Biographies: Artists and Musicians

In this inspirational biography unit, students read and learn about a diverse assortment of artists, musicians, and dancers, while focusing on identifying evidence from texts and illustrations.

Unit Summary

As part of the upgrade to Fishtank Plus, this unit was revised in November 2020. Some texts, materials, and questions may have changed as part of the revision. If you are looking for the 2019 version of this unit, visit our archives.

In this biography unit, students read and learn about a diverse assortment of artists and musicians. By reading a wide variety of biographies, students will be challenged to think about where people get their inspiration, and how a person’s decisions and actions can change his or her life, especially when facing instances of prejudice and discrimination. Students will also be challenged to think about the ways in which a person can be influential and how reading about other people’s lives can help them in their own lives. It is our hope that this unit will open students’ eyes to different life paths and passions, particularly those in the arts.

In reading, this unit builds onto the work done in previously informational units. It is assumed that students are inquisitive consumers of an informational text, asking and answering questions about key details. In this unit, students focus on understanding connections between individuals, events, ideas, and information in a text in order to better understand a person’s life. Students also begin to think about reasons an author gives to support a particular point in a text.

In writing, students focus on crafting strong sentences using frequently occurring conjunctions. In reading lessons, students will frequently be asked to write a few specific sentences using conjunctions in order to show a more nuanced understanding of the content. In longer writing lessons, students will write both opinions about the artists they study and participate in a longer research project.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

Assessment

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

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • How can a person’s decisions and actions change his or her life?
  • What makes a person remarkable?
  • How can art impact/change a person’s  life?

Writing Focus Areas

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Sentence-Level Focus Areas

  • Write simple and complex sentences
  • Use frequently occurring conjunctions

A big focus of this unit is using frequently occurring conjunctions, particularly “because,” “but,” or “so,” to show understanding of different people’s lives.

Vocabulary

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Text-based

awe biography compose courageous deny dignity enraged genius humiliations improvise intrigued influential inspiration mural original passionate persistent prejudice radiant remarkable resourceful segregation successful technique

Related Teacher Tools:

Content Knowledge and Connections

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  • A biography is a text written about someone’s life.
  • There are many inspiration painters, each with their own style and technique.
    • Horace Pippin was a self-taught African-American painter who painted about pivotal experiences in his life.
    • Jackson Pollock was an influential American painter known for his abstract “drop” paintings.
    • Diego Rivera was a Mexican painter known for his murals.
    • Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter known for her folk art and paintings that represented her dreams.
    • Jose Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican printmaker known for his calaveras, or skeletons.
  • There are many inspiration musicians, each with their own sound and genre.
    • Duke Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and bandleader of jazz orchestras.
    • Marian Anderson was an African-American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century.
    • DJ Kool (John Bowman) is an American DJ and rapper who produced several popular rap singles.
    • Art Tatum was an American jazz pianist. He was visually impaired from childhood, but he did not let that hold him back from showing his talent as a pianist.
    • Robbie Robertson is a Canadian musician who was part of the rock and roll band The Band and also produced many solo albums that highlighted his indigenous roots.
    • Carlos Santana is a Mexican and American guitarist whose music combines rock, jazz, blues, and Afro-Cuban rhythms with Latin sound.
    • Trombone Shorty is a well-known jazz trombone player from New Orleans.
  • Authors are often recognized for their outstanding writing or illustrations. Some awards that authors can receive include the following:
    • The Pura Belpré Award is given to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.
    • The Caldecott Medal is given to the artist of the most distinguished illustrations.
    • The Newbery Medal is given to the author of the most distinguished children’s book of the year.
    • The Coretta Scott King Book Award is given as a way to recognize outstanding books for young adults and children by African-American authors and illustrators that reflect the African-American experience.
    • The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is presented for most distinguished informational book.

Lesson Map

1

  • School Studies

  • One: Number 31

  • Tenochtitlán

  • Self-Portrait...

  • Untitled

  • Calaveras

    SL.1.1

    SL.1.4

    SL.1.6

Observe and describe paintings by different artists.

2

  • A Splash of Red pp. 1 – 14

  • School Studies

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.7

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.j

Describe two key events from Horace’s childhood or early life.

3

  • A Splash of Red p. 15 — to end

  • School Studies

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Describe what makes Horace Pippin’s art remarkable.

4

  • Action Jackson

  • One: Number 31

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain why Jackson’s work is original.

5

  • Funny Bones pp. 1 – 18

  • Calaveras

    RI.1.2

    RI.1.3

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.j

Describe two key facts about Don Lupe’s early life.

6

  • Funny Bones p. 19 — to end

  • Calaveras

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain why Don Lupe, or Posada, was influential.

7

  • Diego Rivera

  • Tenochtitlán

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain why Diego Rivera’s art is important.

8

  • Frida and...

  • Self-Portrait...

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain why Frida Kahlo was resourceful.

9

  • Radiant Child

  • Untitled

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain what Jean-Michel was courageous.

10

2 days

    W.1.1

    W.1.5

    W.1.7

    W.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

    L.1.2.a

    L.1.2.b

    L.1.6

Write an opinion piece stating which artist is your favorite.

11

  • “Black, Brown...”

  • “Yesterdays”

  • “My Country...”

  • “The Night...”

  • “Oye Como Va”

  • “Let Me...”

  • “Where Y’At”

    SL.1.1

    SL.1.4

    SL.1.6

Listen to and describe music by different artists.

12

  • Duke Ellington

  • “Black, Brown...”

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.j

Explain how the author shows that Duke Ellington was a genius.

13

  • When Marian Sang pp. 1 – 14

  • “My Country...”

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain how prejudice and segregation influenced Marian.

14

  • When Marian Sang p. 15 — to end

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain why Marian Anderson was courageous.

15

  • Piano Starts Here

  • “Yesterdays”

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Describe Art Tatum using vocabulary from the unit.

16

  • Rock & Roll Highway pp. 1 – 18

  • “The Night...”

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Analyze why Robbie was persistent.

17

  • Rock & Roll Highway p. 19 — to end

  • “The Weight”

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain why Robbie Robertson is an important part of the music world.

18

  • When Angels Sing pp. 1 – 20

  • “Oye Como Va”

Explain what experiences Carlos had with music as a child and how they influenced him.

19

  • When Angels Sing p. 21 — to end

  • “Oye Como Va”

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Analyze why the author titled the book When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana by Michael Mahin.

20

  • When the Beat Was Born

  • “Let Me...”

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain three of the key elements of Hip Hop and how DJ Kool Herc helped to create each of them.

21

  • Trombone Shorty

  • “Where Y’At”

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

Explain what makes Trombone Shorty remarkable.

22

Opinion Writing

    W.1.1

    W.1.5

    W.1.7

    W.1.8

    SL.1.1

    L.1.1.g

    L.1.1.j

    L.1.2.a

    L.1.2.b

    L.1.6

Write an opinion piece stating which musician is your favorite and why.

23

Discussion & Writing

    W.1.2

    SL.1.1

    SL.1.4

    SL.1.6

Discuss and debate unit essential questions.

24

Assessment

25

5 days

Writing

  • Misty Copeland

  • Firebird

  • Misty Copeland: Ballet Star

  • Bunheads

  • “Misty Copeland: An Unlikely Ballerina’s Story”

    W.1.2

    W.1.5

    W.1.7

    W.1.8

Participate in a shared research project about Misty Copeland.

Projects

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.1.1.b — Use common, proper, and possessive nouns.

  • L.1.1.c — Use singular and plural nouns with matching verbs in basic sentences (e.g., He hops; We hop).

  • L.1.1.e — Use verbs to convey a sense of past, present, and future (e.g., Yesterday I walked home; Today I walk home; Tomorrow I will walk home).

  • L.1.1.f — Use frequently occurring adjectives.

  • L.1.1.g — Use frequently occurring conjunctions (e.g., and, but, or, so, because).

  • L.1.1.i — Use frequently occurring prepositions (e.g., during, beyond, toward).

  • L.1.1.j — Produce and expand complete simple and compound declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in response to prompts.

  • L.1.2.a — Capitalize dates and names of people.

  • L.1.2.b — Use end punctuation for sentences.

  • L.1.2.c — Use commas in dates and to separate single words in a series.

  • L.1.2.d — Use conventional spelling for words with common spelling patterns and for frequently occurring irregular words.

  • L.1.2.e — Spell untaught words phonetically, drawing on phonemic awareness and spelling conventions.

  • L.1.6 — Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including using frequently occurring conjunctions to signal simple relationships (e.g., because).

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.1.2 — Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.

  • RI.1.3 — Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.

  • RI.1.6 — Distinguish between information provided by pictures or other illustrations and information provided by the words in a text.

  • RI.1.7 — Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.

  • RI.1.8 — Identify the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.

  • RI.1.9 — Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.1.1 — Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups

  • SL.1.4 — Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.

  • SL.1.6 — Produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation.

Writing Standards
  • W.1.1 — Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure.

  • W.1.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.

  • W.1.5 — With guidance and support from adults, focus on a topic, respond to questions and suggestions from peers, and add details to strengthen writing as needed.

  • W.1.7 — Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., explore a number of "how-to" books on a given topic and use them to write a sequence of instructions).

  • W.1.8 — With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

Spiral Standards

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L.1.1.b

L.1.1.c

L.1.1.e

L.1.1.g

L.1.1.j

L.1.2

L.1.2.a

L.1.2.b

L.1.2.d

L.1.2.e

L.1.4

L.1.6

RI.1.1

RI.1.10

RI.1.4

RI.1.7

SL.1.2

SL.1.4

SL.1.5

SL.1.6