The Legacy of the Harlem Renaissance | EL Education Curriculum

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Students launch the third unit with a Build Background Knowledge protocol, examining short informational and literary texts, visual art, and performances to further develop their sense of how the Harlem Renaissance continues to impact us today. They explore the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance through Nikki Grimes' poem "Emergency Measures," original artwork associated with the poem, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's ballet, "Uptown," which was inspired by the people, places, art, music, and writing of the Harlem Renaissance. In the first half of the unit, students study Nikki Grimes' poetry in conjunction with the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. In her poems, Grimes uses the Golden Shovel method, whereby one line of text from a Harlem Renaissance poem becomes a part of her poetry. Grimes pairs her poem "On Bully Patrol" with Georgia Douglas Johnson's "Hope" and her poem "David's Old Soul" with Langston Hughes' "A Negro Speaks of Rivers." Students study these pairings for structure, language, and theme. They also explore the Golden Shovel approach by writing one or more poems borrowing lines from other Harlem Renaissance poems. For the mid-unit assessment, students examine the structure, figurative language, and themes in Nikki Grimes' "The Sculptor" and its paired poem, Georgia Douglas Johnson's "Calling Dreams". Throughout the first half of the unit, students learn the relevance of the themes of the Harlem Renaissance in contemporary poetry.

In the second half of the unit, students continue exploring the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance by creating a museum exhibit. It includes three pieces from the Harlem Renaissance and one contemporary piece that they have studied or created themselves, such as their Golden Shovel poems developed in the beginning of the unit. Students write a curator's statement explaining how the works are connected by theme and create labels discussing the structure, language, and theme of each piece. For the end of unit assessment, students' presentation skills are assessed in a presentation of a visual piece from the exhibit, the label for the piece, and the curator's statement. Students revise their presentation, curator's statements, and labels in two distinct Tuning Protocols: one for presentation skills and one for writing content. The unit concludes with a Harlem Renaissance museum, in which students contribute to making a better world by sharing these important works with their community.

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 Legacy of the Harlem Renaissance
  • Task: 
    • Selected and constructed response questions to analyze the structure, language, and theme of poetry
    • A presentation assessed on focus, clarity, emphasis of important points, visual displays, eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation
  • Targets: RL.7.2, RL.7.4, RL.7.5, SL.7.4, SL.7.5, SL.7.6, L.7.4a
  • Texts: Preface of One Last Word by Nikki Grimes, "Emergency Measures" by Nikki Grimes, Emergency Measures artwork by James Ransome, Video clip of Alvin Ailey's UptownMatthew Rushing's podcast about Uptown"On Bully Patrol" by Nikki Grimes, "Hope" by Georgia Douglas Johnson, "David's Old Soul" by Nikki Grimes, "A Negro Speaks of Rivers" by Langston Hughes, "The Sculptor" by Nikki Grimes, "Calling Dreams" by Georgia Douglas Johnson


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 are introduced to the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance through a Build Background Knowledge protocol including a dance, a podcast, poetry, texts, and artwork. Students work to become effective learners by persevering through rigorous texts, collaborating with groupmates, and taking initiative by assuming roles in the group. Next, students read poetry from the Harlem Renaissance paired with contemporary poetry by Nikki Grimes. As they do so, they focus on becoming effective learners by collaborating to read and answer questions as a class and in small groups. For the mid-unit assessment, students practice integrity and perseverance as they work independently, and they take responsibility for their own learning as they track progress on reading standards. Additionally, students contribute to a better world by creating a successful exhibit, using their strengths to help others grow and presenting their knowledge of the Harlem Renaissance to a wider audience.

The texts also focus on the habits of character. "On Bully Patrol" demonstrates perseverance as the speaker recounts the difficulty she experienced and how she overcame it. The speaker in "David's Old Soul" demonstrates perseverance and initiative as he finds the inner strength to support his younger siblings. The speaker in "The Sculptor" demonstrates perseverance, initiative, and the academic mindsets "My ability and competence grow with my effort" and "I can succeed at this" as she strives to make her dreams come true. All these examples provide context and models for students to focus on habits of character. Additionally, students have the opportunity to practice the habits of character of empathy and respect if they or their classmates struggle with the descriptions of racism, bullying, and family struggles in the poems.


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 Techniques anchor chart (see Lesson 3) and 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 the poems in this unit, and prepare students who may be affected by this content in advance.

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