanding of the history and culture of Cuba and the power of poetry in Cuban culture.
  • Research dyslexia and be able to explain what dyslexia is and how it makes reading challenging. In The Wild Book the author describes the struggles the narrator has learning to read but never specifically names them as features of dyslexia. Helping scholars understand this will help them understand the development of theme.
  • Read about Margarita Engle in order to lead scholars in a deeper understanding of her life and what influenced her to write the text. Her website, has lots of information and background.
  • Prepare for difficult conversations around some of the more difficult parts of the text (ransom notes, the older man pursuing the narrator).
  • Review features of poetry. If necessary, reference G3 Poetry unit.

Building Understanding of Unit Priority Standards and Texts:

  • Read The Wild Book and articles on dyslexia. Think about and notice how the author develops theme.
  • Take the unit assessment and look for evidence of unit priority standards. Also consider these priority standards when reading unit texts.
    • Standard RL4.2—Determine the theme of the poem. How do authors convey theme through key details in a text or poem? (What does this look like for fourth grade? What does it mean to develop theme? What should scholars be able to notice when they are reading? What pathways to theme are most common in texts at this level? What should summarizing look like in this genre? For additional context read this post on vertical progression of theme.)
  • Determine habits of discussion focus based on unit priority standards and tasks.
  • Write an exemplar response for the literary essay that gets at the Writing Focus Areas for the unit.
  • Internalize what makes poetry different from prose. Key ideas may include the following: poetry is compact writing that expresses intense emotion, poetry provides opportunity for word play, poetry paints pictures with words, to understand poetry you often need to infer what the poet is saying.


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