Tracing Our Steps, Mapping Our Journeys

Author: Erica Darken


Key Elementary School

Year: 2021

Seminar: Cities through the Lens of Race, Class, and Gender

Grade Level: 4

Keywords: cities, elementary, Geography, journey, Workshop

School Subject(s): Social Studies

The School District of Philadelphia materials and curriculum for 4th grade lack a deep connection to the neighborhood and experiences of my students.  They also lack sufficient scaffolding for English learners.  Many programs assume a small percentage of English learners, and their suggestions are correspondingly adjacent rather than integral to their lessons and trajectory.  My students are smart, curious, and motivated, but so often what I am asked to do does not harness their strengths and rather frustrates both them and me.

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Full Unit Text
Content Objectives

Teaching Context

I teach at a culturally and linguistically diverse K-6 elementary school in South Philadelphia.  Home languages include Spanish, Nepali, Burmese, Malay, Vietnamese, and Chinese.  According to the School District of Philadelphia website, the school currently has 67% English learners, though my third and fourth grade classes sometimes have 80-90% English learners.  English learners are diverse in many respects, including country of birth (approximately half are born in this country), prior schooling in their native or second language in their home country (when applicable), family literacy experiences, and current level of English proficiency.  On the standardized ACCESS test for English Language Learners, which scores students on a scale of 1 to 6 in the four domains of language, a typical class for me includes groups of students at each level 1 through 4, with a total of approximately 20 language learners.

As a former bilingual teacher and one who holds a certificate for teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), I relish the opportunities to incorporate student home languages and experiences whenever possible.  I also feel confident in adapting existing materials to include more scaffolds for learners of varying language proficiency.  However, where I see the most student investment is in learning that was designed with them in mind, like the service-learning program Need In Deed, which is driven by student voice.  I want more of my instructional time to be spent on the identity- and social justice-oriented lessons that make being a teacher meaningful to me.  Since few are creating such lessons, I will have to create more myself.

Another reason to create this unit is the lack of support for teaching social studies.  We do have some thick textbooks, but there has not been enough professional development focused on social studies.  As an elementary school teacher, I don’t recall ever being offered school-district sponsored professional development on any social studies topic.  There were huge literacy and math institutes, but certainly nothing on that scale for social studies, if anything at all.  From anecdotal evidence, I believe that teachers integrate social studies topics into literacy instruction, as I myself have done with Need In Deed, but that does not mean that we are systematically developing the skills of the social sciences.  Contributing to this narrow focus is the fact that the Common Core State Standards exist for mathematics and literacy only.  Fortunately, the National Council for the Social Studies has created the College, Career, & Civic Life C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards (2017), which states, “Creating maps and other geographical representations is an essential and enduring part of seeking new geographic knowledge that is personally and socially useful and that can be applied in making decisions and solving problems (41).”  I have not been making maps with my 4th graders, and reading the rationale and standards for geographic representation is inspiring me to make it a priority.

In this unit, I want students to read and listen to narratives about experiences traveling in the city of Philadelphia, analyze related maps and images, and then create their own travel artifact that is multimodal in nature, with multiple entry points for the reader/viewer.  Possibilities for this artifact include dynamically presented narratives and maps, which will be the central elements of my unit, but could also be collage, multilingual text, audio, and/or video.

Seminar: Cities Thru the Lens of Race, Class, and Gender

Our seminar leader, Professor Rickie Sanders, guided a group of approximately one dozen School District of Philadelphia educators from diverse settings and grade levels through a 100% digital course in “Cities Thru the Lens of Race, Class, and Gender.”  Only upon reflection on the title now, at the end of the course, do I fully appreciate the single lens for the three characteristics, which are always experienced simultaneously.  We were given the critical concepts of location, region, distance, scale, and space/place at the outset as tools for examining a wide range of poems, songs, podcasts, photos, collages, and articles.

The poems and songs served as our entry point for vicariously experiencing the pride, pleasure, and pain lived in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh.  We also discussed metaphors and definitions for cities, including Mumford’s (1937):  “The city is a related collection of primary groups and purposive associations: the first, like family and neighborhood, are common to all communities, while the second are especially characteristic of city life….The city fosters art and is art; the city creates theater and is the theater.”  This dynamic setting was where we focused our readings.  Besides thinking of it as a theater, another way to describe the public space in a city is Anderson’s “Cosmopolitan canopy,” which he defines as an “island of civility located in a sea of racial segregation” (2017).  Anderson describes how people of different backgrounds, those he terms either “cosmopolitan” or “ethno-centric,” come together and get along under the public space of the canopy, such as Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, but that there can be times when differences cause a moment of “acute disrespect” that tears the canopy.

We learned about how economic forces shape our experiences.  Historic redlining and the denial of certain housing benefits to veterans of color has contributed to vast differences in the amount of capital that white and Black families have been able to accumulate (Rothstein 2017), along with current race-based discrimination (Lipsitz 1998).  Gentrification also plays a role in how economics, race, and class intersect.  There are deep tensions and emotions that go along with demographic shifts in neighborhoods (Cahill 2007), though it has been argued that those who are displaced often find better situations (Freeman 2006).  Freeman emphasizes the need to pay attention to the context of gentrification, and makes the case that disinvestment in African American neighborhoods has been markedly more severe than that in other ethnic enclaves, such as those of contemporary Latino or Asian immigrants and European immigrants of the past. He also draws attention to the well-warranted cynicism of African Americans towards gentrification:  “The long history of racial oppression in the United States has created a collective memory among blacks that is deeply suspicious and ready to believe the worse where whites are concerned (161).”  Housing is also a theme in the class-focused work of Ehrenreich (2001). Her time in Minneapolis is marked by a quest for housing that she can afford on an entry-level hourly wage. Ehrenreich had to find a delicate balance to be able to afford her rent, commute, and food that did not require a full kitchen, and it eluded her, showing how difficult it can be to maintain let alone ascend social class.  The commuting aspect ties into the geographic concepts of both location (housing and work situations that were viable) and distance (the daily work trip).

The theme of journeys was also a thread in one of the podcasts that we listened to. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio features journeys of her own and of her parents in her section of Glass’s This American Life (2020).  The journeys include the international scale, from Ecuador to the United States of America, and the local scale, in the cab and foot delivery jobs of her father.  After initially leaving Cornejo Villavicencio with relatives, her parents brought her to New York City because “Ecuador was not the place for a gifted girl” due to gender politics.  Class, in the form of immigration status, is also woven into the narrative as Cornejo Villavicencio’s father loses his job after 9/11 since he is an undocumented immigrant and no longer eligible for a driver’s license and job as a cab driver, and must make do delivering food on foot despite the wear and tear on his hands and feet.  In our grade-band small group discussion, two colleagues and I discussed the podcast’s lesson potential for describing a journey through maps, timelines, or narratives.  We also considered different approaches to bringing immigration narratives into the classroom depending on context.  For teachers without immigrant students, such a lesson could expand horizons and build empathy by providing a window (Bishop, 1990) into another experience.  For teachers with immigrant and refugee students in the classroom, such a lesson should include framing that explicitly allows students to draw the curtain (Reese, 2018) on any part of their own experience that they think should remain within their own community.

Our seminar also explored and applied Kimberlé Crenshaw’s seminal work on intersectionality (1996).  In “Mapping the Margins,” Crenshaw exposes the intersection of pairs of characteristics and circumstances in which “patterns of subordination intersect in women’s experience of domestic violence” (364): racism and sexism, threat of domestic violence and deportation, and domestic violence and language barriers.  For example, she cites the case of a shelter for battered women that strongly resisted admitting a woman who had fled an abusive husband because she was not proficient in English.  In “Whose Story Is It, Anyway?” Crenshaw describes how these “crossroads of gender and race hierarchies” can leave the experiences of Black women and girls to be suppressed in ways that those of neither white women or Black men are, particularly in cases of sexual harrassment and rape, and hence Black women and girls are marginalized and aggressors against them are too easily excused.

We also learned about semiotics, denotation, and connotation.  We applied our understanding of race, class, and gender as well as geographical concepts such as location and region to work in pairs during the seminar to examine photographs selected by Profesor Sanders.  My partner and I had a photo from Philadelphia’s Chinatown which included signs in both English and Chinese, and possibly other Asian languages as well, raising the themes of national origin and home language.  We were tasked with describing the reaction to the place by five different people that we imagined.  For example, we figured that a visitor from another neighborhood of Philadelphia would experience relative comfort in the urban environment, but also some curiosity and uncertainty if they could not read all of the signs.  By contrast, a visitor from rural Pennsylvania could experience nervousness in a city, and perhaps confusion and bemusement.  Depending on the political inclinations of either person, they might even feel anger and unfairly assign blame to Asians and Asian Americans for the pandemic.  This exercise gave us practice stepping into another’s shoes and imagining how the city is “read” and experienced by different individuals.

Genesis of This Curriculum Unit

Considering how to create a curriculum unit for elementary school students from our seminar learnings was not a straightforward task.  Most of the colleagues in the TIP seminar teach middle or high school, and a lot of the theoretical frameworks seemed more within the scope of their contexts.  For example, the material on redlining was compelling for me, but I know from experience that maps can be challenging for my fourth graders, and that this would have to be addressed in its own right before any discussion of redlining, which I would have to postpone.  I pondered how to make essential geographic themes relevant to my class until I considered framing the instruction as a “geography workshop.”  As an experienced teacher of writing workshop, and one who has dabbled in reading workshop, I feel confident in the possibilities of exposing students to several kinds of maps and letting them choose the type that best suits the story that they want to tell.  Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Writing (2013) and Being a Writer from Center for the Collaborative Classroom (2014) have greatly influenced my approach to the workshop model.

A significant step in developing the unit, after mulling the seminar material for weeks,  occurred when attending the 2021 annual conference of the National Council for History Education.  My grade partner and I, along with another member of the Philadelphia Writing Project, were in attendance to present a virtual poster on using primary sources in the classroom.  It was the keynote presentation by Dr. Anne Knowles that opened my eyes to the story-telling aspects of maps that I’d previously been oblivious to.  Her presentation focused on the Holocaust, and she shared maps created by her students.  One collaborative map (Ellis and Harvey, 2021) was based on the diary of a woman who was forced to march from one concentration camp to another over the course of several days.  The map showed the route, which changed color according to the mood of the diarist.  The background was shaded to show night and day during the journey.  Excerpts from the diary were included on the map as well.  I can’t overemphasize how eye-opening this map was for me.  Including so many experiential elements of the journey in visual form assists the viewer/reader in stepping into the shoes of the diarist, and this type of storytelling is within reach of fourth graders.

Another map (Cole and Giordano, 2014) that was unforgettable was one showing Jewish households in Budapest, color-coded by travel time to a food market.  The consequences for Jews could be fatal if they did not return from market trips before the end of curfew.  My previous exposure to narratives of Holocaust survival and statistics of fatalities did not insulate me from the emotional impact of that map.  While my students are hopefully in much less harrowing circumstances, both sustenance and danger are integral aspects to the city and not foreign to children.

In addition to feeling inspired, I also feel liberated by the realization that there is accuracy beyond the spatial accuracy so often expected of maps.  The vibrancy and local flavor in the MuralArts map of the route 47 (2018) are true, though the map may not be entirely to scale.  The emotions my students can express are sincere though their maps may be shaped by memory and perception.  Measurement has an important strand in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (2010), and I have emphasized it before in shared mapping activities with younger grades, but now I realize that measurement, in maps for young children at least, is analogous to editing for spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and conventions in writers’ workshop.  It is important to help get the message across to readers, but it is not the message itself, at least in this case where the maps focus on an experience.  There will be moments for more scientific maps.  However, my goal is to have students tell a story about a journey as they experienced it.  The elements in that journey are significant in relation to each other, the city, and the student, in whichever way they choose to demarcate the journey.  It could be bus or subway stops.  It could be blocks like E.B. White in “Here is New York” (2005), which was suggested early on by a seminar colleague as an entry point for students.

Internal and external changes are part of the experience of a journey, and could be closely linked to each other and also lead to many possibilities for expression.  Internal changes include mood, hunger/satiety, physical sensations such as temperature, and perceptions such as smell.  External changes could touch upon themes from our seminar such as gentrification and how it makes long-term residents feel, or other themes like traffic danger or language zones.  I have long sought to value home languages through multiple methods including, but not limited to: stocking bi/multilingual books in the classroom library; explicitly encouraging bilingual responses to homework, especially when there is a family component; and displaying print from all home languages represented in the classroom.  Professor Sander’s inclusion of her own collage representations of cities, as well as a personal perusal of the Mural Arts website that revealed a digital photo collage representation of Philadelphia (Livingston, 2021), inspire me to explore creating a collaborative multilingual collage with my class that captures elements of the linguistic landscape.

Teaching Strategies

First and foremost in an elementary school classroom is the need to be explicit about the task students are being asked to do, and this is often best accomplished by teacher modeling.  This is especially true when working with English learners, who are sometimes hesitant to ask clarifying questions, and may understand oral or written instructions to some degree, but lack confidence that they are interpreting them correctly.

A high-yield strategy that many teachers are using in recent years is “Notice and Wonder.”  This protocol can be used in any content area to invite students to examine a text or image.  It is often done with a balance of individual and whole class thought.  As students share their ideas, teachers can ask follow up questions to push their thinking.  The beauty of Notice and Wonder is that it is completely open-ended, so students can respond without any worry that they are making a mistake.  Once students have engaged in the routine several times, they know what is expected of them and they need less guidance.  A variation is “See, Think, Wonder” from Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (2019).

An essential strategy, recommended for language learners and taught by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), is SWRL, pronounced “swirl,” which stands for speaking, writing, reading, and listening, the four domains of language.  CAL encourages teachers to use all four domains of language within each lesson.  Benefits include distributed practice in all four domains, and lessons that are interactive by design.  A lesson in which students listen to the teacher read aloud from a text they read along with (either by having their own copy or seeing shared copy large enough to read), respond to a prompt in writing, and then share out loud in turn with a partner is consistent with SWRL.

Zwiers, O’Hara, and Pritchard (2014) give detailed guidance for teachers for how to support language development in all four domains in Common Core Standards In Diverse Classrooms: Essential Practices for Developing Academic Language and Disciplinary Literacy.  The authors describe the need for support for academic English learners (AELs), who include English learners and others who are struggling to keep up with the demands of language and literacy in school, in order to meet the requirements of the Common Core State Standards.  They emphasize the need for learning to involve complex messages, interaction, and cohesive frameworks. In stating that “The Common Core State Standards provide us with plenty to do, but they are not the entire picture (3),” the authors encourage educators to broaden their view. Also, in explaining, “…overlap and reinforcement between oral and written work is vital given the limited amount of time that we have with students (125),” the authors give teachers a key strategy for maximizing their own efforts and those of their students.

In approaching these lessons as a “geography workshop,” I want to build on the framework honed by Lucy Calkins (2013) for the writing workshop.  The structure of the writing workshop involves a mini lesson, concurrent independent writing time and teacher/student writing conferences, and time to share.  The content of the mini lesson depends on the unit, the phase of the unit, and the progress of the students.  For example, during a genre unit on personal narrative writing, a mini lesson at the beginning of the unit could consist of a read-aloud by the teacher of a mentor text of that genre, and discussion among the students about what they imagined happening and what words in the story made them imagine that.  Another mini lesson could consist of the teacher modeling writing in the genre while thinking aloud, then inviting student input about word choice.  A mini lesson towards the end of the unit could consist of the teacher modeling how to revise to include sensory details, then inviting students to make suggestions.  Mini lessons should always include a model and a student participation component.  For independent writing time, the students work on a task aligned to the genre of the unit and the objective of the mini lesson while the teacher conferences briefly with individual students or small groups of students.  The conclusion of the lesson is a share of approximately 3 examples of  student work.  Ideally the work that is shared demonstrates progress towards the objective set out during the mini lesson, though sometimes this is not feasible, or there is a teachable moment regarding another aspect of writing.  Teachers must be intentional about having all students share and keeping track of who shared when.  Some students will volunteer frequently and need little practice time, while others will need advance notice, encouragement, and a chance to practice reading out loud to a peer or the teacher before reading to the whole class.  My plan is to implement this unit about maps and journey narratives in the workshop format, and to call it “geography workshop.”  While this term did yield a few results in an online search, none seemed to refer to the mini lesson/work time/share time format that I am proposing.

For the final product, the goal is for students to create a multimodal text.  Kress and van Leeuwen (2001) argue that meaning does not dwell in language alone and elaborate a “multimodal theory of communication” which takes into consideration semiotic resources and communicative practices.  Hassett and Curwood (2009) build on this theory and apply it to the elementary classroom.  They discuss how reading happens in a social and cultural context, and state that connotation is the priority for multimodal texts rather than denotation.  The authors contrast traditional texts with multimodal texts in the following way:

Multimodal texts include various pathways to follow, parallel displays of information, extensive cross-referencing elements, evocative graphics and images that extend, and often replace, the printed word as the primary carrier of meaning….Rather than having simple, static images paired with standardized alphabetic print, multimodal texts take on dynamically interactive elements, as readers (not authors) choose where to look and how to engage with certain aspects of the text (271).

Hassett and Curwood give the example of a kindergarten student listening to Froggy Gets Dressed (London 1994) and observing the speech text change from blue to orange to red as a character becomes increasingly angry. They describe a collaboration between researchers and teachers to have students read and write multimodal texts, with design elements such as colored words, color to show emotions, detailed pictures, and words of different size conveying meaning.

In fact, during the School District of Philadelphia’s training on social emotional learning in August 2020, we got to know the mood meter created by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.  The mood meter has four quadrants to gauge mood by energy level and pleasantness. The upper right quadrant is color-coded yellow and represents high-energy, high-pleasantness emotions like happiness and excitement. The upper left quadrant is color-coded red and represents high-energy, low-pleasantness emotions like anger and frustration.The lower left quadrant is color-coded blue and represents low-energy, low-pleasantness emotions like sadness and gloom. The lower right quadrant is color-coded green and represents low-energy, high pleasantness emotions like calmness and peacefulness.

When our grade team partnered with teaching artists from Opera Philadelphia this fall, one of our foci was social emotional learning, and I found the mood meter very useful to check in with students during morning meetings, which were 100% remote for most of the school year, and then remote for 75% of the students on a given day for the last 2 months of school. I made a collaborative document with the four quadrants and several sample emotions for each quadrant, and asked students to write their name in the quadrant that best described their mood at that moment. When the opportunity arose, I validated the fact that we can feel multiple emotions at once.  Both the students and I would sometimes write our names in more than one quadrant.  One student took the initiative to add a multicolored text box with a face at the intersection of the two axes.  I also encouraged students to type a specific emotion and reason.  The collaborative document worked well to have all students check in even when there wasn’t time to have each student share out loud every day due to audio issues and other challenges of remote learning.  While I haven’t decided how to continue and build on this in-person, I know that expressing emotions was a very humanizing part of remote learning, and will be an anchor for me going forward.

Classroom Activities

Essential and Guiding Questions

Essential questions for this unit include: What trips and journeys do I take? What places are important on the journeys? What people are important on the journeys? What is my experience on the journey?

Guiding questions include: Where does the journey start? What are some intermediate points on the journey? Where does the journey end? What is the scale of the journey? How is the journey taken? Why does the journey take place? What interactions do I have or notice between people? How are the people the same or different?  What sensory details help us imagine the journey? What internal and external changes occur on the journey?


SWBAT identify and apply the 5 themes of geography.

SWBAT describe and analyze journeys described through images, text, and audio.

SWBAT gather information about a personal journey they themselves have made.

SWBAT share information about the journey through visuals including maps, text, and by speaking with classmates (and/or narrating a video).

SWBAT listen to and synthesize information shared by a classmate.

Lesson Plans

Week 1: Places, Distances, and Maps

The first lesson is a virtual neighborhood walk with Google Earth. To open the lesson, the class will look at the bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood surrounding the school using the “clean” map style without any labels. Students will be given time to notice and wonder and then share.  Then, the class will view the map in “exploration” map style, to either confirm or reveal the school name and location on the map, as well as surrounding landmarks like the park and temple. Students will then be asked to brainstorm a list of nearby points of interest with partners. The partnerships will then share out, and a shared class list will be created, either digitally or on chart paper. The list will be saved and temporarily put aside while reading the excerpt from E.B. White’s “Here is New York.” The teacher will have students re-read landmarks and then place them on a large prepared grid to co-create a large map. Students will then return to their brainstormed lists and choose a landmark in the neighborhood to count the blocks to as homework (they will be encouraged to choose one that they regularly see on their way to and from school).

The second lesson will open with students placing a label with their landmark on the class map and sharing their block counts, and any other anecdotes of how gathering the information went.  If there are disagreements on where to place any points of interest, the class can check on Google Earth.  Then, in partnerships, students will brainstorm ways to travel around the neighborhood and city, then share out and ideas will be collected on an anchor chart.  The teacher will steer the conversation to buses and which ones run through the neighborhood, and where they stop.  Have they ever ridden the bus with their family?  Where to?  The class will then look at the map component of Mural Arts Project’s 47 Stories to notice, wonder, and share. The teacher will build on these noticings and wonderings to think aloud and model drawing an interpretive, expressive map in the same style. Students will be invited to try the same style. Approximately three students will be selected to share their work with the class.

The third lesson will examine the route map of the 47 Stories project, and follow the same steps of a brief notice and wonder, share, modeling by the teacher of creating a map in that style, and independent work time by the students to try that same style, or continue a previous map if they are so inclined.

The fourth lesson will examine the official SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) route map, with the same steps as the third lesson, with special attention to part of the map that passes through the school neighborhood.  This portion of the bus route will also be added to the class map with points of interest.  Students will be invited to draw their own version of the route map, draw a bus route map, or continue on a map they already started.

The fifth and final lesson of the week will be for student partnerships to choose 2 of the mentor maps and compare and contrast them using a graphic organizer.

Then, they will individually compare and contrast the Google Earth Map with the 47 Stories map.

Week 2:  Narratives connected to places and journeys

The sixth lesson will shift the focus from maps to narratives about journeys.  The class will revisit the list of modes of transportation, then listen to the book Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson (2015). The class will create a shared map of the bus route from the story, then the teacher will model drawing their own bus route and writing a narrative to go with it. Students will be asked to draw a map and write a story, or write a story that goes with a map they drew the previous week. At least 3 will share their work.

The seventh and eighth lessons will revisit Last Stop on Market Street, this time analyzing the narrative for interactions with people, and then for sensory details.  Pairs of students will be assigned pages of the book during the eighth lesson to answer the question: how are the people CJ and his Grandma meet on the bus the same and different from the main characters?  Students will be encouraged to use both the text and the illustrations to write a response (and illustrate if desired), share with the class, and place what they wrote on the map at the approximate place of the interaction on the route map.  They will write their own narratives. During the eighth lesson, the students will work in the same partnerships to analyze the same pages for sensory details. The students will write narratives, or add sensory details to one they started earlier in the week.

The ninth and tenth lessons will make use of the audio components of the 47 Stories project. There are stories that lend themselves to discussing starting points and ending points, and stories that lend themselves to discussing why riders travel on the bus and what their interactions with other people are. Language and national origin are prominent in some stories.  There are many sensory details throughout, including bus sounds that are both common and essential to conveying an authentic narrative about riding the bus. The teacher will repeat the steps of guided analysis of the narrative, modeling their own narrative with the focus element of the day, giving students time to write their own travel narratives, then selecting students to share each day.  Appendix B is a resource for analyzing narratives.

Week 3: Changes

The third week focuses on internal and external changes. The mentor text is Henry’s Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson. This book tells the true story of a man who was enslaved and separated from his family, and then decides to mail himself to freedom. Over the course of the week, the book will be analyzed and emulated in the workshop style. The journey will be drawn on a shared class map, and different days can focus on Henry’s physical journey and emotional journey.  For example, Henry lived with two masters and worked at a tobacco factory before mailing himself from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and traveled by train, steamboat, and train again.  Henry experienced severe discomfort when the box he was in was thrown and then left upside down for a long period of time, but then two steamboat passengers moved his box and turned it right side up to sit on it.  A map could use arrows to show his orientation, or symbols to signify comfort, discomfort, and pain.  Henry’s emotional journey is even richer over the course of the book, beginning with hope that his dying master will set him free:  “Some slaves were freed by their owners.  Henry’s heart beat fast.  Maybe the master would set him free (unnumbered page).”  Henry was then sent to live with the master’s son, and was separated from his mother and the rest of his family of origin.  He was lonely, then met a woman with whom he fell in love, married, and had two children.  When he found out that they had been sold, “His heart twisted in his chest.”  These vivid descriptions of Henry’s emotions can be quoted and mapped with colors along his physical journey.

Again, teacher modeling of maps and narratives will lead to students having the chance to draw maps that show internal changes, like emotions and thoughts, and external changes like weather conditions and/or time of day. Sensory details will be emphasized throughout the modeling and encouraged during conferences with students. Sharing student work at the end of each session will continue.

Week 4: Personal maps

The fourth week will be the time when students choose a draft that they have developed in response to 47 Stories, Last Stop on Market Street, or Henry’s Freedom Box, and want to develop into a published map-narrative. They will be guided to look through their work and select a piece that has potential to include all of the elements on the Checklist and Rubric for Projects (see Appendix C), which have been emphasized throughout the unit.  Ample time will be provided for individual work, pair conferencing, and conferencing with the teacher.


SWBAT identify and apply the 5 themes of geography.

SWBAT describe and analyze journeys described through images, text, and audio.

SWBAT gather information about a personal journey they themselves have made.

SWBAT share information about the journey through visuals including maps, text, and by speaking with classmates (and/or narrating a video).

SWBAT listen to and synthesize information shared by a classmate.


This unit would most likely last 4 weeks, depending on the pace of the class and the familiarity the students have with the subject matter.  See Appendix A for suggested pacing.


College, Career, & Civic Life C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards

Geographic Representations: Spatial Views of the World

D2.Geo.1.3-5. Construct maps and other graphic representations of both familiar and unfamiliar places.

Social Justice Standards from Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance)

Identity 4, ID.3-5.4:  I can feel good about my identity without making someone else feel bad about who they are.

Diversity 6, DI.3-5.6:  I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.

Diversity 9, DI.3-5.9: I feel connected to other people and know how to talk, work, and play with others even when we are different or when we disagree.

Common Core State Standards

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.


Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.


Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:


By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:


Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

Range of Writing:


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.



Students will create maps that visually show a journey.  These maps will be paired with narratives and/or poems that represent experiences at three places on the journey.  They can be from the same or different points of view.


Students will be assigned partnerships.  They will explain their projects to each other, and then compare and contrast them in writing using at least 3 of the 5 themes of geography.

Gallery Walk

Each student’s map will be displayed on a wall or table (or digitally) and classmates will have time to read them and leave feedback.  They will have sentence stems for feedback that build on the elements of the unit. Students will be required to give feedback to a set number of classmates, a range, or all classmates.

Extensions and variations

The texts to be analyzed could be exchanged for others that reflect details of other journeys and places.  For the student-produced map, another option is to have students interview family or community members about journeys and then create the maps based on the interviews.  If a school community member is the subject of the interview, pairs of students could prepare for, conduct, and present the results of the interview together.


Bibliography for teachers

Anderson, E. (2017, September 14). The Cosmopolitan Canopy. YouTube.

Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 6(3), ix–xi.

Cahill, C. (2007).  Negotiation grit and glamour:  Young women of color and the gentrification of the Lower East Side. In The Gentrification Reader, Routledge, New York, pp. 299-315/

Calkins, L., Dunford, E., Pessah, L., Moore, E., Hartman, A., Louis, N., Ehrenworth, M., Holley, C., Smith, A. O., Rothman, R., Mraz, K., Golub, B., Larkey, C. D., Mooney, J., Roberts, M. B., Frazin, S., Hohne, K. B., Cruz, M. C., Martinelli, M., … Smith, E. B. (2013). Units of study in opinion, information, and narrative writing. Portsmouth, NH: Firsthand, An imprint of Heineman.

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Reading list for students

de la Peña, Matt, author. (2015). Last stop on Market Street. New York, NY :G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA).

This award-winning picture book shares the experience of a boy and his grandmother riding a bus and interacting with different people.  It’s main audience is early elementary grades, though it is useful for any group that will respond well to visuals, including 4th grade English learners.

Levine, E., & Nelson, K. (2007). Henry’s freedom box. New York: Scholastic Press.

This award-winning picture book relates the true story of a man who was separated first from his mother and family of origin and then from his wife and children through the institution of slavery.  He decided to mail himself from Richmond, Virginia, to freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  This book is appropriate for a range of elementary grades, with lenses varying according to grade level and objective.

Livingston, N. (2021, January 14). Philly Rising. Mural Arts Philadelphia.

This “virtual mural” of Center City Philadelphia was designed by the artist and presented as a digital collage composed of photos of Philadelphia, submitted by residents.  The collaborative nature and combination of individual and group visual impact can serve as a mentor text for a class collage that forms a map, illustration, or some other visual representation of the city.

Walinsky, S., & Deutch, L. (2018, January 10). 47 Stories. Mural Arts Philadelphia.

This multimedia work from Mural Arts gathers the voices and experiences of a driver and passengers of the route 47 bus.  It includes written and spoken narratives, maps, and images that celebrate the cultures of those in neighborhoods on the route.

List of materials for classroom use

Chart paper with prepared grid

Markers, pencils, notebooks, drawing paper, rulers

Projector (optional)

Laptops (optional)



  Key Ideas Texts
Week 1 Places, distances and maps

-starting points

-intermediate points

-end points

E.B. White excerpt from “This is New York”

Google Earth Images of S. Phila

47 Stories Map and Images

Week 2 Narratives connected to place/journey

-mode of transportation


-interactions with people

-sensory details

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Christian Robinson

47 Stories Audio narratives


Week 3 Changes




Henry’s Freedom Box by Levine, E. & Nelson, K.
Week 4 Creating personal maps Teacher Model

Student work

Appendix B

Note-taking on Mentor Texts

On the trip or journey you read about or listened to, take notes on the following:
Starting point
Intermediate point(s)
End point
Mode of transportation
Interactions between people
Sensory details
Internal changes
External changes
Appendix C

Checklist and Skeleton of Rubric for Projects

On the trip or journey you present, include the following: Map Image

(Drawing or Photo)

Written Poem or Narrative Audio recording of Poem or Narrative
Starting point Required
Intermediate point(s) Required
End point Required
Mode of transportation
Interactions between people
Sensory details
Internal changes
External changes


Appendix D

This curriculum unit suggests ways to teach a “geography workshop” to 4th grade students through mini lessons that explore written and audio texts as well as collaborative mapping and teacher modeling.  Students will gain the tools to create their own multimodal artifacts that document a personal journey.


Key words: