Developing Resilience: The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963

Students explore the topic of "coming of age" through the story of an African-American boy growing up during the civil rights era, and his family's strong bond in the face of tragedy.

Unit Summary

In this unit, students explore their first historical fiction novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. Students immerse themselves in the civil rights movement as they read about the Watson family’s road trip from Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama. Kenny and his family experience the realities of racial hatred as they witness the (true-life) bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Author Christopher Paul Curtis develops complex, appealing characters and a vivid setting—all while reminding the reader that laughter and familial love are necessary elements to living life and dealing with tragedy. A major focus of the unit is the thematic topic of coming-of-age, which repeats itself in all the books throughout the sixth-grade course. Students will analyze how Kenny and Byron lose their childhood innocence as they learn heavy lessons about death, violence, and racism.

This novel was selected because it takes place during a central moment in the civil rights movement—the church bombing in Birmingham. By putting familiar, fictional characters right into history, students are able to fathom the horror of this tragedy on an emotional level that they would not be able to grasp if reading it in an informational text. In this way, students understand that historical fiction is about accessing history through the perspective of fictional characters in order to more deeply understand the events.

In the 6th grade, students are developing their analytical skills as thinkers and writers. In this first unit of the year, students will focus on writing clear, thoughtful, and well-structured literary analysis, a skill that they will practice and strengthen as the year progresses. The first writing task of this unit is a brief narrative writing task that asks students to think about the way the depiction of a specific scene from the core novel would change if it were told from a different character’s perspective. This task requires that students think about the way an author develops point of view—a skill most closely aligned with reading standard RL.6.6, which is a focus standard of the unit—and try their hand at developing a character’s point of view (W.6.3.A). Along with closely studying the source text for information about events and characters, students must think creatively and originally to successfully complete this task, with a particular emphasis on choosing strong sensory and descriptive details (W.6.3.D).

The first half of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 can be thought of as a collection of vignettes about the joys and challenges of childhood. In the second task, students will transfer the reading skills they have been developing in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 as they read two poems written on the topic of childhood. Thinking about how the author develops tone (RL.6.4), students will develop clear thesis statements (W.6.1.A) and pull out the strongest evidence (W.6.1.B) to support their claims. Students will have to develop claim statements and select the best evidence to support claims nearly every day as they answer their Target Task questions, and so this task allows teachers the opportunity to explicitly teach these skills and provide targeted feedback to students. The culminating writing task in this unit requires that students combine many of the skills they have practiced in the previous two tasks. Students will analyze a speaker’s point of view in a poem and a character in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (RL.6.6), developing a claim comparing the perspectives (W.6.1.A) and supporting it with strong evidence (W.6.1.B). Additionally, students will practice giving feedback to peers and incorporating peer feedback into their own work (W.6.5).

Texts and Materials

Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

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Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 1 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • How do personal and historically significant events shape who a person becomes?
  • How do family dynamics shape a person’s identity?
  • What is resilience, and how does a person heal after trauma?

Reading Enduring Understandings

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  • All experiences in a person’s life, both positive and negative, shape a person’s view of the world and of himself or herself.
  • Segregation and the ensuing civil rights movement were one of the most significant time periods/social movements in the history of the United States—the effects of which still resonate today.
  • Coming of age sometimes includes a loss of innocence—a realization that the world is less simple, kind, or fair than we previously believed.

Notes for Teachers

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  • Students will likely already have a fair amount of schema surrounding the civil rights movement, particularly if they read books from Match curriculum in 5th grade ELA/Social Studies. Be sure to draw on this schema rather than reteach concepts and events with which students are already familiar. Consider asking students to brainstorm what they already know about a specific topic before moving into explicit schema instruction.
  • This unit focuses on a dark chapter in US history. Although these events occurred more than fifty years ago, issues of racial segregation, oppression, and violence are still very much present today. As always, treat these topics with sensitivity to the emotions they may bring up in your students and ensure that your classroom remains a safe space to address difficult but important topics.
  • Question 8 on the unit assessment references the transcript of the interview, "Dion Diamond: Reflections on 60 Years of Civil Rights Activism” by StoryCorps and the photo, "A sit-in demonstration at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Miss., on May 28, 1963” by Fred Blackwell (see unit materials). Be sure to include these with the assessment.
  • 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. Additionally, there is a thinking task or question provided for each evening’s reading. 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).

Lesson Map

1

  • TWGTB pg. 1 – 7 — end reading at “cold can kill you!”

    RL.6.3

Describe how author Christopher Paul Curtis establishes setting in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

2

  • TWGTB pg. 7 – 19 — begin reading at “cold can kill you!”

    RL.6.6

Identify literary point of view and explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the narrator’s unique point of view in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

3

Narrative Writing

  • TWGTB pg. 14 – 19

    RL.6.6

    W.6.3

    W.6.3.a

    W.6.3.b

    W.6.3.d

Complete a rough draft of a narrative, written from Byron’s perspective, that includes descriptive sensory details.

4

  • TWGTB pg. 20 – 31

    RL.6.4

    L.6.4.a

    L.6.4.d

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text by using context clues and check own definitions by consulting the dictionary.

5

  • “Why Are Buses So Conducive to Bullying?”

    RI.6.5

Explain how specific sections of text help to develop author Jeremy Stahl’s ideas about bullying on buses.

6

  • TWGTB pg. 32 – 42

    RL.6.2

Write an objective summary of a section of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

7

  • TWGTB pg. 42 – 54

    RL.6.3

Explain how and why characters respond and change in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

8

  • TWGTB pg. 54 – 63

    RL.6.3

Explain how and why characters respond and change in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

9

  • TWGTB pg. 64 – 74

    RL.6.4

Describe how specific words and phrases help to develop the mood and tone of a scene in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

10

  • TWGTB pg. 75 – 85

    RL.6.6

Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the point of view of his narrator and other characters in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

11

  • TWGTB pg. 86 – 99

    RL.6.2

Write an objective summary of a section of text in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

12

  • TWGTB pg. 100 – 113

    RL.6.6

Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the point of view of his narrator and other characters in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

13

  • TWGTB pg. 114 – 120

    RL.6.4

Describe how specific words and phrases help to develop the mood and tone of a scene in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

14

Literary Analysis Writing

  • “Nikki-Rosa”

  • “[in Just-]”

    RL.6.4

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.b

Determine the tone developed in two poems and identify the specific words and phrases that develop tone in each. 

15

Literary Analysis Writing

  • “Nikki-Rosa”

  • “[in Just-]”

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.a

    W.6.1.b

Write a strong thesis statement and support it with multiple pieces of evidence and clear analysis.

16

  • TWGTB pg. 121 – 130

    RL.6.3

Explain how and why characters respond and change in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

17

  • TWGTB pg. 130 – 137 — focus on entire chapter

    RL.6.2

Write an objective summary of a section of The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

18

  • The Negro Motorist...

  • Green Book...

    RI.6.7

Explain the purpose and impact of The Green Book using text, audio, and visual resources.

19

  • TWGTB pg. 138 – 148

    RL.6.4

Identify the mood in specific scenes in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 and pull out specific words and phrases that help to develop that mood.

20

  • TWGTB pg. 149 – 161

    RL.6.6

Explain how author Christopher Paul Curtis develops the point of view of his narrator in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

21

  • TWGTB pg. 162 – 168

    RL.6.3

Explain how and why characters respond and change in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

22

  • TWGTB pg. 169 – 179

    RL.6.2

Provide an objective summary of a section of the novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

Explain the literary concept of symbolism and identify symbols in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.

23

  • “Segregation Forever”

  • Segregated Laundry...

  • At Segregated...

  • Firemen...

  • Police dogs...

    RI.6.7

Explain the purpose and impact of George Wallace’s “Segregation Forever” speech using text and photographic resources.

24

  • TWGTB pg. 180 – 190

    RL.6.4

    RL.6.6

Explain how the author uses imagery to develop Kenny’s perspective in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 and determine whether or not Kenny is a reliable narrator.

25

  • TWGTB pg. 191 – 206

    RL.6.3

    RL.6.6

Identify Kenny’s point of view and explain how it changes over the course of a chapter and the text overall.

26

  • “Six Dead...”

  • “16th Street Baptist...”

    RI.6.7

Explain the events of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and its aftermath using text and visual resources.

27

Socratic Seminar

  • TWGTB

  • Socratic Seminar Guide

    SL.6.1

    SL.6.1.b

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

28

Literary Analysis Writing

  • TWGTB pg. 202 – 203

  • “Mother to Son”

    RL.6.6

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.a

Determine a speaker’s perspective on resilience and craft a thesis statement in response to the writing prompt.

29

Literary Analysis Writing

  • TWGTB pg. 202 – 203

  • “Mother to Son”

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.b

Gather strong evidence to support claim statements and draft two body paragraphs.

30

Literary Analysis Writing

  • TWGTB pg. 202 – 203

  • “Mother to Son”

    W.6.1

    W.6.1.a

    W.6.5

Draft strong introductory paragraphs, provide feedback to a classmate on their essay, and incorporate feedback into own work.

31

2 days

Assessment

  • “Dion Diamond” — transcript

  • “Assessment Photo”

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • 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).

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.6.5 — Analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas.

  • RI.6.7 — Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

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.6.6 — 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.

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.6.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

  • W.6.3.a — Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

  • W.6.3.b — Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

  • W.6.3.d — Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.

  • W.6.5 — With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.