Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida: A Literature Study Unit (editable)

Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida: A Literature Study Unit (editable)
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1 MB|92 pages
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This is a 92-page literature study unit for use with the novel, Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida. Set during World War II, this work of historical fiction follows twelve year-old Yuki and her family from their home in Berkeley, California to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, one of several dusty, barbed wire-bound outposts the U.S. government hastily established to detain “enemy aliens,” for the duration of the conflict. Though the U.S. was at war with Italy and Germany as well as Japan, the government subjected only its citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry to the harsh and dehumanizing conditions Uchida’s prose brings into vivid focus. The novel takes a close look at the racism, bigotry and paranoia behind an ugly chapter in American history, and this unit’s questions and prompts ask students to grapple with how such a lapse in justice could have happened in “the land of the free.”

NOTE: This unit does NOT include an answer key. Though some questions here are designed to assess comprehension, the overall objective is to promote discussion, critical inquiry and the development of argument-building skills. Most prompts here are open-ended so a variety of responses will be "correct," depending on how well-supported they are. If you are looking for a unit with multiple choice or fill-in-the-blanks questions you can quickly match against an answer key, this is not the right unit for you.


• A link to a LibreFonte digital copy of the Creative Arts Book Company 1985 edition of the novel.

• Literature Response worksheets for each chapter of the novel (or half chapter for longer ones) with 8-12 questions about the reading. Page numbers correspond with PDF of the novel in the link above. Some of the questions are designed to assess reading comprehension (or listening comprehension if you read the novel aloud); others are intended to hone critical thinking and writing skills. Several of the questions can also be used as prompts for longer writing assignments. The novel raises some tough and complicated questions about family and adult responsibility, and the Lit Response prompts ask students to articulate their thoughts on these issues and write about personal experience. There are some questions geared toward English Language learners that ask students to decode idioms with which native English speakers will probably be familiar. A few questions involve math.

• Several short “Mentor Text Exercises” designed for use with a Writers’ Workshop program. Each exercise asks students to read as writers—to pay close attention to elements of craft—and apply the mentor author’s writing techniques to their own works in progress. You can use as many or as few as you’d like. Though the exercises build on one another, the concepts involved are explained in each one so there’s no need to teach them in any particular order. Many include links to student writing samples that model approaches to applying the mentor author techniques under consideration.

• A link to the Lit Response questions and mentor exercises formatted for use with a projector. This version has larger margins and fewer spaces between questions and prompts to maximize the amount of text that will fit on the screen—especially convenient if you do the Lit Response questions or Mentor Text Exercises as whole-class activities. You must have your own Google account to edit. If you don’t have one, they are quick and free to acquire.

• Three primary source activities, one for use with a short film about the work of photographer Dorothea Lange who was hired by the U.S. government to photograph the internment camps, and another for use with a section of the Ken Burns documentary The War devoted to the Japanese internment experience. The third one is a set of middle grade research project prompts for use with primary source documents (the Civil Rights Act of 1988 and a letter of apology to all internment survivors from President Clinton). Links to both films and primary source documents are included.

• Vocabulary quizzes, one for every 2-3 chapters. Rather than ask for definitions, instructions here ask students to use each vocabulary word in their own sentences because I’ve found that this exercise tells me a lot more about how much students understand the words than asking them for definitions does. Since the document is in MS Word, however, you can easily change the directions to create assignments that meet your own objectives.

• 4 vocabulary practice crossword puzzles with solutions.

• A vocabulary study sheet, where all words are listed with easy to understand definitions and parts of speech (not dictionary definitions that can often be confusing).

• A reproducible “Word Work-up” Frayer model-based graphic organizer for in-depth study of individual words. This page features questions about word origin, prefixes, suffixes, synonyms, antonyms and parts of speech.

• A link to a set of Journey to Topaz vocabulary flashcards stored on From this URL you can download a PDF copy of the flashcards, or let students use the “study session” feature on the website or the Flashcard Machine app for ipad or android devices. Directions for three flashcard games are included with the link.

• Flexible formatting. This document is in Microsoft Word, so you can easily modify or delete anything here to fit your own class’s needs. The cover image, crossword puzzles, vocabulary study sheet, and “Word Work-up” worksheet are embedded PDF files so they will take a little longer to load. Keep in mind that if you make changes that alter the document’s pagination, the page numbers on the Contents page might become inaccurate, but will probably stay close enough for you to find what you’re looking for. If you want to use the unit as-is, simply save as a PDF to preserve existing formatting. To save space, I’ve formatted the vocabulary study sheet in columns and embedded it as a PDF because editing within columns often results in frustrating formatting problems. If you’d like to alter the vocabulary study sheet, copy & paste into a word document and edit as you wish.
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92 pages
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