Collaboration in the Harlem Renaissance | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2019 G7:M3:U1

Collaboration in the Harlem Renaissance

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Students begin the unit exploring collaboration in the Harlem Renaissance, noting how the Harlem Renaissance was an explosion and confluence of art, music, and literature. Throughout the first half of the unit, students explore literary texts, and the art and music they inspired, to develop their ability to compare and contrast these versions and analyze the effects of techniques unique to each medium and note thematic connections. First, students examine scenes and songs from the iconic Broadway musical Shuffle Along. They experience this celebratory text, which transformed American musical theater and was created through the collaboration of Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, F. E. Miller, and Aubrey Lyles. Students analyze the text’s literary techniques, including figurative language such as allusion and metaphor. Next, students analyze the songs’ musical techniques—volume, tone, and tempo—noting how the musical and textual techniques affect meaning and develop themes such as love persevering through tough times. For the mid-unit assessment, students examine the thematic connections between the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson and the song and sculpture inspired by the text. Students compare the different versions, analyzing the effects of the techniques unique to each medium and how they develop themes around how black Americans collaborate to survive, thrive, and create art.

In the second half of the unit, students continue exploring Harlem Renaissance literature by analyzing poems that develop themes about drawing strength from the past and persevering to achieve dreams. First, students analyze “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes, learning how the structure and figurative language develops themes about black Americans connecting to and drawing strength from their African roots. Next, students analyze the poems “Calling Dreams” and “Hope” by Georgia Douglas Johnson, noting how she uses more formal structures and figurative language to develop themes about black Americans achieving their goals despite great obstacles. For the end of unit assessment, student learning is assessed with selected and constructed response questions about the structure, language, and themes in Claude McKay’s “I Shall Return.” Finally, students compare McKay’s poem to artwork by Meta Warrick Fuller and Winold Reiss for thematic connections around drawing strength from and longing for home or Africa. The unit concludes with a collaborative discussion about how all the poems and artwork examined in the unit relate thematically.

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: Collaboration in the Harlem Renaissance
  • Task: 
    • Selected and constructed response questions to analyze and compare literary and musical techniques and their effects on meaning
    • Selected and constructed response questions to analyze structure, figurative language, and theme in poetry
  • Targets: RL.7.1, RL.7.2, RL.7.4, RL.7.5, RL.7.7, RL.7.10, L.7.5a, L.7.5c, L.7.6
  • Texts: One Last Word by Nikki Grimes, Shuffle Along by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, Shuffle Along (CD) by Eubie Blake, "National Hymn [Lift Every Voice and Sing]" by James Weldon Johnson, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" by Langston Hughes, "Calling Dreams" by Georgia Douglas Johnson, "Hope" by Georgia Douglas Johnson, "I Shall Return" by Claude McKay, Ethiopia Awakening (sculpture) by Meta Warrick Fuller, African Phantasy: Awakening (illustration) by Winold Reiss


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 skillsf (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration) for success in college, career, and life; 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, as students read, listen to, and examine diverse works from the Harlem Renaissance, they focus on respect, empathy, and compassion as they respond to one another's ideas and skills in written work and discussions. They also may practice empathy and compassion as they read of black Americans' struggles in the unit's poems. Students also practice collaboration and taking initiative during discussions and integrity and perseverance as they work independently on assessments. And they take responsibility for their own learning as they track progress on their assessments.


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
Shuffle Along (CD)
by Eubie Blake
one per classroom
ISBN: 632433320426
One Last Word
by Nikki Grimes
one per student
ISBN: 9781681196022

Preparation and Materials

Prepare the Module Guiding Questions anchor chart (see Lesson 1) and Performance Task anchor chart (see Module Overview).

Prepare the Harlem Renaissance Themes anchor chart (see Lesson 3).

Prepare vocabulary logs and independent reading journals.

Ensure that families are aware of the sensitive content of One Last Word, and prepare students who may be affected by this content in advance.

The following material is introduced in this unit and referenced throughout both the module and the school year:

  • Techniques anchor chart

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