Build Background Knowledge: Lessons from Japanese American Internment | EL Education Curriculum

You are here

ELA 2019 G8:M4:U1

Build Background Knowledge: Lessons from Japanese American Internment

You are here:

In this module, students explore the topic of Japanese American internment. As in previous modules, in Lesson 1 of Unit 1, students discover the topic by examining multiple artifacts. They are then introduced to the culminating performance task and the guiding questions of the module (What were the causes and impacts of Japanese American internment camps? What are the main lessons that can be learned from Japanese American internment? How can people effectively apply the lessons of internment to their own communities?). In the second lesson, students begin reading their anchor text, Farewell to Manzanar, a literary memoir that chronicles the experiences of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her family before, during, and after the incarceration of Japanese Americans in internment camps by the US government during World War II. Throughout the unit, they track connections and distinctions among individuals, ideas, and events in the text and answer selected and constructed response questions about vocabulary and language to consider meaning in the text. This work prepares students for the Mid-Unit 1 Assessment. Additionally, students are introduced to the film adaptation of Farewell to Manzanar in Lesson 4, in which they watch the first of four segments of the film and begin to track the extent to which the film Farewell to Manzanar stays faithful to or departs from the text.

In the second half of the unit, students continue to read Farewell to Manzanar while tracking connections and distinctions in the text. Students also continue to watch the film adaptation of Farewell to Manzanar and analyze how the film stays faithful to and departs from the text. Students focus their analysis on how the film portrays significant ideas from the text, including the ways in which Jeanne and her family members are impacted by internment. This work helps to prepare students for the literary argument essay they will write in Unit 2. Students also review past experiences with collaborative discussions in earlier modules and engage in practice that targets relevant speaking and listening skills in advance of a collaborative discussion during the End of Unit 1 Assessment. During the assessment, students synthesize their learning in the unit by engaging in a QuickWrite before participating in a discussion centered on the following question: what were the causes and impacts of Japanese American internment camps?

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: Lessons from Japanese American Internment
  • Task: 
    • Answer selected response and short constructed response questions about vocabulary and how connections and distinctions are made among individuals, ideas, and events in Farewell to Manzanar.
    • Use textual evidence and follow discussion norms to participate in an academic discussion centered on the first module guiding question: what were the causes and impacts of Japanese American internment camps?
  • Targets: RI.8.1, RI.8.3, RI.8.4, RI.8.10, W.8.10, SL.8.1a, SL.8.1b, L.8.4a, L.8.4b, L.8.5a, L.8.5c
  • Texts: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar (DVD) directed by John Korty


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 focus on working to become ethical people habits of character as they practice respect, empathy, and compassion when reading about the experiences of Japanese American internment and with peers who may have personal connections to the experiences described. Students also focus on working to become effective learners as they persevere to read the complex anchor text and independently take assessments. They also collaborate with peers on analysis of the text and film as well as in the end of unit assessment academic discussion.


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
Farewell to Manzanar (DVD)
by John Korty, director
one per classroom
ISBN: 0000000230021
Farewell to Manzanar
by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
one per student
ISBN: 9781328742117

Preparation and Materials

Prepare vocabulary logs and independent reading journals.

Ensure that families are aware of the sensitive content of Farewell to Manzanar, such as prejudice and unjust treatment toward Japanese Americans, alcoholism, challenging family dynamics, and the deaths of individuals in the text, and prepare students who may be affected by this content in advance.

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

  • Authors' Methods anchor chart
  • Connections and Distinctions: Farewell to Manzanar note-catcher
  • Compare Text to Film: Farewell to Manzanar note-catcher
  • Significant Ideas anchor chart

Get updates about our new K-5 curriculum as new materials and tools debut.

Sign Up