Grandfather’s Journey Mini-Unit

The Mini-Unit Designer

Jaime Lynn Lewisnki, District ESL Coordinator/Teacher in the Granby Public School District (Western Massachusetts.)  She created this plan the week of July 13, 2015.

This mini-unit contains:

  • Unit introduction and goals
  • Learning Experience Designs 1- 4, plus summative experience with references
  • Standards aligned with unit
  • Link to complete unit plan in .pdf form
Introducing the Mini-Unit

This mini-unit is designed for first grade English Language Learners (ELL) with English language proficiencies ranging from Level 1 (Entering) to Level 3 (Developing) in a small group (fewer than 10 students); “pull out” setting.

Student goals:

Content/Theme: Explore the concept of "home," how it is defined on a personal level, how the definition of "home" can be different for different people, and the associated emotions surrounding "home" or its absence.

Language: Develop social and content vocabulary both receptively (listening/reading) and productively (speaking/writing) through asking questions, answering questions, and providing details in group/paired discussions and activities

Teacher goals:

Pedagogy: Fine tune Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) skills, begin utilizing Whole Book Approach (WBA) strategies and integrating more multimodal opportunities for students to explore a theme

Learning Experience Design #1

Learning Experience 1: Exploring the cover art (ideally with title, author, and Caldecott Medal removed to eliminate distraction): 30-40 minutes

Visual Teaching Strategies: The teacher uses VTS that incorporate these three main inquiries (see resource on VTS for full description on this method of exploring illustrations with students): 

  • What's going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What else can you find?

The teacher can record a list of responses or ideas that stem from this shared learning experience to provide a reference for comparison during later lessons to check individual and/or group understanding.

This learning experience is a low stress way for students of all language proficiencies to engage with the art and provides the teacher with insights into students' background knowledge in order to fine tune subsequent lessons.

Scaffolding for English Language Learners (ELLs):

Vocabulary: Verbally provide essential vocabulary as necessary as long as it does not alter a student's response (i.e. if a student calls the life preserver a "white ring you throw into the water if someone falls in", you can and should provide the term "life preserver". However, if a student says there is a white thing in the picture that looks like a toilet seat, do not correct the student, but continue asking questions to provide students an opportunity to discuss the item further).

Grammar and syntax: Through orally paraphrasing a student's responses to these questions, model possible sentence structures for responses (i.e. I see _________ . I think ________ is _________ because.....).  This can be done verbally, and/or the teacher can provide sentence frames that early readers can refer to as they orally express their ideas.

Learning Experience Design #2

Learning Experience 2: Group discussion of the definition of "home" and student-created representation of "home": 40-60 minutes

Teacher facilitated discussion: The teacher uses a variety of questions that may include the following.  The teacher can record student responses by individual student, by category, etc.

  • What do you think of when you hear the word "home"?
  • What or who is “home”?
  • Can it be more than one thing/place/person/emotion?
  • What makes "home" feel like "home"?
  • What happens when we are not at "home" (or it is not with us)?
  • What kinds of things take us away from our homes? [explore possible positives (vacations, school) and negatives (natural disaster, war, unemployment) as appropriate]
  • How does this feel?
  • How do the feelings change depending on the circumstances of our departure from "home"?
  • Also discuss the additional complexity of emotions depending on whether the departure from "home" was by choice or force.
  • What are some feelings we might have if "home" is taken away? (Take the ideas from the last question to lead into a definition of "homesick.")

The discussion can then move to a pair and share activity where students share with their elbow partner what "home" means to them.

After the pair and share, students can move to an open-ended art activity where each student can create a visual representation of "home" using their choice of a wide range of materials. When complete, students can present their artwork to the class and explain how their choices helped create a work of art that represents their personal definition of "home".

Scaffolding for ELLs:

Vocabulary: Provide first language (L1) translations of the word "home" or any related concepts that come up during group discussion; provide visual reinforcements of concepts of "home" through pictures/video of different types of dwellings (video of homes around the world), families together, neighborhoods, etc.

Grammar and Syntax: Orally model and/or provide proficiency-appropriate sentence frames to assist students in forming their responses (i.e. Home means __________ to me. I think home means __________, _________, and ____________. Home means ___________ to me because _____________________.)

Learning Experience 2 Reference:

Pace, T. (2013). Houses around the world.  Retrieved from

Learning Experience Design #3

Learning Experience 3: Study and Picture Walk of Grandfather's Journey: 40-60 minutes

Vocabulary: Teacher introduces/reinforces the vocabulary to discuss the details in the anatomy of the book including: the title, jacket, author, illustrator, spine, cover, and medium. Guide students' exploration of these features and why the author might have made particular artistic choices for the features.

Book title: Teacher introduces the title and clarifies the meaning of the word "journey" (tied back to the concept of "home").

Picture walk: Teacher takes a whole group picture walk through the book, using VTS and Whole Book Approach (WBA) strategies for select illustrations.

Learning Experience Design #4

Learning Experience 4: Text reading and prediction comparison/contrast: 30-60 minutes

Whole Book Approach: The teacher reads the text using WBA strategies to assist students in connecting the text and images for comprehension.  WBA strategies include opportunities for group sharing of questions, ideas, insights, etc. during the reading. Embedded vocabulary introduction/clarification/reinforcement will occur during the reading. See chart outlining potentially new/troubling vocabulary for students and their corresponding vocabulary tier (please also refer to link for Colorin Colorado for more information about vocabulary tiers). It is critical for a teacher to consider in advance the challenges that the vocabulary presents for their particular group of students in order to make decisions on whether vocabulary should be pre-taught or what resources to have on hand to address vocabulary clarification on the spot.

Use a standard globe to show location of Japan, California, and the Pacific Ocean (draw students' attention to the size of the Pacific compared to other oceans)

Refer back to student responses recorded for Learning Experiences 1 and 3 to evaluate the accuracy of the predictions.

Learning Experience 4 References:

Colorin Colorado, Inc. (2007). Selecting vocabulary words to teach English language learners.  Retrieved from  

Tripline, Inc. (2014). A fictional trip by Jennifer Newton. Retrieved from's_Journey-0255231254711003B1B58105F1B8C425    

Coloring (n.d.) United States of America map. Retrieved from

Time, Inc. (2015). Time for Kids Around the World Japan. Retrieved from  

National Geographic Kids. (n.d.) Japan. Retrieved from  


WIDA ELD Standards:

  • Std 1: Social and Instructional Language
  • Std 2: Language of Language Arts
  • Std 3: Language of Mathematics
  • Std 4: Language of Science
  • Std 5: Language of Social Studies

Common Core ELA:

  • Reading and Literature: RL.1.1-1.4, RL.1.6, RL.1.7, RL.1.9
  • Writing: W.1.3, W.1.5, W.1.8
  • Speaking and Listening: SL.1.1-1.6
  • Language: L.1.1, L.1.2, L.1.4-1.6

Common Core Math:

  • Geometry: 1.G.3
  • Measurement and Data: 1.MD.1, 1.MD.2, 1.MD.4