Introducing a Thematic Concept in This Unit: The “Invisibility” of Captives during WWII | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2012 G8:M3A:U2:L2

Introducing a Thematic Concept in This Unit: The “Invisibility” of Captives during WWII

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Long Term Learning Targets

  • I can analyze figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. (L.8.5)
  • I can determine a theme or the central idea of an informational text. (RI.8.2)

Supporting Targets

  • I can analyze nuances in word meanings and the word choice an author selects, which both contribute to the meaning and tone of the text.
  • I can determine a thematic concept in Unbroken

Ongoing Assessment

  • Unbroken structured notes, pages 169-181 (from homework)


AgendaTeaching Notes

1. Opening

A. Engaging the Reader: Structured Notes Vocabulary (7 minutes)
B. Reviewing Learning Targets (1 minute)

2. Work Time

A. Introducing a "Thematic Concept in This Unit: The "Invisibility of Captives during WWII (35 minutes)

3. Closing and Assessment

A. Preview Homework (2 minute)

4. Homework

A. Read pages 181-183 (halfway), skip second half of page 183 and 184, and read pages 184-188 in Unbroken. Complete the structured notes.

  • This lesson introduces a thematic concept students will study throughout Unit 2: the "invisibility" of captives during WWII. Invisibility will be defined in two ways: isolation from the outside world and dehumanization or loss of dignity. In this lesson, students study one aspect of invisibility: isolation from the outside world. This understanding will link back to one of the module's guiding questions: "How does war affect individuals and societies?"
  • A theme is the central topic of a text. Themes can be divided into two categories:

1. A thematic concept, which is what readers often think the text is about, and

2. A thematic statement, which is what the text says about a subject or topic.

  • (Source:
  • In Unit 2, students examine a thematic concept from Unbroken and the text "The Life of Mine Okubo."
  • Students also examine Hillenbrand's word choice and nuances of word meaning by sorting pairs of words with positive and negative connotations. You will provide an explanation about word choice, which supports students as they analyze Hillenbrand's word choice more independently and transfer this thinking to their word choices in their own writing. Building on their work in Module 1, students are encouraged to provide sound reasoning to explain their thinking as they analyze the connotations of words.
  • Review: Give One, Get One protocol (see Appendix).
  • Post: Learning targets.


connotation, thematic concept, invisibility, captive (n); embrace (170), chastised (172), gaped (173), heaved (174), yanked (174), stench (174)


  • Word Connotation T-chart (one per student)
  • Unbroken (book; one per student)
  • Understanding Invisibility note-catcher (one per student; one to display)
  • Document camera
  • Unbroken structured notes, pages 181-188 (one per student)
  • Unbroken supported structured notes, pages 181-188 (optional; only for students who need more support)
  • Unbroken Structured Notes Teacher Guide, pages 181-188 (for teacher reference)


OpeningMeeting Students' Needs

A. Engaging the Reader: Structured Notes Vocabulary (7 minutes)

  • Invite students to pair up with their Okinawa discussion partner. List the following pairs of words on the board:

-    embrace--grip

-    chastised--disciplined

-    gaped--stared

-    heaved--lifted

-    yanked--removed

-    stench--odor

  • Invite students to sort the words by copying them down on the Word Connotation T-chart, placing each word under either the "positive" or "negative" column. Explain that connotation means a feeling or association one has with a word. Say: "For example, in the word pair, 'embrace--grip,' which word might you place under positive? negative? Why?" Invite students to respond with their reasoning.
  • Give students several minutes to sort the words and then share their answers with the class.
  • Draw students' attention to the first learning target and read aloud:

* "I can analyze nuances in word meanings and the word choice an author selects, which both contribute to the meaning and tone of the text." 

  • Explain that Hillenbrand chose to use specific words in her writing to create an experience for the reader through vivid details. As an example, explain that the word stench captures the horrible filth and smell of the cell best.
  • Additional modeling may be required. Modeling provides a clear vision of the expectation for students.

B.  Reviewing Learning Targets (1 minute)

  • Read aloud the second learning target:

* "I can determine a thematic concept in Unbroken." 

  • Have students turn and talk about what they understand the word theme to mean.
  • Cold call student pairs to share out. Be sure they understand that a theme in literature is an aspect of the human experience that the author expresses through writing. Explain that a thematic concept is what readers think the text is about, and that a piece of writing can have more than one theme. Sometimes a theme is open to interpretation by the reader. Share with students that this lesson introduces one thematic concept in Unbroken that will help them understand and answer one of the guiding questions for the module: "How does war and conflict impact individuals and societies?" War and conflict have profound and varied effects on different individuals.

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. Introducing a Thematic Concept in This Unit: The Invisibility of Captives during WWII (35 minutes)

  • Be sure students have their text, Unbroken. Invite them to share with their partner the gist of what they read for homework.
  • Cold call student pairs to share the gist and be sure they mention that Louie and Phil find themselves caught in Japanese waters, near Japanese-held islands, and are taken prisoner. They are given food, water, and care on board a Japanese ship but are soon transported to Execution Island, where they are separated and forced into tiny, wretched cells.
  • Ask:

* "What precaution did the Japanese take when transporting Louie and Phil onto the ship and then later on when transporting them onto the truck on Execution Island? Why was such a precaution taken?"

  • Have students turn and talk about these questions.
  • Cold call student pairs to respond. Be sure they identify that Louie and Phil were blindfolded when being transported both times. The Japanese may have done this to prevent Louie and Phil from knowing where they were, to protect Japanese war secrets, or to disorient and confuse the captives.
  • Distribute the Understanding Invisibility note-catcher to students and display a copy using a document camera. Reorient students to each of the four boxes and explain that they will learn about the invisibility of captives during WWII and will use this organizer to help them.
  • Cold call on several students to define the word captive. Be sure students understand a captive may be a prisoner or someone held against his or her will. Connect this word to the verb "to capture."
  • Next, have students turn and talk to answer the question:

* "What is the literal definition of the word invisibility?"  

  • Allow students several minutes to turn and talk. Have them search pages 170-181 to find two strong examples of how Louie's captors tried to make him invisible, and record the example and page number on the organizer. Encourage students to notice that being captured isolated Louie from the outside world, thus making him "invisible" in one sense.
  • After several minutes, have students stand up. In a brief Give One, Get One protocol, circulate around the room to share the examples they found and add two more examples to their Understanding Invisibility note-catcher.
  • Ask students to return to their seats. Ask them to Think-Pair-Share to compare Louie's invisibility as a captive to his visibility as a free man. Listen for them to notice that as a free man, Louie was a very visible presence in Torrance, known for wild ways as a child; then he was very visible as world-famous athlete.
  • Ask students to turn and talk:

* "What is an ironic moment where invisibility and visibility happen at the same time for Louie?"

  • If necessary, remind students that ironic means surprising.
  • Cold call student pairs to respond; listen for them to recognize that while alone in the small cell, deep in invisibility, a Japanese guard recognizes him as the famous runner.
  • Visuals or graphics on handouts can aid students in processing or understanding key ideas.
  • Research indicates that cold calling improves student engagement and critical thinking. Prepare students for this strategy by discussing the purpose, giving appropriate think time, and indicating that this strategy will be used before students are asked questions.
  • Some students may benefit from being privately prompted before they are called upon in a cold call. Although cold calling is a participation technique that necessitates random calling, it is important to set a supportive tone to ensure a positive experience for all

Closing & Assessments


A. Preview Homework (2 minutes)

  • Distribute the Unbroken structured notes, pages 181-188, as well as the Unbroken supported structured notes, pages 181-188 as needed, keeping a copy of the Unbroken Structured Notes Teacher Guide, pages 181-188(for teacher reference).
  • Preview the homework; point out that students should skip certain sections of the text. Read the focus question aloud:

* "Reread the last paragraph on page 182 through to the page break on page 183. According to Hillenbrand, dignity was the one thing that kept Louie and Phil going and it was also the one thing the guards sought to destroy. According to the text, what makes dignity so powerful?"


  • Read pages 181-183 (halfway), skip second half of page 183 and 184, and read pages 184-188 in Unbroken. Complete the structured notes.

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