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Maya Angelou’s autobiography is an excellent vehicle for exploring how people overcome adversity. And because they often are facing similar problems, high school students empathize with the young Maya as she struggles to survive in a hostile environment. Further, the autobiography is an excellent segue into human rights issues.

The sequence of activities follows the chronological development of the autobiography and is divided based on its chapters.

Essential question:

How do people overcome adversity?

Related questions

  • How does Maya Angelou overcome adversity?
  • How do other characters overcome adversity?
  • Why kinds of adversity do people sometimes cause for themselves?
  • What kinds of adversity are the results of forces outside their control?


Click to view the full text of relevant California State Standards

  • Students will practice systematic vocabulary development.
    (vocabulary development 1.0)
  • Students will read and respond to a significant work of literature
    (literary response 3.2, 3.6, and 3.12)
  • Students will write coherent and focused essays. (writing strategies 1.1)
  • Students will write responses to literature. (writing applications 2.2)
  • Students will revise and publish work following the conventions of grammar and manuscript form. (written and oral language conventions 1.4 and 1.5)


The teacher will use technology to retrieve images, quotations, passages and literary selections; to locate resources and documents that help support the unit; and to project images, quotations, and lessons. Students will use technology to conduct research and to compose, revise, and edit compositions.



Urban Dreams
OUSD Curriculum Unit
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
Subject: English
Grade Level: 9th

Lesson Plan Author:
Juanita McCrary-Holmes
School: Skyline High School
Organization: OUSD