Challenging Authority: The Giver

Students explore the topic of "coming of age" through the story of one boy's life in a dystopian future, and his growing understanding that the world around him is not what it appears.

Unit Summary

In this unit, students read Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal–winning novel The Giver. This novel, which has quickly become part of the essential canon of young adult fiction, is set in a highly controlled, seemingly perfect, futuristic world. The society has been stripped of colors, love, pain, and conflict by converting to the notion of “Sameness,” a philosophy that eliminates emotional depth and individuality. The novel explores twelve-year-old Jonas’s experience with memories of the past—a time much like the reader’s present day—in which people still had the freedom to make decisions for themselves. Jonas struggles to cope with all his new overwhelming emotions and must decide whether individual freedoms are worth experiencing pain and suffering.

In addition to being a cornerstone of the genre of dystopian fiction, The Giver is a powerful coming-of-age story. In spite of the unfamiliar setting, students will strongly relate to 12-year-old Jonas’s developing understanding of the world around him. Over the course of the text, Jonas progressively loses his innocence, coming to realize that ignorance is not, in fact, bliss. This text will provide ample opportunity for students to grapple with the essential question of the 6th grade curriculum: how do challenges and hardships shape a young person’s identity and understanding of the world?

This unit will introduce and reinforce a number of important literary concepts, including the structure of narrative texts (exposition, rising action, climax, etc.), foreshadowing, and the difference between connotation and denotation. This rich, complex text provides students with the opportunity to practice a number of 6th-grade standards, including character development and the way authors use language to develop meaning.

In addition to reading The Giver, this unit pulls in several nonfiction texts that bring the questions raised in the novel into the context of the present day. Students will have the opportunity to read about two hotly debated issues: taxing sugary beverages and euthanasia. These texts will present students with the chance to think about the way writers establish their perspective on controversial issues, develop their positions, and support key points they make in supporting their point of view. Students will consider both sides of these complex issues and use nonfiction texts to develop and support their own opinions.

In this second unit for 6th grade, students will complete their first informational writing task and continue to practice writing strong literary analysis. In the first writing prompt, students will read several nonfiction texts on a contentious issue—the implementation of taxes on sugary beverages—and then write a newspaper article in which they summarize the issue for an audience of their peers. Students will practice drawing information from multiple sources in order to create a comprehensive article (W.6.7) and will work to organize that information in a way that is logical and clear for readers (W.6.2.A). This task focuses on students’ use of examples, definitions, and quotations in their own writing. In the second writing task, students will continue to develop their argumentative writing skills with a literary analysis task. This task reinforces skills introduced in the first unit—writing strong thesis statements and providing sufficient evidence from the text (W.6.1.A and W.6.1.B)—which students also get the opportunity to practice during their daily target task writing. Additionally, this task builds student skill by providing  instruction around strong introductory and concluding paragraphs (W.6.1.E).

Texts and Materials

Core Materials

  • Book: The Giver by Lois Lowry (HMH Books for Young Readers, 1993)   —  760L

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Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • What is a utopia? What is a dystopia? Is a utopia possible?
  • Is it worth sacrificing freedom, choice, and individuality for peace, contentment, and ease?
  • Why are memories and emotions so important?

Reading Enduring Understandings

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  • Knowledge of the past is essential for fully understanding the present moment and pushes us to think about what it means to be human.
  • People have differing ideas about whether people should have full autonomy to make choices about their lives.
  • Authors of dystopian fiction encourage readers to think critically about the world around them. Dystopian fiction serves as a warning about what is happening and what could potentially happen.

Notes for Teachers

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  • Students should regularly return back to the definitions of utopia/dystopia that they learned in the first lesson of this unit, particularly as different aspects of Jonas’s community become evident. Because there are several big “reveals” in the text, try to keep them secret as much as possible (some students may have seen the recent movie, so ask that they not spoil the book for those who haven’t seen it).
  • There are very mild references to sexuality in this text. The most controversial issue discussed in this unit is euthanasia, which may raise significant debate among your students. Because this debate has strong roots in religious beliefs, approach this topic with sensitivity.
  • Each lesson plan lists the homework for that evening; the vast majority of the time the assignment is for students to read and take notes on the pages of focus for the following day’s class. Students should come to class prepared with a literal understanding of the reading in preparation for closely rereading shorter sections of text during that class period. For homework accountability, it is recommended that teachers check students’ reading notes each day to ensure that they read and understood the gist of the chapter. Additionally, teachers may wish to assign a short written response to the homework thinking task to bring to class the following day. Another option is to give a quick homework check quiz at the beginning of each class (3–6 questions assessing literal understanding).
  • Questions 7-9 on the unit assessment reference the article, "Photo databases that police use might ignore people's right to privacy" (see unit materials). Be sure to include this article with the assessment.

Lesson Map

1

  • “How to...”

  • “Dystopias”

    RI.6.1

Explain the characteristics, purpose, and development of the genre of dystopian fiction.

2

  • The Giver — chapter 1

    RL.6.5

Explain how specific sentences and passages in the first chapter of The Giver help establish the setting.

3

  • The Giver — chapter 2

    RL.6.5

Explain how the second chapter of The Giver fits into the overall structure of the novel and identify how specific sentences and scenes help develop the setting of the text.

4

  • The Giver — chapters 3-4

    RL.6.4

    L.6.4.a

    L.6.4.d

Determine the meaning of unknown words in The Giver and explain the impact of specific words and phrases on mood and tone.

5

  • The Giver — chapters 1-5

    RL.6.3

Explain what kind of person Jonas is based on the way he responds to specific events and to his environment in chapters 1–5 of The Giver.

6

  • The Giver — chapter 6

    RL.6.4

    L.6.4.a

    L.6.4.d

Determine the meaning of unknown words in chapter 6 of The Giver and identify specific words and phrases that develop mood.

7

  • The Giver — chapter 7

    RL.6.5

Explain how specific passages from chapter 7 develop the setting and plot of the text overall.

8

  • The Giver — chapter 8

    RL.6.4

    L.6.5.c

Identify the connotative differences between words of similar denotations and explain how specific words help to develop the mood in chapter 8 of The Giver.

9

  • The Giver — chapter 9

    RL.6.5

Explain the role of specific sentences and passages from chapter 9 of The Giver in developing the plot.

10

  • The Giver — chapter 10

    RL.6.1

Draw conclusions from events and details in chapter 10 of The Giver and support those conclusions with evidence from the text.

11

  • The Giver — chapter 11

    RL.6.3

Explain how Jonas responds to and changes as a result of his first visit with The Giver.

12

  • The Giver — chapter 12

    RL.6.3

Describe how Jonas continues to change as a result of his interactions with The Giver.

13

  • The Giver — chapter 13

    RL.6.2

Explain how author Lois Lowry develops several central ideas in chapter 13 of The Giver.

14

Informative Writing

  • “Soda Tax Pros and Cons List”

  • “Soda Tax...”

  • “The 'Nanny State'...”

  • “Soda Taxes...”

    RI.6.1

    RI.6.2

    W.6.2

    W.6.2.f

    W.6.7

Gather information on soda taxes and arguments on both sides of the soda tax debate.

15

Informative Writing

  • “Soda Tax Pros and Cons List”

  • “Soda Tax...”

  • “The 'Nanny State'...”

  • “Soda Taxes...”

    W.6.2

    W.6.2.a

    W.6.2.b

    W.6.2.f

Plan the structure of articles by looking at different models.

16

Informative Writing

  • “Soda Tax Pros and Cons List”

  • “Soda Tax...”

  • “The 'Nanny State'...”

  • “Soda Taxes...”

    W.6.2

    W.6.2.a

    W.6.2.b

    W.6.2.f

Draft strong informational articles, including definitions, quotations, and facts.

17

  • The Giver — chapters 14-15

    RL.6.4

Identify the mood or tone of specific passages of chapters 14 and 15 of The Giver and explain how the author establishes this.

18

  • The Giver — chapter 16

    RL.6.3

Explain how and why Jonas has changed over the course of The Giver.

19

  • The Giver — chapter 17

    RL.6.3

Explain how and why Jonas’s experiences with The Giver have changed his perspective of the world around him.

20

  • The Giver — chapter 18

    RL.6.5

Explain how chapter 18 of The Giver—and specific passages within the chapter—fit into the structure of the text overall and develops the plot.

21

  • The Giver — chapter 19

    RL.6.3

    RL.6.4

Explain how Jonas’s understanding of release changes over the course of chapter 19.

Explain how specific words and phrases develop the tone and mood in a scene.

22

  • The Giver — chapter 20

    RL.6.3

    RL.6.5

Explain how Jonas has changed as a result of the realizations he makes at the climax of the text.

23

  • The Giver — chapter 21

    RL.6.4

Explain how Lowry uses words and phrases to develop mood in chapter 21 of The Giver.

24

  • The Giver — chapters 22–23

    RL.6.3

    RL.6.5

Describe the changes in Jonas’s character at the resolution of The Giver.

25

  • The Giver — whole text

    RL.6.2

Determine overall themes for the novel The Giver and provide details that support those themes.

26

  • “Ethics of Euthanasia”

  • “In U.S.” — (first 5 paragraphs)

    RI.6.3

Explain how authors introduce and support key ideas in two articles about euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

27

  • “Pro/Con Euthanasia” — Pro 1, Pro 5, Con 1, and Con 2

    RI.6.6

Determine an author’s purpose in writing about the euthanasia debate.

28

Socratic Seminar

  • The Giver

  • Socratic Seminar Guide

    SL.6.1.b

    SL.6.1.d

Engage in a Socratic Seminar with classmates, using previous feedback to set goals and reflect on their performance in the seminar and paraphrasing the ideas of peers.  

29

Literary Analysis Writing

  • “Dystopias”

  • The Giver

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.b

Select appropriate examples and evidence from The Giver that demonstrate characteristics of a dystopia.

30

Literary Analysis Writing

  • “Dystopias”

  • The Giver

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.a

    W.6.1.b

Develop a clear thesis statement and draft body paragraphs with sufficient evidence.

31

Literary Analysis Writing

  • “Dystopias”

  • The Giver

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.a

    W.6.1.e

Draft introductory and conclusion paragraphs and complete essays.

32

2 days

Assessment

  • “Photo databases”

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.6.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • L.6.4.a — Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

  • L.6.4.d — Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

  • L.6.5.c — Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., stingy, scrimping, economical, unwasteful, thrifty).

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.6.1 — Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RI.6.2 — Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

  • RI.6.3 — Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).

  • RI.6.6 — Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.6.1 — Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.6.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

  • RL.6.3 — Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

  • RL.6.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

  • RL.6.5 — Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.

  • RL.6.6 — Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.6.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.6.1.b — Follow rules for collegial discussions, set specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.

  • SL.6.1.d — Review the key ideas expressed and demonstrate understanding of multiple perspectives through reflection and paraphrasing.

Writing Standards
  • W.6.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • W.6.1.a — Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.

  • W.6.1.b — Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

  • W.6.1.e — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the argument presented.

  • W.6.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content

  • W.6.2.a — Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

  • W.6.2.b — Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

  • W.6.2.f — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the information or explanation presented.

  • W.6.7 — Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.