Biographies: You Can Be Whatever You Want to Be

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

In this biography unit, students read and learn about a diverse assortment of artists, musicians, and dancers. By reading a wide variety of biographies, students will be challenged to think about where people get their inspiration, how a person’s decisions and actions can change his or her life, and how hard work and determination can change a person’s 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 help students realize they can be whatever they want to be if they are determined and work hard, and that no obstacle, no matter how big it may feel, can stop someone from achieving something they are determined to achieve. It is also 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. It is also assumed that students are able to find the main topic of a text and retell key details that fit with the main idea. In this unit, students will focus deeply on cause and effect and describing the connection between individuals, events, and information from the text. Another main focus is on identifying the reasons an author gives to support points in a text. Students will be challenged to think about the big ideas of a text and what details the author includes in both the text and illustrations to support the key ideas. 

In writing, students will continue to write daily in response to the text. At this point, students should be fluid in writing about the text in a structured way. Therefore, the focus of this unit is on pushing students to include the best and most accurate evidence and then to explain the evidence with inferences or critical thinking. 

Texts and Materials

Core Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

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Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 6 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • Why would someone make art? 
  • Where do people find inspiration? 
  • How can a person’s decisions and actions change his or her life? 
  • How can hard work and determination change a person’s life? 
  • What makes a person remarkable? 

Writing Focus Areas

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  • In unit 2, students began to focus on answering a question by answering the question and adding an inference, critical thinking, or facts to show understanding of the question. In this unit, students will continue to work on these same skills but will be pushed to move from stating facts that help answer the question to including an inference or some level of critical thinking. In this unit, students will also begin to be challenged to include details from the text to support answers. At this point in the year, student evidence does not need to be the best or strongest evidence, but it should be related to the answer. 
  • Similar to unit 2, structured feedback should be based on student needs from the reading response rubric and unit 2 assessment. Pick either a class-wide focus or individual focuses based on student needs. 

Language Focus Areas

Spiral two or three structure focus correction areas based on data and student needs.

Writing-About-Reading Focus Areas

  • Correctly answers the question with an inference, critical thinking, or facts that show a basic understanding of the question or text 
  • Includes details from the text (may not be the strongest or best evidence but are related) 

Vocabulary

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Literary Terms

biography, opinion 

Text-based

confidence, inspire, dedication, encourage, grasp, scorch, determined, canvas, easel, gesture, unique, process, improvise, equality, mural, inspiration, studio, fair wages, empowered, portrait, admire, bold, marvelous, foreign, relationship, vibrant, masterpiece, collage, composition, radiant, successful, melody, genius, segregation, event, prejudice, humiliations, endured, protest, deny, overwhelming, overcoming, obstacles, compose, talent, gospel, religion, perform, gather, choreograph, discouraged, struggle, humility, triumph, rehearse, heritage, choreography

Intellectual Prep

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Build Background Knowledge

  • Research and learn about each of the artists in order to answer additional questions from students. See a list of the artists to research in the Content Knowledge section. 
  • Plan how to discuss racial discrimination and injustice, barriers to success that are present in multiple biographies. Decide which content to preview and introduce. 

Internalize the Text and Standards

  • Read and internalize all unit texts. Notice evidence of key unit standards and understandings. 
  • Take unit assessment and write exemplar student response. 
  • Read all author’s notes or background information to build a deeper understanding of the different contexts/settings for each biography. Plan book previews that clearly communicate necessary information to students. When necessary, pull in information from additional sources. 
  • Brainstorm and plan for projects to help students deepen understanding of unit content and materials. Consider completing a project after each “bend” of the unit: one project on painters, one on musicians, and then one on dancers. 
  • Determine a habits of discussion focus for the unit based on target speaking and listening standards. Decide how to introduce and reinforce the target over the course of the unit. 
  • If possible, plan for students to complete an additional research project during Writer’s Workshop. 
  • Create a visual timeline to help students understand where different artists fall in relation to one another. 
  • Write targeted book introductions that ensure students have the necessary content knowledge to understand the successes and challenges of each artist. Find examples of each artist’s work to show to students. 

Content Knowledge and Connections

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  • A biography is a text written about someone’s life. 
  • Horace Pippin was a self-taught African-American painter who painted about pivotal experiences in his life. 
  • Jackson Pollack 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 who her folk art and paintings that represented her dreams. 
  • 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. 
  • Melba Doretta Liston was an American jazz trombonist, musical arranger, and composer. She was the first woman trombonist to play in big bands during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. 
  • DJ Kool (John Bowman) is an American DJ and rapper who produced several popular rap singles. 
  • Mahalia Jackson was one of the most revered gospel singers in the United States. 
  • Trombone Shorty is a well-known jazz trombone player from New Orleans. 
  • José Limon was a pioneer in the field of modern dance and choreography. 
  • Alvin Ailey was an African-American choreographer and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. He is known for popularizing modern dance and revolutionizing African-American participation. 
  • Misty Copeland is an author, entertainer, and American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theater. She was the third African-American soloist and first in two decades to be part of the ABT. 
  • 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

  • What Do You Do With an Idea?

    RI.1.2

    SL.1.2

Explain if you should always listen to other people’s advice, by using the central message and key details of a story to support an opinion or idea. 

2

  • A Splash of Red pp. 1 – 14

    RI.1.3

    SL.1.2

Explain if Horace’s young life would have been the same if he hadn’t found his love for drawing, by describing the connection between pieces of information and events in a text. 

3

  • A Splash of Red — 15-end

    RI.1.2

    RI.1.3

Explain which newspaper headline best describes Horace, by describing the connection between pieces of information and events in a text.

4

  • Action Jackson pp. 1 – 15

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

Explain why Jackson’s work is original, by identifying and explaining the reasons an author gives to support points in a text. 

5

  • Diego

    RI.1.2

    RI.1.3

Explain how Diego’s early life influenced his career and what lessons we can learn from him, by identifying and describing the connection between events and pieces of information in a text. 

6

  • Diego Rivera

    RI.1.2

    RI.1.8

Explain how Diego’s murals teach about the past and show a better future for common people, by identifying and explaining the reasons an author gives to support points in a text. 

7

Project

  • Diego Rivera

  • Project materials

    RI.1.2

    SL.1.1

Create a mural tile inspired by Diego Rivera.

8

  • Me, Frida

    RI.1.2

    RI.1.8

Describe how Diego and Frida’s relationship changed, by close reading a text to draw conclusions about key details in a text.

9

  • Viva Frida

    RI.1.6

    RI.1.7

Explain how Yuyi Morales’s illustrations help the reader learn more about the life of Frida Kahlo, by distinguishing between information provided by pictures and words. 

10

  • Radiant Child

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

Describe the reasons the author includes to show that Jean-Michel was a radiant child, by identifying and explaining the reasons an author gives to support points in a text. 

11

Writing

  • All unit texts

    W.1.1

    SL.1.2

    SL.1.4

    L.1.6

State an opinion about which artist is their favorite by participating in a class discussion and then writing an opinion piece that states an opinion and supports the opinion with two or three details from the text.

12

Project

  • All unit texts

    SL.1.1

    L.1.2

Write a letter to an artist sharing what they’ve learned and asking questions based on unit knowledge.

13

  • Duke Ellington

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

Explain why Duke was a genius and how he made a musical mix like no other, by identifying and explaining the reasons an author gives to support points in a text. 

14

Project

  • Feelings cards

  • Drums — 2 per class

    SL.1.1

Experience how artists show feelings using drumming as a medium.

15

  • When Marian Sang pp. 1 – 15

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

Explain how Marion showed courage and overcame prejudice by describing the connection between events and ideas in a text.

16

  • When Marian Sang — 16-end

    RI.1.8

Explain how Marion was a symbol to her people and how she made it easier for those who would follow her, by identifying and explaining the reasons an author gives to support points in a text. 

17

  • Little Melba

    RI.1.8

Explain why Melba Doretta Liston was something special by identifying the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.

18

  • Mahalia Jackson

    RI.1.8

Explain why the author says that Mahalia had a voice that was bigger than she was, by identifying the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.

19

Project

  • Mahalia Jackson

  • Little Melba

  • When Marian Sang

  • Project materials

    SL.1.1

    SL.1.4

Create protest signs to experience how art can encourage change.

20

  • Trombone Shorty

    RI.1.8

Explain what evidence the author includes to support the idea that hard work can make dreams take flight, by identifying the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.

21

  • When the Beat Was Born

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

Explain why the author titled the book When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop and in what ways DJ Kool created hip hop, by stating the reasons an author gives to support points in a text. 

22

Writing

  • All unit texts

    W.1.1

    SL.1.4

    L.1.6

State an opinion about which artist is their favorite by writing an opinion piece that states an opinion and supports the opinion with two or three details from the text. 

23

  • José! Born to Dance

    RI.1.8

Explain why the author says that José became what he was born to be, by identifying the reasons an author gives to support a point. 

24

  • Alvin Ailey

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

Explain how Alvin Ailey changed the face of American dance and if he did it alone, by identifying the reasons an author gives to support a point. 

25

  • Misty Copeland

    RI.1.3

    RI.1.8

Describe the challenges and obstacles Misty Copeland had to overcome to reach her dream by identifying the reasons an author gives to support a point. 

26

  • FireBird

    RI.1.6

    RI.1.7

Describe what message Misty Copeland is trying to teach and how the illustrations help bring the message to life, by distinguishing between and analyzing information from the words and pictures. 

27

Writing

  • All unit texts

    W.1.1

State an opinion about which artist is their favorite by writing an opinion piece that states an opinion and supports the opinion with two or three details from the text. 

28

Assessment

29

2 days

Project

    SL.1.1

    SL.1.2

    SL.1.4

    SL.1.5

    SL.1.6

    L.1.1

    L.1.2

    L.1.6

Create and present an individual artist statement using what they've learned about artists and their inspiration from throughout the unit.

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.1.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.1.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • L.1.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 1 reading and content, choosing flexibly from an array of strategies.

  • L.1.5 — With guidance and support from adults, demonstrate understanding of word relationships and nuances in word meanings.

  • 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).

  • RI.1.10 — With prompting and support, read informational texts appropriately complex for grade 1.

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.1.2 — Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

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

  • SL.1.5 — Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

  • 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.1.5 — 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.1.8 — With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.