Watson's Lit Unit

Jenny Olschesky
Literacy in the Intermediate Grades
Literature Unit
April 19, 2011
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham - 1963
Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham is about a family in Flint, MI during the 1960s; the height of the
Civil Rights movement. The Watson’s Go…builds up to the family taking a road trip to Birmingham
where they plan to visit Grandma Sands. While in Birmingham the historic Sixteenth Street Church is
bombed, which is a very real and dark moment in American history. Although serious, the book is full of
humor and historical fiction.
Students will be given a small journal/notebook for this unit. As class we will record certain
pieces of information. For example, students will have a section for themes, vocabulary, discussions,
and writing activities. Students will glue in handouts like the KWL chart, graphic organizers, etc. and will
be able to reference them throughout the unit. An ‘extra/other’ category will be created for students to
add their own thoughts, connections, ideas, comments, questions, etc. This journal will allow students
at their level and let me as teacher see each one’s understanding of the book.
Main Themes
-civil rights
1. Students will be able to relate to a time they felt discriminated again (or left out).
2. Students will increase awareness of the Civil Rights era and all of the challenges that occurred.
3. Students will better understand the importance of not judging others.
4. Students will practice their writing abilities.
5. Students will expand their vocabulary throughout the unit.
Background Knowledge
-introduce/explain/review the Civil Rights movement
-Boycotting/segregation in the south against African Americans
-Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama
-Life as an African American in the 1960s – How it felt
-Differences of life in the North vs. the South
-Discussing Martin Luther King Jr. and his beliefs
Key Vocabulary
Emulate p. 24
Pan(panning) p. 30
Radioactivity p. 39
Pomade p. 48
Windbreaker p. 60
Blanged (slang) p. 76
Jive p. 82
Conk p. 87
Hillbilly p. 126
Dig (slang) p. 134
Crackers and rednecks (references to Whites) p. 146
Sheik p. 149
Cut up (slang) p. 151
Gnashing p. 153
Rabies p. 156
Stingy p. 170
Electrocute p. 179
Magnolia p. 181.
Reputation p. 196
Linoleum p. 203
‘Seriously on the blink’ p. 203
Vocabulary Strategies (3)
1. Four –Fold Vocabulary – This allows students to visualize the word and also use it in their own
Directions: In the first section write the vocabulary word. In the 2nd section, write a definition of the
word in your own words. In the 3rd section, draw a picture or symbol to represent the word. In the 4th
section, the student writes a sentence with the word based on their definition.
*Choose 7 vocabulary words (not slang words) throughout the course of this unit and record in the
spaces below.
Idea from:
Strategy #2 - Cross word puzzle
Method: Students would be given the crossword puzzle with the definitions of each vocabulary word on
it. Each definition will correspond with one of the vocabulary words. Students will be able to have all
words and meanings on one page as they work through the unit.
Strategy #3 - Vocabulary Prediction Chart
Method: I will use this strategy for the slang in the book. There are multiple words in the book that are
common slang words used by African Americans. Some of the words are used because it’s the 1960s
and some are used because they are common vocabulary for blacks. Many students today aren’t
familiar with such words so this prediction chart will help them as they read.
How to use: After you read, go back and write what you think the word means. If correct place a check
mark in ‘after reading.’ If you changed your prediction after you read, write your new definition.
Identify the clue words in the reading that helped you with the definition.
Vocabulary/slang word
Predicted Meaning
After Reading
Clue Words that helped
Comprehension Strategies (3)
1. KWL Chart
I would use the KWL chart after the first chapter or two of the book. I would have students list what
they know from our background discussions in the ‘K’ section. After a beginning the book and
talking about the objectives I would ask them to fill in the ‘W’ section. As we read the book students
will add to the ‘L’ section. The students will be learning in all chapters so I feel this is appropriate to
use for the whole book rather than one specific chapter.
K – Know
W – Want to Know
L – Learned
2. Questioning the Author – Ch. 5
I would use the questions below in the ‘question the author’ strategy. I would use this particular
strategy in Chapter 5 when Byron is playing with matches. This will allow the students to express
their opinions about punishment and consequences.
What is the author trying to tell you?
Why is the author telling you that?
Does the author say it clearly?
How could the author have said things more clearly?
What would you say instead?
3. Descriptive Frame – Chapter 14
I would use the descriptive frame strategy with Ch. 14 when the 16th St. Church bombing occurs. I
would have the ‘church bombing’ in the center frame. The all kinds of words, emotions, and
anything they can write about the topic would then go around the frame.
16th St. Church Bombing
4. Plot Relationships Chart – problems/solutions in the book
I would use this strategy in Chapter 2 when Kenny is worried about people teasing him for his lazy
eye. The suggested solution comes from his brother, Byron.
Graphic Organizers (2)
1. Characterization Chart – see next page (taken from www.abcteach.com)
2. Mood and Tone Chart – see next page (taken from www.freeology.com)
Discussion Questions (15-20 questions)
1. Name three (3) reasons why African Americans were segregated against during the 1960s.
2. Think of the characters in the book. Choose one you can relate to and write/discuss why.
3. Tell me why you think the family is called ‘The Weird Watson’s.’
4. Summarize chapter ___ and identify three (3) things you found out, two (2) interesting things
and one (1) question you still have. (3-2-1 strategy)
5. Describe the Watson’s trip from Flint to Birmingham. Include stops, important conversations,
6. Think about the 16th St. Church bombing in chapter 14. Using what you know and have read
discuss why you think the bombing occurred?
7. Byron is always acting like a tough, older brother who sometimes acts like he doesn’t care about
Kenny. Use what you know to show that Byron has deeper, nicer feelings for his brother.
8. Think of the road trip to Alabama. Pick four (4) spots throughout the trip (in order) to illustrate
your mental picture/thoughts. Bring your drawings and reasoning to the discussion group.
9. Think of Kenny, the main character. Compare yourself to him. Are you more alike? Or different?
10. Ask a series of questions to an adult who was living in the 1960’s. Use their information along
with how you live now in the 2000’s and find similarities and differences.
11. Is Kenny a good friend to Rufus?
12. If you were Mrs. Watson how would you punish Byron for playing with matches?
13. Why do you think it’s hard for Kenny to make friends?
14. Even though the book is serious, there is still humor. What is one of your most favorite
humorous parts in the book? Select a section in the book you think is the funniest.
15. Kenny and his friend Rufus are picked on in the book. How does the teasing affect both of
them? How does it feel to tease someone else?
16. Why do you think Christopher Paul Curtis chose to include the 16th St. Church bombing,
something that actually happened, into a book that is mostly fictional?
17. The church bombing is a very serious part in the book. Have you read or heard about similar
events that have taken place recently? Why do such things happen?
18. Do you think anything can stop these bad things from happening?
Books Similar to The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963
Grade level: 5.5
Interest level: 4-8
Books at the same reading level (5.5):
Silent Thunder: A Civil War Story
By: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Interest level: 5-8, Grade level: 5.8
Fire from the Rock
By: Sharon Draper
Interest level: 6-8, Grade level: 5.4
By: Karen Hesse
Interest level: 6-8, Grade level 5.9
Journey to Jo’Burg
By: Beverly Naidoo
Interest level: 4-8, Grade level 5.5
Hidden Roots
By: Joseph Bruchac
Interest level: 4-7, Grade level: 5.0
Trouble Don’t Last
By: Shelly Pearsall
Interest level: 6-8, Grade level: 5.4
Books 1 to 2 levels below this book:
Walking to the Bus Rider Blues
By: Harriette Gillem Robinet
Interest level: 6-8, Grade level: 4.5
By: William Howard Armstrong
Interest level: 6-8, Grade level: 4.9
The Gold Cadillac
By: Mildred D. Taylor
Interest level: 4-6, Grade level: 4.2
The Rock and the River
By: Kekla Magroon
Interest level: 6-8, Grade level: 3.9
Books 1 to 2 grade level above this book:
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
By: Mildred D. Taylor
Interest level: 4-6, Grade level: 6.9
New Boy
By: Julian Houston
Interest level: 6-8, Grade level: 6.8
The Land
By: Mildred D. Taylor
Interest level: 6-8, Grade level 6.9
Which Way to Freedom
By: Joyce Hansen
Interest level: 4-7, Grade level: 6.5
Picture Books
Amazing Grace
By: Mary Hoffman
Chicken Sunday
By: Patricia Polacco.
Aunt Flossie's Hats (and Crab Cakes Later)
By: Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard.
Four (4) Reading and Writing Activities
1. The book is in memory of the four young girls who lost their lives in the 16th Street Church
bombing. The author, Christopher Paul Curtis says people who died during the Civil Rights
movement are heroes. Do you agree? What is a hero in your mind? And who is someone you
consider a hero? Why?
2. The Watson children meet Grandma Sands in ch.11. Kenny and Joetta have never met her and
have judged her without meeting her. Have you met someone that was like nothing you had
expected? What was the situation and how and what did you find out about the person?
3. What lesson does Byron learn while he’s in Birmingham? Then think of your own life and
lessons you have learned. Write about one that sticks out in your mind.
4. Why does Kenny refer to his family as the ‘Weird Watson’s?’ Think about the beginning of the
book. Then compare and contrast your family with the Watson’s.
Three (3) Poetry Selections
By: Langston Hughes
By what sends
the white kids
I ain't sent:
I know I can't
be President.
What don't bug
them white kids
sure bugs me:
We know everybody
ain't free.
Lies written down
for white folks
ain't for us a-tall:
Liberty And Justice —
Huh! For All?
by: Dudley Randall
Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?"
"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren't good for a little child."
"But, mother, I won't be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free."
"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children's choir."
She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.
The mother smiled to know that her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.
For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.
She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?"
By: Naomi Long Madgett
They said, "Wait." Well, I waited.
For a hundred years I waited
In cotton fields, kitchens, balconies,
In bread lines, at back doors, on chain gangs,
In stinking "colored" toilets
And crowded ghettos,
Outside of schools and voting booths.
And some said, "Later."
And some said, "Never!"
Then a new wind blew, and a new voice
Rode its wings with quiet urgency,
Strong, determined, sure.
"No," it said. "Not 'never,' not 'later."
Not even 'soon.'
And other voices echoed the freedom words,
"Walk together, children, don't get weary,"
Whispered them, sang them, prayed them, shouted them.
And I walked the streets of Montgomery
Until a link in the chain of patient acquiescence broke.
Then again: Sit down!
And I sat down at the counters of Greensboro.
Ride! And I rode the bus for freedom.
Kneel! And I went down on my knees in prayer and faith.
March! And I'll march until the last chain falls
Singing, "We shall overcome."
Not all the dogs and hoses in Birmingham
Nor all the clubs and guns in Selma
Can turn this tide.
Not all the jails can hold these young black faces
From their destiny of manhood,
Of equality, of dignity,
Of the American Dream
A hundred years past due.
Differentiated Instruction – several ideas for this
-the notebooks provided for this unit will allow students to work at their pace/level without others
knowing where s/he is at. I will be able to review the notebook at student conferences and make more
adjustments if necessary.
-if students feel they work better individually they may do so for the road trip project.
-for students who need/want another challenge they can read and interpret one of the poems.
-encourage students to partner read
-have a selection of related books available for students to read, consult, use, etc.
-develop a literature circle. The advanced students could conference with each other and meet with the
teacher 1/week while the other groups meet twice/week.
-find the book on tape/cd/online and allow audio learners to read/follow the book this way.
Five (5) Assessment Activities
1. Group Project
Tracking the road trip – in groups students will create a visual project of the Watson’s road trip
from Flint to Birmingham. They will need to include maps, stops, and important events along
the way, the distance and other relevant information. (25 points possible according to rubric)
Correct Stops
(cities documented)
(key created)
Additional Facts or
(5) detailed map
with correct labels.
Cities, states, major
land marks
(3) includes most
cities and states. Is
missing some detail
(5)all stops made by
(5) an accurate key
(5) the group
(5) middle school
the Watson’s are
is used and mileage
is within 100 miles
included additional
facts about the trip
(3) the group noted
(3) key is accurate,
(3) the group
3-4 stops along the
mileage is off by
100-200 miles
included 2
additional facts
about the trip
effort: polished, 0-1
grammar errors,
(3) neat, 2-3
grammar errors,
(1)detail is missing
(1) the group noted
(1) Key is not
(1) the group
(1) disorganized,
and 4 or more labels
are incorrect
1-2 stops along the
accurate, mileage
off by more than
200 miles
included 1
additional fact about
the trip
messy, 3+ grammar
2. Short Answer/Essay Questions (9 point possible on each questions)
After the first 1/2 of the book students will answer the following questions:
1.What important lesson about friendship and trust did Kenny learn after he laughed at Rufus
on the bus?
2.How did Momma’s “Smokey the Bear” memory impact her reaction to Byron lighting matches
in the house?
3.Do you think Byron is a bully? Why or why not? Support your answer with 3 pieces of evidence
from the book so far.
(3) At least 3 support details are
used to support your answer
Length/Paragraph Structure
(3) Each question is answer in 7
or more sentences.
(2) Two support details are used
to support your answer
(2) Each question is answered in
5-6 sentences.
(1)One piece of support is used
to support your answer
(1) Each question is answered in
less than 5 sentences
(3) The essays are neat, easy to
read. There are 0-1
spelling/grammar errors
(2) The essays are legible, but
areas are hard to read. There are
2-3 spelling/grammar errors.
(1) The essays are messy and
hard to read. There are
3+spelling/grammar errors.
3. Conference with students throughout the unit. This will allow me allow me to check in with students
on their progress throughout the book. I will ask general questions such as:
-Where are you at in the book?
-What are you enjoying about the book?
-Do you wish anything were different in the book?
-What themes have you noticed in your reading?
-Give me a 2 minute summary of your reading since our last conference.
-What connections have you made with the book?
4. Literature Circle Job Sheets
As students complete their ‘jobs’ in their literature circle I will see the understanding, connecting,
comprehending etc. that students are achieving. I will be able to see students who are completely their
jobs accurately and those who might need some extra support.
5. Final Assessment: Book Report
Students will create a book report as their final assessment to the unit. They will be able to work on it
during the duration of the unit and will share their report with the class the final week of the unit.
(See attached report requirements and rubric)
Rubric for Book Report (20 points possible)
Character Piece
(5)Each of the 5
characters in the family
is described in detail
including physical and
(4) Student described 4
family members in
detail including physical
& personality
(3)Student described 3
family members in
detail including physical
& personality
(5) Student supported
their answer and
opinions with 5 strong
details. Opinions are
clearly stated.
(5) Student has 0-1
errors with spelling or
grammar. It’s clear the
student consulted the
book for help.
(4) Student supported
their answer and
opinions with 4 strong
details. Opinions are
(3) Student supported
their answer and
opinions with 3 strong
details. Opinions are
missing in 2+ responses.
(4) Student has 2-3
errors. In some areas it
is evident student used
the book for support.
(2)Student described 2
family members in
detail including physical
& personality
(1)Student described 1
family member 1 in
detail including physical
& personality
(2) Student supported
their answer and
opinions with 2 strong
details. Opinions are
missing in 3+ responses
(1) Student support
their answer and
opinion with 1 detail.
Opinions are missing in
4+ responses.
(2) Student has 5 errors.
Little use of the book
for spelling guidance is
(5) Student used
classroom time and
outside of class time to
complete the report.
Polished and high
(4) Student used
classroom time wisely.
Took home if needed.
Report is neat and
above average.
(3) Student used
classroom time to
complete the report.
Some areas are
complete others might
be lacking effort.
(2) Student used part of
classroom time to
complete. Appearance
is messy, below average
(1) Student didn’t used
classroom time wisely.
Report is unfinished,
messy, low quality.
(3) Student has 4-5
error in the book
report. Student used
the book occasionally.
(1) Student has more
than 5 errors. The book
wasn’t used as a tool
with the book report.
Final Assessment: Book Report
Template for the book report:
Book Title: ________________________________________________
Author: ___________________________________________________
Number of pages: ___________________
Main Characters: ______________________________________________________________________
Setting(s): ____________________________________________________________________________
Point of view – include the point of view the book is written in. Does this point of view work for you as
the reader? Why or why not?
Characters – describe each member of the Watson family. Include their physical and personality
character traits. Also, pick 2 characters to draw/illustrate. This will be a visual for when you present.
Plot – In your words explain/discuss the reason why the Watson’s go to Birmingham and why they
return to Flint.
Conflict – In the book there is conflict between Kenny and Byron. What is the conflict between the two?
Technique - The author included a lot of ‘southern talk/slang/drawl’. How did this affect you as the
Humor – Include and describe the most humorous part of the book. Why did you choose that part?
After reading the Watson’s Go to Birmingham – 1963 and learning about American History along the
way, would you recommend this book for others to read? Why or why not?
ABC Teach, Character Organization. Retrieved April 12, 2011, from www.abcteach.com
Cobb County School District, Vocabulary Activities. Retrieved April 10, 2011, from
Free School Stuff, Vocabulary Strategies. Retrieved April 15, 2011, from www.freeology.com