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Unit 2: Journey to Topaz

This unit begins following the reading of a historical fiction, Journey to Topaz (independent, and/or read aloud, 6-8th grade interest level and 6.8 reading level). The book by author Yoshiko Uchida introduces readers to a Japanese-American family forced to go to an enemy alien’s camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The study includes an investigation of Constitutional Amendments as they relate to decisions made at a time of war. They “continue” the story through their own dramatic enactment and analysis of the facts of the internment and Constitutional law, which includes a mock trial.


Grade Levels

  • Ideal for Grades 6–8
  • Adaptable to Grades 9–12 (especially grade 11) using higher levels of reading with other books, such as Farewell to Manzanar

Materials & Resources Needed

  • Unit 2 PowerPoint (Large PPTX: 3MB)
    (This same PowerPoint file is used throughout the lessons of Unit 2)
  • Other lesson-specific materials are available on each individual lesson plan page

Stage 1: Desired Results

Enduring Understandings / Big Idea

Democracy Calls for Equal Justice Under the Law

Essential Questions:

  • What is justice?
  • Is civil disobedience ever justified? Explain.
  • Are the processes in place in democracy designed to “level individual bias in the court system effective? Why or why not?
  • In what ways do people react to race and differences between one another?
  • Do citizens have responsibilities as well as rights? If so, do they have a responsibility to speak up about injustice? Explain

A note regarding standards: Depending upon how a teacher wishes to approach this unit, multiple standards can be met, introduced, or reviewed/reinforced in different content areas. In addition, there are more standards at other grade levels that teachers will find are a “match” for this unit. The most important thing is that you know your desired results, follow your plan and make sure that your objectives match with your standards!

  • California History Social Science Content Standards

    4.5.3: Describe the similarities (e.g., written documents, rule of law, consent of the governed, three separate branches) and differences … among federal state, and local governments.

    5.7.5: Discuss the meaning of the American creed that calls on citizens to safeguard the liberty of individual Americans within a unified nation, to respect the rule of law, and to preserve the Constitution.

    8.2.2: Students analyze the political principles underling the U.S. Constitution and compare the enumerated and implied powers of the federal government. Analyze the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution and the success of each in implementing the ideal of the Declaration of Independence.

    8.2.6: Students analyze the political principles underling the U.S. Constitution and compare the enumerated and implied powers of the federal government. Enumerate the powers of government set forth in the Constitution and the fundamental liberties ensured by the Bill of Rights.

    10.8.6: Students analyze the causes and consequences of World War II.  Discuss the human costs of the war, with particular attention to the civilian and military losses in Russia, Germany, Britain, the United States, China, and Japan.

    11.7.5: Students analyze American’s participation in World War II.  Discuss the constitutional issues and impact of events on the U.S. home front, including the internment of Japanese Americans (e.g., Fred Korematsu v. United States of America) and the restrictions on German and Italian resident aliens; the response of the administration to Hitler’s atrocities against Jews and other groups; the role of women in military production; and the roles and growing political demands of African Americans.

    12.2.1: Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the scope and limits of rights and obligations as democratic citizens, the relationships among them, and how they are secured. Discuss the meaning and importance of each of the Rights and how each is secured (e.g., freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, petition, privacy).

  • Suggested K-12 Pathway for College, Career, and Civic Readiness

    Dimension 2, Participation and Deliberation

    • D2.Civ.7.3-5: Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school settings.
    • D2.Civ.8.3-5: Identify core civic virtues and democratic principles that guide government, society, and communities.
    • D2.Civ.9.3.5: Use deliberative processes when making decisions or reaching judgments as a group.
    • D2.Civ.10.3-5: Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others’ points of view about civic issues.
    • D2.Civ.7.6-8: Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school and community settings.
    • D2.Civ.8.6-8: Analyze ideas and principles contained in the founding documents of the United States, and explain how they influence the social and political system.
    • D2.Civ.9.6-8: Compare deliberative processes used by a wide variety of groups in various settings.
    • D2.Civ.10-68: Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.
    • D2.Civ.7.9-12: Apply civic virtues and democratic principles when working with others.
    • D2.Civ.8.9-12: Evaluate social and political systems in different contexts, times, and places, that promote civic virtues and enact democratic principles.
    • D2.Civ.9.9-12: Use appropriate deliberative processes in multiple settings.
    • D2.Civ.10.9-12: Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.

    Dimension 2, Processes, Rules, and Laws

    • D2.Civ.11.3.5: Compare procedures for making decisions in a variety of settings, including classroom, school, government, and/or society.
    • D2.Civ.12.3-5: Explain how rules and laws change society and how people change rules and laws.
    • D2.Civ.13.3-5: Explain how policies are developed to address public problems.
    • D2.Civ.14.3-5: Illustrate historical and contemporary means of changing society.
    • D2.Civ.11.6-8: Differentiate among procedures for making decisions in the classroom, school, civil society, and local, state and national government in terms of how civic purposes are intended.
    • D2.Civ.12.6-8: Assess specific rules and laws (both actual and proposed) as means of addressing public problems.
    • D2.Civ.13.6-8: Analyze the purposes, implementation, and consequences of public policies in multiple settings.
    • D2.Civ.14.6-8: Compare historical and contemporary means of changing societies, and promoting the common good.
    • D2.Civ.11.9-12: Evaluate multiple procedures for making governmental decisions at the local, state, national and international levels in terms of the civic purposes achieved.
    • D2.Civ.12.9-12: Analyze how people use and challenge local, state, national, and international laws to address a variety of public issues.
    • D2.Civ.13.9.9-12: Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
    • D2.Civ.14.9-12: Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights.
  • Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

    *Note: Depending on instruction with Reading Standards for Literature ELA, many standards not listed below should be addressed by the teacher during the reading of the book. The intent of this unit is to extend the reading, and provide critical thinking and analysis of the historical event related to the understanding of the Constitution.

    College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing K-12

    (Specific grade level standards within these subtitles are written to provide developmentally appropriate details)

    1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

    College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening K-12

    (Specific grade level standards within these subtitles are written to provide developmentally appropriate details)

    1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
    1. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    1. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

    College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading K-12

    1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
    3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
    1. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
    2. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
    3. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
    1. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.*
    2. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  • Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

    Theatre, Creative Expression

    • 2.1: Participate in improvisational activities to explore complex ideas and universal themes in literature and life.
    • 2.2: Demonstrate the use of blocking (stage areas, levels, and actor’s position, such as full front, quarter, profile, and full back) in dramatizations.
    • 2.3: Collaborate as an actor, director, scriptwriter, or technical artist in creating formal or informal theatrical performances.
    • 2.7: Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.

Stage 2: End of Unit Authentic Assessment


  • Goal: To use facts in the Korematsu case and apply them to the law to determine the implications of justice and democratic principles.
  • Role: Attorneys of the defense team (United States), and/or attorneys representing the plaintiff, (Fred Korematsu)
  • Audience: The public, press, interested family members
  • Situation: Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forced the Japanese American population of the western United States into incarceration camps.  As students in 1944, this class will perform their own research and moot trial of the internment as it relates to the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.
  • Performance: Attorneys will write arguments presenting their side of the case.  They will acknowledge counterclaims and convince the Supreme Court Justices that these opposing claims are incorrect.  Three scenes may be enacted as a performance piece following the study.
  • Standards for Success: Arguments on both sides will be presented with details and facts that support claims and use the vocabulary of the case.  Counterclaims will be argued against with details and strong and persuasive reasoning.  Supreme Court Justices will ask questions, and/or comment on claims that address both the defense and the prosecution directly relating to Constitutional law.

Download GRASPS as a printable, one-page PDF

Quality Criteria Absolutely Almost Not Yet


  • Written opinion supports point of view with reasons and information
  • Clear intro, statement of opinion
  • Logically ordered reasons supported by facts and details
  • Use of words, phrases and clauses
  • Provides conclusion related to opinion presented
Speaking and Listening:


  • Collaborative discussions with clear expression of ideas
  • Builds on other’s ideas, responds to others’ questions


  • Active participation in improvisation, exploring emotions, physical characteristics, developing character
  • Collaboration with “teams” of attorneys, and “in role” as court Justices.

Stage 3: Planned Lessons

Lesson plans and the facts, knowledge, concepts, and skills within are described below. Please select a lesson to view complete lesson plans:

  • Lesson 1: Journey to Topaz: Reading for UnderstandingStudents read the book, journal and discuss facts, concepts and themes found within the book. This is an ongoing daily lesson until the book has been read in its entirety.  The Reading Guide helps teachers with concept analysis, vocabulary, and offers many additional ideas for research and projects.
  • Lesson 2: Poetic Justice: The Synthesis of Fiction & Nonfiction in Found PoetryStudents will explore connections between the historical fiction account of Yuki’s family in Topaz and the primary source documents they research and/or diary entries of third grade students in the Topaz camp from the nonfictional primary source, The Story of a Japanese-American Internment Camp Based on a Classroom Diary, by Michael O. Tunnell and George W. Chilcoat.  After reading and discussion of the materials in teams (copies from diary entries for each group), students will create found poetry to convey their own opinion of what it meant to be in the camps.
  • Lesson 3: It’s WarReviews the history of the very beginning of the war (and book), roles of the three branches of government, and introduces Fred Korematsu, a young man who refused to go to the internment camp. Within the context of his case story, students learn about the structure of the judicial branch.
  • Lesson 4: Yuki’s Study & the 5th AmendmentReviews the Bill of Rights through a Reader’s Theatre (Scene 1). Students have the opportunity to begin analyzing and evaluating the 5th amendment as it relates to the Japanese Internment.
  • Lesson 5: Investigators at WorkInvolves students in the investigative portion of their work. Either through written materials provided from you or recommended websites, students collect the fact and details necessary for them to be able to analyze and then create solid arguments in a future lesson.
  • Lesson 6: Argue Civil Rights & WrongsVocabulary is reinforced through a game and reviews the fact pattern of the Fred Korematsu case. Students write arguments given their assigned side, ie: Korematsu or U.S. Government.
  • Lesson 7: Supreme Court in ActionFollows the editing of arguments, and has teams of attorneys arguing their cases in front of 9 Supreme Court Justices (Scene 2). The PowerPoint shares more of the continuing story of the Fred Korematsu case.
  • Lesson 8: Justice for ClosureBegins with Scene 3 as a hook, and reviews the entire unit with students leading the class through the overarching goals of the unit. This review brings closure to the unit.
  • Bonus MaterialsExplore extensions & additional materials related to Unit 2: Journey to Topaz that you may find helpful in your classroom