Return to Sender

In the novel Return to Sender, students explore the complexity of immigration and stereotypes, and interpret how authors highlight different characters' perspectives.

Unit Summary

In this unit, students begin to explore the complexity of immigration and immigrant rights by reading the core text Return to Sender. Through the eyes of two children, Return to Sender highlights the challenges of life for Mexican laborers in Vermont and the way in which stereotypes about undocumented workers are formed. Through the eyes of Tyler, the farm owner’s son, students witness the internal struggle surrounding what makes something right or wrong, particularly in regard to if the family should hire undocumented workers even though without them the beloved family farm would need to be sold. They also see how the stereotypes Tyler believes about Mexican workers are broken down through his relationships with the Cruz family. Through the eyes of Mari, the daughter of an undocumented worker, students witness the daily challenges and barriers undocumented workers face in the fight for a better life and future. As Tyler and Mari develop a friendship, readers are pushed to think critically about the arguments on both sides of the debate surrounding Mexican and other laborers in Vermont, and the way in which friendships across lines of diffference can help dismantle stereotypes.

It is important to note that the scope of this unit is intentionally narrow. Immigration, particularly undocumented immigration, is an incredibly complex issue. This unit serves as an entry point. It is our hope that this unit begins to humanize a controversial topic and inspires students to question things beyond their own world and fight for their own view of what is right. To build a deeper understanding of the nuances and history of migrant workers in the United States, we recommend that this unit is paired with the social studies unit on Cesar Chavez and the migrant workers’ fight for justice and equity. 

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  • Google Classroom Integration
  • Vocabulary Package
  • Fluency Package
  • Data Analysis Package
 

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

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • How do people develop stereotypical ideas? How can stereotypes lead to prejudice and discrimination? 
  • How can friendships and learning across lines of difference help build empathy and stop the spread of stereotypes? 
  • What is life like for undocumented Mexican laborers and their families? 

Writing Focus Areas

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Sentence-Level Focus Areas

  • Write simple, compound, and complex sentences 
  • Use correlating conjunctions 

In this unit students continue to focus on writing simple, compound, and complex sentences to respond to both daily Target Task and longer writing assignments. Additionally students learn how to use correlating conjunctions to show the connection between ideas. ​​​​​​

Paragraph-Level Focus Areas

  • Outline multiple paragraph essays 
  • Create topic/introductory sentences
  • Organize ideas into paragraphs
  • Use transition words and phrases to connect paragraphs
  • Create concluding sentences 

In units one and two students focused on writing strong single paragraphs. In this unit, students switch to outlining multiple paragraph essays. Students learn how to create topic or introductory sentences, how to organize ideas into paragraphs, how to use transition words and phrases to connect paragraphs, and how to create concluding sentences. The focus of this unit is primarily on outlining, in later units students will focus on drafting multiple-paragraph essays. ​​​​​​

Opinion Writing Focus Areas

  • State an opinion
  • Provide reasons and details to support an opinion
  • Include transition words and phrases
  • Provide a concluding statement 

In this unit students write their second opinion piece. Building on work done in Info Unit 1, students continue to learn how to state an opinion, how to provide reasons and details to support an opinion and how to provide a concluding statement. Students also use what they’ve learned from the unit to include appropriate transition words and phrases.

Related Teacher Tools:

Fluency Focus Areas

  • Self-correct when reading difficult words and sentence structures. 
  • Read smoothly and with accuracy. 
  • Use proper intonation to show interpretation of the passage. 
  • Read with a rate appropriate to task and purpose

The main fluency focus of this unit is on reading with smoothness, accuracy and expression. Building on work done in units one and two, students will continue to read character dialogue with expression in order to match the mood/feelings of the characters. In this unit students will also begin to learn and use strategies for self-correcting when reading difficult words and sentence structures. Julia Alvarez includes a lot of challenging vocabulary and writes with varying sentence structures that may be unfamiliar to students. Therefore, students will need explicit modeling and instruction on how to read different sentences structures with the proper intonation, and how to self-correct when something doesn’t sound quite right. 

In this unit students will also continue to explore how the task and purpose for reading should influence reading rate. Based on modeling from unit one and two, students should understand that close reading lessons require a slower rate than reading for pleasure or for initial comprehension.

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 focuses can be found in our Guide to Academic Discourse (below).

Vocabulary

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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.

Text-based

adolescence agitated apprehended ballistic cargo civilized commending confiscate console contradiction contradictory courteous consoling culpable democracy diversity ecstatic enlightened esteemed escorted exasperate generalization hostage hysterically immoral insistent la migra oversimplify petition prejudice preoccupying resigned sentiments stigma stereotypes tension testimony trespassing unanimously unburden undisclosed upstanding vigilant wholeheartedly

Root/Affix

-ous -sion -tion en- pre- un-

Content Knowledge and Connections

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Assessment

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

1

  • “Why Stereotypes Should be Avoided” — 950L version

    RI.5.1

    SL.5.1

Explain what stereotypes are and why stereotypes should be avoided.

2

  • “Under the Cloak of Darkness”

    W.5.1

    SL.5.1

    SL.5.2

Describe the conditions for migrant workers in Vermont. 

3

  • Return to Sender pp. 3 – 16

    RL.5.3

Explain what happens in the chapter that Tyler doesn’t fully understand. 

4

  • Return to Sender pp. 17 – 22

    RL.5.3

Explain how the letter helps a reader better understand Mari and her relationship with her family. 

5

  • Return to Sender pp. 23 – 36

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Defend if hope and fear play important roles in Mari’s life.

6Essential Task

  • Return to Sender pp. 39 – 57

    RL.5.3

Explain what the events of the chapter suggest about Tyler. 

7

  • Return to Sender pp. 58 – 72

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Describe what happens on the bus and how the incident influences Mari and Tyler.

8

  • Return to Sender pp. 92 – 106

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Defend if all members of the family have equal amounts of hope and fear. 

9

Discussion

  • Return to Sender pp. 1 – 102

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

    SL.5.1

Close-read a text in order to determine the challenges of being an undocumented Mexican laborer. 

10

Writing

    W.5.1

    W.5.1.a

    W.5.1.b

    W.5.1.c

    W.5.1.d

    W.5.9.a

Outline a multiple-paragraph essay to describe what life was like for undocumented workers.

11

  • Return to Sender pp. 121 – 136

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Explain what happens to Tio Felipe and how Mari and her family respond. 

12Essential Task

Discussion & Writing

  • Return to Sender pp. 121 – 136

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

    RL.5.6

    SL.5.1

Compare and contrast Mari and Tyler by comparing and contrasting two or more characters in a text.

13

Writing

  • Return to Sender

    RL.5.3

    W.5.1

    W.5.1.a

    W.5.1.b

    W.5.1.c

    W.5.1.d

    W.5.9.a

Write a multiple-paragraph essay comparing and contrasting Mari and Tyler.

14

  • Return to Sender pp. 139 – 155

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Analyze and defend if Tyler and Mari are developing a true friendship. 

15

  • Return to Sender pp. 1 – 178

    RL.5.2

    RI.5.1

    SL.5.3

    SL.5.4

    SL.5.5

Close-read a text to determine what traditions are important in Mexican culture and explain how they help bring the Cruzes and the Paquettes together. 

16

  • Return to Sender pp. 181 – 194

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Describe what motion is proposed at town meeting and analyze how different members in the community respond and why. 

17

  • Return to Sender pp. 213 – 226

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Summarize what the coyotes are demanding and what impact this has on Mari and her family and the Paquettes. 

18

  • Return to Sender pp. 227 – 246

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Summarize the key events from Mari’s letter.

19

  • Return to Sender pp. 249 – 263

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Defend if Tyler has changed and if he truly understands Mari.

20

  • Return to Sender pp. 264 – 280

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Summarize what happened to Mari’s parents and compare and contrast Mari’s response with other members of the Cruz and Paquette family.

21

  • Return to Sender pp. 281 – 296

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Analyze if Mari is a brave and noble young lady.

22Essential Task

Discussion

  • Return to Sender

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

    SL.5.1

Close-read a text in order to determine the challenges of being an undocumented Mexican laborer. 

23

Writing

    W.5.1

    W.5.1.a

    W.5.1.b

    W.5.1.c

    W.5.1.d

    W.5.9.a

Write a multiple-paragraph essay to describe what life was like for undocumented Mexican laborers and their families.

24

  • Return to Sender pp. 299 – 318

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

Defend if Stars and Swallows is the right name for the farm.

25Essential Task

Discussion

  • Return to Sender

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

    SL.5.1

Compare and contrast Mari and Tyler and the way their relationship impacts both of their lives by stating a theory and supporting it with evidence from the entire text.

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Writing

    RL.5.3

    W.5.1

    W.5.1.a

    W.5.1.b

    W.5.1.c

    W.5.1.d

    W.5.9.a

Write a multiple-paragraph essay comparing and contrasting Mari and Tyler.

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Discussion

  • All unit texts

    RL.5.2

    RL.5.3

    SL.5.1

    SL.5.2

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

28

Assessment

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3 days

Opinion Writing

  • Return to Sender

    W.5.1

    W.5.1.a

    W.5.1.b

    W.5.1.c

    W.5.1.d

    L.5.1.e

Write an opinion piece defending if Mari and her family should have been allowed to stay.

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.5.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.5.1.a — Explain the function of conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections in general and their function in particular sentences.

  • L.5.1.e — Use correlative conjunctions (e.g., either/or, neither/nor).

  • L.5.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • L.5.2.b — Use a comma to separate an introductory element from the rest of the sentence.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.5.1 — Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.5.2 — Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

  • RL.5.3 — Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).

  • RL.5.6 — Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.5.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.5.2 — Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

  • SL.5.3 — Summarize the points a speaker makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence.

  • SL.5.4 — Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

  • SL.5.5 — Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

Writing Standards
  • W.5.1 — Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information

  • W.5.1.a — Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer's purpose.

  • W.5.1.b — Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.

  • W.5.1.c — Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., consequently, specifically).

  • W.5.1.d — Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.

  • W.5.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.

  • W.5.9.a — Apply grade 5 Reading standards to literature (e.g., "Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or a drama, drawing on specific details in the text [e.g., how characters interact]").

Sprial Standards

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L.5.1

L.5.2

L.5.4

L.5.4.b

L.5.5

L.5.6

RF.5.3

RF.5.4

RL.5.1

RL.5.10

RL.5.4

SL.5.1

W.5.10

W.5.4

W.5.5

W.5.6