Units of Study

Unit 1 - Testing our Limits
Unit Title: Testing Our Limits
Essential Question: What do we do when life gets hard?
Genre Focus: Fiction
Extended Writing Project: Narrative

What do we do when life gets hard? How do we respond in a difficult situation? What do we do when our limits are tested? How do we face a challenge? What actions can we take to solve a problem? How can we overcome feelings of sadness, stress, or fear?

These are the questions your students will explore in this Grade 6 unit, which focuses on the genre of fiction.

Life is full of challenges, and some are harder than others. What we choose to do or say in the face of these challenges often varies based on the challenge itself. Sometimes we choose to respond to challenges by attempting something that we have never done before, something that might even scare us a little. Climbing a mountain or running a marathon are challenges that people can choose to face. Often, however, life presents us with difficulties when people least expect it, such as an emergency or a crisis.

Texts within the unit’s genre and across other genres present different perspectives on responding to life’s unexpected difficulties. Deza Malone in Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Mighty Miss Malone must deal with the events of the Great Depression when it tears her family apart. In Avi’s short story “Scout’s Honor” three Boy Scouts from Brooklyn learn a humbling lesson when their limits are tested on a camping trip. After reading about how these and other characters respond when their lives are upended, your students will try their own hands at writing a short story, applying what they have learned about dealing with life’s challenges to their own narrative writing projects. Throughout this unit, students will explore the different reasons and ways in which people make decisions and take action when life turns out to be tougher than expected.
Unit Texts:
  • Eleven (Fiction)
  • The Mighty Miss Malone (Fiction)
  • Red Scarf Girl (Informational Text)
  • Hatchet (Fiction)
  • The Magic Marker Mystery (Drama)
  • Scout’s Honor (Fiction)
  • Good Samaritan (Fiction)
  • Jabberwocky (Poetry)
  • Gathering Blue (Fiction)
  • A Wrinkle in Time (Fiction)
Unit 3 - In the Dark
Unit Title: In the Dark
Essential Question: How do you know what to do when there are no instructions?
Genre Focus: Informational Text
Extended Writing Project: Informative

Darkness is associated with the unknown and the unknowable. It can be real, like an unexplored cave, or something like the unknown events that the future may bring. Darkness inspires fear and encourages uncertainty, yet some people find it safer to remain there. They would rather be “in the dark” than to take steps to try and “see the light.”

Is darkness a place to live in, run from, or explore? What qualities does a person need in order to “face the darkness”? How does facing the darkness affect or change a person? How does one finally reach the decision to take action in the face of uncertainty?

This unit offers a mixture of texts, both fiction and informational, about people that face uncertainty, including the classic myth “Heroes Every Child Should Know: Perseus,” Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, Pat Mora’s “Elena,” “I, Too” by Langston Hughes, and Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot. Informational texts by and about real individuals include Madeleine L’Engle’s speech “Dare to be Creative!” and the texts Hatshepsut: His Majesty, Herself by Catherine M. Andronik, Randall Munroe’s essay “Everybody Jump,” “Margaret Bourke-White: Fearless Photographer,” and “Donna O’Meara: The Volcano Lady.”

After reading the stories and informational texts about individuals and characters that take action in the face of uncertainty, students will have the opportunity to write an informative essay. In their essays, students will identify three individuals or characters from the unit texts and explore their motivations.
Unit Texts:
  • Heroes Every Child Should Know: Perseus (Fiction)
  • The Lightning Thief (Fiction)
  • Elena (Poetry)
  • Hatshepsut: His Majesty, Herself (Informational)
  • I, Too (Poetry)
  • Everybody Jump (from What If?) (Informational)
  • Hoot (Fiction)
  • Donna O’Meara: The Volcano Lady (Informational)
  • Dare to be Creative! (Informational)
  • Margaret Bourke-White: Fearless Photographer (Informational)
Unit 4 - Personal Best
Unit Title: Personal Best
Essential Question: Which qualities of character matter most?
Genre Focus: Argumentative Text
Extended Writing Project: Argumentative

In sports, the phrase “personal best” refers to an athlete’s greatest achievement—the fastest race, the highest jump, the perfect score. For most of us, however, “personal best” refers to those moments when we act in a noble or just way. They are moments when we can feel proud of ourselves for having done the right thing—like standing up for our principles or sticking up for people in need.

What qualities of character do people need in order to achieve their personal best? Must one make sacrifices or face big challenges in order to reach it? Once a personal best is attained, does that moment define a person for the rest of his or her life? When people become known for their personal best, how does fame affect them and their character?

This unit offers a mixture of texts about real individuals and fictional characters who achieve their personal best through wrestling with familiar and realistic struggles. Real-life personal bests are recounted in the autobiography I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. Authors share their perspectives on the qualities of empathy, understanding, and righteousness in “Bullying in Schools,” Freedom Walkers, and “Celebrities as Heroes.” In the stories “All Summer in a Day” and “Priscilla and the Wimps,” characters are forced by unusual circumstances to stand up for what’s right.

After reading these stories and informational texts about individuals and characters that strive for their personal best, students will have the opportunity to write a literary analysis argumentative essay. In their essays, students will identify two unit texts that they think develop a main idea or theme that communicates the qualities of character that matter most.
Unit Texts:
  • I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Informational)
  • Malala Yousafzai - Nobel Lecture (Informational)
  • Priscilla and the Wimps (Fiction)
  • All Summer in a Day (Fiction)
  • Bullying in Schools (Argumentative)
  • Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Informational)
  • Letter to Xavier High School (Informational)
  • Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970 (Informational)
  • Celebrities as Heroes (Argumentative)
  • Famous (Poetry)
Unit 6 - True to Yourself
Unit Title: True to Yourself
Essential Question: Who are you meant to be?
Genre Focus: Realistic Fiction
Extended Writing Project: Mixed Writing Types

Realistic fiction reflects modern life, and modern life is full of questions about who we are and what our place is in the world. In fact, many readers turn to realistic fiction in search of answers to some of life’s problems. By following the problems of characters in a novel or short story, or reading about real individuals and their search for their own truth, readers get a chance to explore options for themselves.

What does it mean to be true to yourself? How does a person find his or her true self? What do readers learn when they study and analyze fictional characters and real-life individuals who are in search of themselves? How does reading stories help readers figure out who they are themselves?

This unit offers a variety of literature and nonfiction texts about individuals and characters in search of their true selves. The autobiography I Never Had It Made reveals how Jackie Robinson faced and overcame the challenges of being the first African-American Major League Baseball player in order to pave the way for future athletes and, in doing so, discovered his own true strengths. In the poem “Rosa,” Rita Dove drills to the core of the who Rosa Parks was and what her actions have meant for Americans. In Touching Spirit Bear and Brave, young boys face serious obstacles as they proceed to discover who they and what they want.

After reading these literary and nonfiction texts about individuals and characters in search of their true selves, students will have the opportunity to practice mixed writing types.  Writing prompts will be offered for each type and centered around the unit's readings. Students will analyze their writing performance throughout the year and will practice to strengthen their weakest form.
Unit Texts:
  • Bronx Masquerade (Fiction)
  • A BEACON of Hope: The Story of Hannah Herbst (Informational)
  • Shree Bose: Never Too Young to Change the World (Informational)
  • Letter to His Daughter (Informational)
  • The Story Behind the Bus (Informational)
  • Rosa (Poetry)
  • Rosa Parks: My Story (Informational)
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery (Informational)
  • Brave (Graphic Novel)
  • I Never Had It Made (Informational)
  • Touching Spirit Bear (Fiction)