I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Unit Plan

Unit:  Overcoming Adversity and Developing Voice by Examining the Author as Narrator        

Anchor Texts: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Last Lecture

Supplemental Texts needed:

  • “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” By Martin Luther King
  •  “Sympathy” Paul Laurence Dunbar
  • “Alone” Maya Angelou
  • “Still I Rise” Maya Angelou
  • “One the Pulse of the Morning” Inaugural Poem
  • “Lift Every Voice and Sing” James Weldon Johnson
  • Dr. Kenneth B. Clark’s “Doll Study” (1939)
  • The poetry of Langston Hughes
  • The poetry of Carol Ann Duffy
  • "Maya Angelou." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.
  • Excerpts from Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources and Historical Documents

Established Goals / Common Core Standards:

  • RL.11/12.1.    Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  • RL.11/12.2.    Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RL.11/12.3.    Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
  • RL.11/12.4.    Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
  • RL.11/12.5.    Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
  • RL.11/12.10.   By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
  • W.11/12.1.    Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • W.11/12.2.    Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
  • W.11.12.3.     Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • [ss1] W.11/12.4.     Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
  • W.11/12.6.    Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
  • W.11/12.7.    Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • W.11/12.9.     Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • W.11/12.10.     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 tasks, purposes
  • L.11/12.1.    Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • L.11/12.2.    Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
  • L.11/12.3.     Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.


Enduring Understandings:

  •  Maya Angelou overcomes adversity by creating her own world, by resolving conflicts internally and by looking for role-models around her
  • Other characters overcome adversity by defying stereotypes and banding together with other people of similar identity
  • One must live with the consequences of one’s past decisions
  • Certain events are beyond one’s control and can change the course of one’s life
  • The memoir is a genre that blends truth and creativity (its parameters are hotly debated)
  • People can make sense of their experiences through writing about them and readers can make sense of their lives by observing the similarities between their lives and the lives of others 
  • Authors of nonfiction can use the same literary techniques as authors of fiction to communicate their emotions and experiences
  • All personal narratives are biased and reveal a unique perspective


Essential Questions:

  • How does Maya Angelou overcome adversity?
  • How do other characters overcome adversity? Are these methods more or less effective than Maya’s?
  • What adversity does Maya face placed on her by forces outside their control?
  • How close to reality must a memoir be?
  • How do authors use language to communicate their emotions and experiences?
  • How do readers use inspiration from author’s experiences to forge an understanding of life?
  • How can research inform our understanding of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? What research is needed?
  • How does Angelou use figurative language to communicate her emotions and experiences?


To meet the requirements of the standards, students need to KNOW:


·      Literary techniques and devices and their impact on narrative style

·      Author’s purpose

·      Author’s Audience

·      Narrator and narrator’s perspective

·      Fiction versus nonfiction

·      Characteristics of autobiography

·      Characteristics of memoir

·      Voice

·      Latin root “ver”

·      Hero

·      Simile, Metaphor, Hyperbole, Imagery, Personification

·      Tone

·      Mood

·      Key civil rights decisions of the Twentieth Century

·      Historical background: Arkansas, St. Louis, etc.

·      Library and Internet research techniques

·      Most effective media for presentations

·      Use of thesis statements and textual evidence in an essay

·      Tier 2 vocabulary in the text


To meet the requirements of the standards, students need to DO:


·      Identify and analyze the author’s purpose

·      Define and differentiate between fiction and nonfiction

·      Define, compare and differentiate between autobiography and memoir

·      Identify characteristics of the hero/hero archetype and analyze the text for those attributes

·      Compare and contrast their personal experiences and perspective with the perspectives of the individuals in the memoir

·      Identify and explain similes, metaphors, hyperbole, imagery and understanding their contribution to the author’s narrative style and voice

·      Identify and explain the characteristics of the hero found in Maya Angelou

·      Isolate literary techniques and devices within an individual chapter and lead a structured discussion of that chapter

·      Respond to impromptu guiding questions during chapter presentations

·      Develop guiding research questions

·      Present information from research in a formal presentation

·      Use multiple media in a presentation

·      Develop a concise, supported response to a thematic analysis essay prompt

·      Examine significant portions of the text in order to meet the above outcomes.





Performance/Transfer Tasks, Projects:

·      Final test including various essay prompts and objective questions

·      Argumentative/expository essay (see standards!)

·      Oral presentations

·      15 minute Individual Oral Commentary

·      Socratic Seminar I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

·      Reading and vocabulary quizzes

·      Objective test and essay

·      15 minute Individual Oral Commentary

·      Mandatory Daily meta journaling



Activities intended to meet the needs of the standards:


·      Read, annotate and analyze the memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

·      Study guide questions for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

·      Read excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King

·      Research, analysis and discussion on historical, cultural and sociological background of the text

·      Journal questions and DISCUSSION: Audience, Purpose, Silence, Text analysis, Overcoming Adversity, Coming of Age Experiences, Relationships with Parents

·      journal (close reading of text)

·       Analysis of the poems “Sympathy” Paul Laurence Dunbar; “Alone” Maya Angelou; “Still I Rise” Maya Angelou; “Caged Bird” “Men” “Phenomenal Woman” “Woman Work”

·      Individual oral presentations on student generated topics related to the novel




·      “And Still I Rise”; Maya Angelou reading her poem: <http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=JqOqo50LSZ0>

·      “Lift Every Voice and Sing” University of Virginia Library Online Exhibit <http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/music/overview.html>

Return to top