Grade 6 Central Subject: Africa

Naturally embedded in any academic curriculum are human themes. In keeping with Shady Hill School’s traditions, we aim to integrate within all subjects themes including character, values, respect for self and others, and the responsibility children have as members of the community.

In Grade VI we build on ideas introduced in previous years to address concerns that 11- and 12-year-olds are typically beginning to confront: assumptions, stereotyping, peer pressure, inclusion/exclusion, community service, and social justice. Because we are especially mindful of the important developmental transitions experienced by sixth graders, we link much of our curriculum to the central theme of “rites of passage.” Throughout the year, students earn beads that symbolize their achievements in meeting certain social, emotional, academic, and physical challenges. These accomplishments promote a sense of individual progress for each child and enhance the cohesiveness of the entire age group.
Many of the topics relevant to sixth graders arise in our discussions of the literature we study. While we teach about literary technique, history, grammar, and African cultures, we also examine decisions made by characters in literature and history regarding their attitudes towards and treatment of others.

Dispelling stereotypes and assumptions about Africa is our base in beginning our Central Subject. Through group activities and discussions, the goal is to identify practical applications of these lessons for students to use in the classroom, on the paths and playgrounds, and in their lives outside of school.


How do I know who I am? What do I need to be my best self?
Who or what determines the value or worth of a person, service, or object?
What factors influence the way(s) we view the world? How might we understand an unfamiliar world view?
What are resources? How do they shape cultures and how are they shaped by culture?

History and Geography

Throughout the curriculum, we focus on the diversity of the continent, emphasizing reflecting upon and challenging stereotypes about Africa. During the year we also integrate folktales and the oral tradition, the arts, and aspects of daily life of various African cultures.

The year is broken into several large units of study, with geography as a point of emphasis in the early part of the year. As the year progresses, classes study civilizations of Ancient and Medieval Africa, followed by an examination of colonialism and more recent regional history, issues, and cultures. Students do several research projects both individually and in groups.

Central Subject References 

A Visual Geography of Africa, C.T. Quinn-Young; Africa, Dowdon; Africa, McDougal, Littell; A Guide to African History, Davidson; African Myths & Legends, K. Alnott; Great Rulers of the African Past, Dobler & Brown; African Studies, Univ. of Illinois Press; Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, McKissack; Ancient African Kingdoms, Shinnie; The Kingdoms of Africa, Koslow; African Kingdoms of the Past, Mann; Glorious Age of Africa, Chu & Skinner; 52 Days By Camel, Raskin, Pearson; Africa, a special presentation of Nature and National Geographic (documentary series and companion text); and several series for research: Heritage Library of African Peoples; Cultures of the World, Cavendish; Through African Eyes, edited by Leon Clark; Exploration into Africa, Ibazebo.

Literature & Writing

In literature we focus on novels that teach about African cultures, reflect themes within our Central Subject, or meet the goals of our literacy curriculum. Through our fiction study we encourage students to make textual connections, read for deeper meaning, and enjoy the process of supporting and sharing their observations. Discussion, written assignments, and projects provide opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding of beginning literary concepts: plot development, character, style, theme and figurative language. Basic reading comprehension skills are reinforced through the study of a variety of genres, including folktales, short stories, myths and poems. Books that may be used are: Tuck Everlasting, Babbitt; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Taylor; The Giver, Lowry; An African Child, Laye; Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali; Locomotion, Woodson; Home of the Brave, Applegate; Mzungu Boy, Mwangi; A Long Walk to Water, Park; The Ear, The Eye And the Arm, Farmer; The African Mask, Rupert, and other works of African fiction. Independent outside reading is also required.
Students engage in a variety of writing activities. We emphasize research and expository writing skills in sixth grade writing assignments. We work with students on note taking, outlining, study and research skills, critical thinking, paragraph structure and narrative cohesion. In creative writing, students write fiction, including folktales, personal narratives, and poetry. Students are encouraged to engage in ongoing dialogue about their work with their peers and teachers. Periodic short lessons at the beginning of writing classes focus on specific aspects of the writer’s craft, including vocabulary, grammar, mechanics, plot development and organization of ideas.
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