The Context of the Harlem Renaissance | EL Education Curriculum

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Students launch the second unit with a Build Background Knowledge protocol, reading short informational texts and examining visual art to further develop their sense of the social and political context of the Harlem Renaissance. They explore the context of the Harlem Renaissance, noting how the Harlem Renaissance occurred during the Great Migration, Jim Crow laws, and the racial violence of post-Civil War America. Students read two short stories, "His Motto" by Lottie Burrell Dixon and "The Boy and the Bayonet" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Students explore character, plot, setting, theme, language, and point of view in these short stories. Additionally, students discuss how both stories develop themes about working hard to achieve dreams and how community helps to bring out our best selves. For the mid-unit assessment, students examine the third part of "The Boy and the Bayonet" for how particular elements of a story interact and how the author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters.

In the second half of the unit, students continue to explore the context of the Harlem Renaissance by analyzing how the theme of looking to the past for strength and hope connects examples of its artwork and text. Students begin this work by examining a model literary argument essay, discussing how three pieces of work from the Harlem Renaissance are connected by this theme. Next, students study the introduction, Proof Paragraphs, and conclusion of the model literary argument essay as they work collaboratively to plan and write their own pair literary argument essay. This pair essay explores the theme of how collaboration and community bring out the best in people. In the end of unit assessment, students independently write their own literary argument essay about how three works from the Harlem Renaissance are connected by the theme of dreams giving life meaning and purpose.

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: The context of the Harlem Renaissance
  • Task:
    • Selected and constructed response questions to analyze story elements, language, and theme in a short story
    • A literary argument essay connecting three works by theme
  • Targets: RL.7.1, RL.7.3, RL.7.6, RL.7.10, W.7.1, W.7.5, W.7.6, W.7.9a, W.7.10, L.7.1a, L.7.1b, L.7.4a
  • Texts: One Last Word by Nikki Grimes, "Under Jim Crow's Thumb" by Elizabeth Tenney, "A Call to Move" by Barbara D. Krasner-Khait, "The Harlem Renaissance: A Cultural Rebirth" by James Hall, "His Motto" by Lottie Burrell Dixon, "The Boy and the Bayonet" by Paul Laurence Dunbar


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 identify and explore habits of character exhibited by the characters in the short stories "His Motto" and "The Boy and the Bayonet." For example, students observe characters persevering to achieve their dreams, taking the initiative to help others, and showing empathy and compassion when others fail. Additionally, as students read and examine diverse works from the Harlem Renaissance, they practice empathy and compassion for the characters as they struggle to realize their dreams. Students also focus on perseverance to read challenging texts, write essays, and independently answer questions. They work on collaboration and initiative as they engage in protocols, group work, and partner writing work. They work to become effective learners and ethical people by practicing integrity and perseverance as they work independently on assessments. They also take responsibility for their own learning as they track progress on their assessments. Lastly, they work on contributing to a better world and becoming an effective learner as they use their strengths in peer critique and take responsibility with self-assessment and revision.


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
One Last Word
by Nikki Grimes
one per student
ISBN: 9781681196022

Preparation and Materials

Prepare the Themes of the Harlem Renaissance anchor chart (begun in Unit 1).

Prepare vocabulary logs and independent reading journals.

Ensure that families are aware of the sensitive content of "His Motto" and "The Boy and the Bayonet," and prepare students who may be affected by this content in advance.

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