The Wild Book

Students explore the difficulties of having a learning disability and how that influences a person's self-image, enabling them to see the world as a diverse place, by reading the core text The Wild Book.

Unit Summary

In this unit students 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 students will be challenged to think about multiple thematic topics—believing in ourselves, accepting differences, persevering through challenges, and trusting in family during difficult times. Exploring the themes will allow students 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 students 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, uses verse to bring to life a difficult historical period in Cuba. The book tells the story of Margarita Engle's grandmother who grew up in Cuba during a time of lawlessness. Margarita Engle tells her grandmother's story in a way that helps readers build empathy and understanding of the hardships our ancestors may have faced. Simultaneously, students also see the power of poetry and its influence on Cuban culture in the early 20th century.  Seeing that despite the hardships the country faced, it was also a place of artistic beauty. 

This unit builds on previous units in which students have learned the features of poetry; however, in this unit students 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, students 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 students to deeply analyze how authors develop theme within individual poems and also across a longer work. Students 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 students understand the power of the various themes and how the author develops them.

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Unit Launch

Prepare to teach this unit with videos and short readings that cover:

  • Key standards
  • Essential questions
  • Text complexity
  • Monitoring student progress

Texts and Materials

Core Materials

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

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • What can we learn from hearing our ancestors' stories? 
  • What was the political and social climate of Cuba in 1912? How did it impact citizens? 
  • How does having a learning disability impact the way people see themselves and the way that others see them?

Writing Focus Areas


Sentence-Level Focus Areas

  • Use transition words and phrases to signal a connection between two sentences
  • Use coordinating and subordinating conjunctions 

In this unit students will continue to respond to daily Target Tasks by writing sentences with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. Additionally, students will learn how to use transition words and phrases to signal the relationship between two sentences. 

Paragraph-Level Focus Areas

  • Draft strong paragraphs that include a strong topic sentence, 3-4 supporting details and a concluding sentence 
  • Use transition words to signal a relationship between ideas 

In this unit students build on what they learned in units one and two. Students will continue to draft and write single paragraphs with a focus on having a strong topic sentence, supporting details, and a concluding sentence. Students will also begin to use transition words to signal a relationship between ideas within a paragraph. ​​​​​

Narrative Writing Focus Areas

  • Brainstorm and draft a story with a logical sequence of events
  • Use dialogue and description to show a characters response to events
  • Use figurative language 
  • Edit for commonly confused words 

In this unit students continue to work on brainstorming and drafting a story with a logical sequence of events. The focus of this unit is on practicing strategies learned in units one and two. 

Related Teacher Tools:

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. Students 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. 

Teachers should plan to do fluency checkpoints at several points throughout a unit. Have students grade themselves or a friend on the Reading Fluency Rubric. If a student scores a 2 or lower on any of the sections, we offer some ideas for additional fluency instruction and support in our Fluency Assessment Package.

At the end of each unit, teachers should assess each student using the unit’s fluency assessment found in the Fluency Assessment Package. This assessment is quick. Teachers should plan to pull students one-on-one to do this while the rest of the class is independently reading or writing.

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • Elaborate to support ideas. Students provide evidence or examples to justify and defend their point clearly. 
  • Use vocabulary. Students use vocabulary that is specific to the subject and task to clarify and share thoughts.
  • Build on partner's ideas. Students seek to genuinely understand what their peers are saying, and then build on. 

In units one and two students worked on clarifying and sharing their on thoughts during a discussion. They worked on providing evidence or examples to justify and defend their point clearly, and using specific vocabulary when sharing their thoughts. In this unit, students move beyond their own reasoning and begin to respond and interact with the reasoning of others. Students are held responsible for listening to and learning from their peers, and begin to refine and clarify their own thinking  based on others' ideas. 

When building on to partner's ideas, students should seek to genuinely understand what their peers are saying and build on. Ideas should not be random, disconnected, or replace a previous idea. Rather, ideas should zoom in on a particular idea that was said, make a connection between a previous idea and a new idea, or challenge a particular part of an idea. Guidance on teacher moves to support these discussion can be found in our Guide to Academic Discourse (below). 



Below are all of the unit vocabulary words. Prior to teaching the unit, we recommend teachers decide which words to prioritize. We also recommend that teachers decide which affixes to prioritize. See our teacher tool Prepping Unit Vocabulary (below) for more guidance on which words to pick as priority words.


advise agonizing anxious burden captive cringe defy discouraged dread duel dyslexia encouragement frantic fragrant ghastly heroine insist jagged looms ominous optimism outraged presence ransom relieved remedy rumba shrieked stalling swiftly taunt thrilling triumph transformed vanishing verses weary whooshed wisdom



Content Knowledge and Connections



These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills. Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit.

With Fishtank Plus, you can download the Fluency Package for this unit, which includes a unit-specific fluency assessment passage and additional tools to help monitor and support students’ reading fluency. Download Sample

Lesson Map


  • Timeline

Describe what life was like in Cuba in 1912. 


  • The Wild Book pp. 1 – 16



Explain how the narrator feels about word-blindness. 


  • “What is Dyslexia?”


Explain why learning to read is difficult for children with dyslexia and how this connects with the narrator in The Wild Book.



  • The Wild Book





Write a paragraph that explains what word-blindness is and how it impacts Fefa’s life.

5Essential Task

  • The Wild Book pp. 17 – 36



Analyze how the setting of the story influences the main character. 


  • The Wild Book pp. 37 – 54



Explain the meaning of lines 11-16 of “Trouble” and how the author develops character.


  • The Wild Book pp. 55 – 74


Describe Fefa's relationship with her family. 


  • The Wild Book pp. 75 – 91



Explain what evidence the author includes to support the idea that the narrator feels safe and what she feels safe from.


  • The Wild Book pp. 92 – 106



Explain what daydreams the narrator is referring to.


  • The Wild Book p. 107 — end



Explain why the author calls the last chapter “Courage” and what this signifies.

11Essential Task

2 days


  • The Wild Book






Identify a theme in The Wild Book and write a paragraph explaining how the theme is shown through the speaker.



  • All unit texts





Analyze and debate unit essential questions using details and understandings from the entire unit. 


  • Fish in a Tree — Ch. 1-3



Analyze how having a learning disability impacts the way Ally sees herself and the way others see her.


  • Out of My Mind — Ch. 1-4



Analyze how having a learning disability impacts the way Melody sees herself and the way others see her.


  • Rules — Ch. 1-2



Analyze how having a learning disability impacts the way Catherine views David and Jason. 



  • All unit texts





Analyze and debate unit essential questions using details and understandings from the entire unit. 





  • All unit texts






Represent unit themes and concepts by participating in a culminating task that requires deep understanding of unit texts.

Common Core Standards

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.

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.4.5 — 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.

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.4.1.c — Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.

  • SL.4.1.d — Review the key ideas expressed and explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.

  • SL.4.2 — Paraphrase portions of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Writing Standards
  • W.4.1 — Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information

  • W.4.1.a — Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer's purpose.

  • W.4.1.b — Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.

  • W.4.1.c — Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).

  • W.4.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

  • W.4.3.a — Orient the reader by establishing a situationand introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.

  • W.4.3.b — Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.

  • W.4.3.d — Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely.

Sprial Standards