Build Background: William Kamkwamba and Design Thinking | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2019 G6:M2:U1

Build Background: William Kamkwamba and Design Thinking

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Students begin a new anchor text in Unit 1, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. This text introduces students to the module topic of critical problems and design solutions by presenting the story of William Kamkwamba, a Malawian boy whose community endures a devastating drought and famine. To address this critical problem, William builds a windmill that produces electricity and helps make his family and community less vulnerable to the consequences of future droughts. Over the course of the unit, students identify the elements of design thinking that guide William in the construction of his windmill, as well as the habits of character (e.g., initiative, perseverance, and compassion) that William demonstrates throughout his many setbacks and restarts. Carefully sequenced tasks throughout Unit 1 invite students to analyze how central ideas are conveyed in each chapter of the text and examine the methods used by the writers to introduce William and develop his character. This work prepares students for the Mid-Unit 1 Assessment.

In the second half of Unit 1, a close read supports students' comprehension of a supplemental informational text, focusing on central idea and vocabulary. Through two Language Dives, students determine the figurative meaning of language used in the anchor text and use surrounding context as a clue to the meaning of unfamiliar words. As students continue to read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, they determine how the textual structure of the chapters helps to convey meaning. They also review principles of effective summary writing. This work prepares students for the end of unit assessment.

At the end of Unit 1, students deepen their understanding of the design thinking process and use a note-catcher to track the steps of William's design thinking. The unit closes with a text-based discussion that introduces students to the protocol that will be used in the End of Unit 3 Assessment.

Please note: For the 6-8 Language Arts Curriculum, there are Teaching Notes for each unit that contain helpful information for supporting English language learners. These overview notes complement the more specific English language learner supports and differentiated materials within each lesson. You will find the Teaching Notes in the Unit download below.

CCS Standards

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Critical Problems and Design Solutions
  • Task: 
    • Answer selected response questions about vocabulary in context, central idea, and methods used by the writers to develop the readers' understanding of William's character in a new chapter of the anchor text (mid-unit assessment).
    • Answer selected response and constructed response questions about figurative language in context, central idea and summary, chapter structure and the contribution of single sentences to the development of ideas, and methods used by the writers to develop the readers' understanding of William's character in a new chapter of the anchor text (end of unit assessment).
  • Targets: RI.6.1, RI.6.2, RI.6.3, RI.6.4, RI.6.5, W.6.7, W.6.8, W.6.10, L.6.4a, L.6.5a
  • Texts: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; "William Kamkwamba's Electric Wind" by Cynthia Levinson; "How I Built a Windmill," A TED Talk with William Kamkwamba.


Each unit in the 6-8 Language Arts Curriculum has two standards-based assessments built in, one mid-unit assessment and one end of unit assessment. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize students' understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Habits of Character/Social-Emotional Learning Focus

Central to the EL Education curriculum is a focus on "habits of character" and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service).

In this unit, students work to become effective learners by taking initiative during collaborative activities and discussion protocols that include minimal teacher participation. They show responsibility by carefully and independently prereading chapters of the anchor text before examining them during class time. They work to become effective learners by showing perseverance as they read large portions of the text and add ideas to detailed note-catchers over time. Students work to become ethical people by showing empathy and compassion towards the Malawians' suffering as a result of the famine described in the text. By digging into the question of what makes a problem critical, students practice extending empathy to other communities and individuals facing a wide range of critical problems. They show compassion towards their classmates as the text brings up personal connections and reflections that may be difficult for others to share.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 10-18 lessons. The Unit-at-a-Glance charts, available on the grade-level landing pages, break down each unit's lessons, showing CCS standards, agenda breakdown, daily learning targets, and ongoing assessments. The charts also indicate which lessons include mid- and end of unit assessments and the performance task.

Texts and Resources to Buy

Texts and resources that need to be procured. Please download the Required Trade Books and Resources Procurement List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition)
by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
one per student
ISBN: 9780147510426

Preparation and Materials

Prepare the Module Guiding Questions anchor chart (see Module Overview page) and the Performance Task anchor chart for Module 2 (see the Module Overview page for the Performance Task download)

Prepare new vocabulary logs and independent reading journals for Module 2.

Ensure that families are aware of any sensitive content in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and prepare students who may be affected by this content in advance.

The following materials are introduced in this unit and referenced throughout both the module and the school year:

  • Dance cards
  • Author's Methods anchor chart
  • Structure anchor chart


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