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You Belong Here: Building a Supportive Classroom Environment in a Post-Pandemic World

August 14, 2023

Unit Overview

This unit is designed to cover the first five weeks of school for a 7th-grade class. While we will be working on sharpening our skills for comparing character perspectives, as well as our ability to track themes over the duration of a text, a big focus of this unit is on developing a sense of belonging in the classroom. We will do this by setting team norms, community building, and through a series of mindfulness practices. This targeted focus is inspired by the recent pandemic that had students learning remotely for some duration of time. Because of this, I want to foster not only my relationships with students, but their relationships with one another as well. Relationship work is always important at the start of the school year, however, it is even more imperative in the wake of remote learning.

Additionally, Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram is the perfect text to kick off the year because of the various themes it tackles - identity, isolation, friendship, and depression. I ;will make sure to send a note letting parents know about some of the content the text contains, and I will provide ample trigger warnings and space for students to step out when needed. However, this novel is so special because it is not a book about mental illness, but rather a book about a young man who has depression. In this way, the story normalizes caring for one’s mental health, which I feel is extremely important for students to see coming out of the pandemic.

Accommodations and Modifications

Small-Group Work

Whenever I place students in small groups to do work I will try to always avoid perceptions of one group trailing “behind”. One way I will do this is to group students based on interest (for instance, by favorite music artist, or favorite book). I will also be sure to give students choice whenever possible. For instance, on the day we do converstations, students will be able to pick which station they go to first, and the people they meet at their station will form their group.

Various Formats

I will offer a variety of formats for submitting work whenever possible. For their journals, students will have the option to write a traditional journal entry, make a short video, or submit an audio recording. I will also encourage multilingual students to use their home language when writing their journal entries if they prefer. Code meshing will always be welcome in these journal entries! Additionally, for students who prefer to have an audio recording when reading Darius the Great Is Not Okay for homework, I will work with the librarian to make that available to them.


While some of my plans for differentiation are built into the plans below, I will continue to differentiate my instruction as I get to know my students and their needs.

Unit Plan

Unit Plan Overview
Unit Title:
You Belong Here: Building a Supportive Classroom Environment in a Post-Pandemic World
Class / Period: Unit Duration:
7th Grade / Period 1 5 weeks
Inspiring Quote: Inquiry Question:

“Everyone wants you here. We have a saying in Farsi. It translates ‘your place was empty.’ We say it when we miss somebody." I sniffed. "Your place was empty before. But this is your family. You belong here.”

-Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

How can we foster a sense of belonging in our classroom for each and every student?

How can we take care of ourselves as we return to in-person learning?

Unit Standards: Unit Goals:

Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • I will identify ways in which I can make our classroom a place of belonging for me and my classmates.
  • I will organize multiple concepts and ideas into a clear email/letter, while keeping my audience in mind.
  • I will track the different points of view of the main characters in the story and how they change over time.
Unit Assessments: Materials:
  • Diagnostic: In-class letter writing
  • Formative: Quick writes, journals, exit slips, reading quiz
  • Summative: Multi-draft email writing assessment
  • Journals
  • Flip charts & markers
  • Mindfulness videos (linked below)
Unit Plan Calendar

Unit Calendar

Week 1, Day 1:


  • Team building: we will create nicknames modeled after “Darius the Great” that help show important parts of our identities.
  • Journal: Where do you feel like you belong? What qualities help bring about feelings of belonging for you?
  • Journal share out
  • Building norms: Keeping the ideas of what makes us feel like we belong in mind, what norms should we have as a classroom? Students can come up to the board and share their ideas.
  • Trigger Warning: I will share a trigger warning for suicide and mental health in the novel, Darius the Great Is Not Okay. I will explicitly add to our norms that we should avoid stigmatizing mental illness by saying things like “crazy” and making generalizations about people suffering from mental illness.
  • Wrap-up: students will read chapters 1-2 (10 pages) for homework and note moments in the text where Darius feels a sense of belonging and where he does not in a graphic organizer


  • Chapters 1-2 and graphic organizer

Week 1, Day 2:


  • Warm-up: Darius loves tea! What is your favorite beverage?
  • Making Space: After reviewing our graphic organizers, students will break into small groups and design a space that they think would make Darius feel a sense of belonging. They will use at least 3 pieces of evidence from the text to support their choices. Groups will then share their spaces with the class and we will talk about how these align/don’t align to our classroom.
  • Mini-lesson: We’ll have a quick mini-lesson on depression and cultural norms (how different cultures perceive mental health). Students will be encouraged to take care of themselves during the discussion and to step out as needed.
  • Formative Assessment: I will ask students to spend 5 minutes writing down everything they know about mental health. This will inform future discussions on mental health.


  • Read chapter 3

Week 1, Day 3:


  • Warm-up: In chapter 3 we learn Darius has a special routine of watching Star Trek with his dad. Turn to the person next to you and share a routine or activity you like to do with your family or friends.  I will then have a couple of students share with the class if they feel comfortable.  What routines should we have in our classroom?
  • Notice & Note: I will introduce the Notice & Note sign-post again and again.  Darius has a few phrases he repeats often throughout the text, and I will encourage students to mark these as they read and consider why he keeps repeating these phrases.  What is the significance?  I will offer an example to work through with the students and then have them break up into small groups to see what repetitions they can find and why they are important. 
  • Mindfulness intro: Quick mini-lesson on how mindfulness can help students learn! (I’ll use details from Brainstorm!) I’ll also connect this to the text and share details about how mindfulness can help those suffering from depression.
  • Mindfulness practice: Today we will try movement-based mindfulness like some of these movements.
  • Journal: Students will journal about their mindfulness experiences. What do they like? What didn’t they like? How did you feel before the practice and after it? How was the first week of 7th grade??


  • Chapters 4-5

Week 2, Day 1:


  • Kindness Conversation: Share one kind thing that happened to you or that you did with the person next to you. Can you think of a moment of kindness that occurred in the weekend’s readings? Why are these moments important?
  • Community Building: Interpersonal Bingo!
    • Make up a BINGO style sheet with information in each square that may fit students in your class. (Tailor the information to specifically fit your group). Use a diversity of information regarding hobbies, background experiences, cultural references, etc. (e.g., traveled more than 60 miles to get here; is an only child; didn’t see Titanic... the possibilities are endless). People then play BINGO by meeting other people in the room, introducing themselves and getting prizes.
  • Journal: 
    • Prompt option 1: How did you feel after during interpersonal bingo? What is one thing that happened that made you feel energized? 
    • Prompt option 2: Imagine Darius was playing interpersonal bingo at school and he had to interact with some of the kids who bullied him. What advice would you give him? What advice would his dad give him? Do you agree with his dad’s advice?
  • In-Class Reading: Read chapter 6 


  • Read Chapter 7

Week 2, Day 2:


  • Nowruz Video: I will share this video and give more background on the Nowruz traditions that appear in the text.
  • Diagnostic Assessment: I will ask students to spend 25 minutes writing me a letter. They can share anything they want me to know in this letter, such as what holidays they celebrate, what they hope to learn this year, how I can best help them, what they are interested in outside of school, etc. I will encourage students to use all of the writing skills they learned last year in the sixth grade when they compose this letter. I will use this diagnostic to develop targeted writing lessons in preparation for the summative writing assignment. 
  • Brainstorm!: We will brainstorm a list of our favorite songs and discuss why we like them. This playlist will start off every class!


  • Read Chapters 8-10

Week 2, Day 3:


  • Think-Pair-Share: Pick two characters and jot down a couple of notes about what the book reveals their opinions are on depression. Why do you think the author included these two different perspectives? How does it change the story?
  • Hot Seat: Before beginning this activity, students will break up into small groups and each group will be assigned a character that they might have to portray in the hot seat. In their groups, students will make two lists: one of everything they know about their assigned character, and another of questions that they would want to ask this character. Then we will come back as a full group and each character will take the hot seat while students ask questions.
  • Debrief: As a full class we will discuss why the author chose to include characters with such different perspectives and beliefs in the novel. 
  • Community Building: Four corners! We will get to know who in our class has siblings, who loves soccer (like Darius & Sohrab), who is fluent in another language, and more!
  • Exit Slip: I will use a couple of free response questions in order to check in and make sure students are keeping up with the reading and that the pacing for assigned readings is appropriate.


  • Read Chapters 11-13

Week 3, Day 1:


  • Hook: SNL Letter Writing Sketch. What are some typical qualities of a letter that Mary’s letters are missing?
  • Introduce Writing Assignment: Next, I will introduce the writing assignment that we will be working towards as a class. Students will imagine that they are Darius writing an email to Sohrab imagining they have just settled back into their life (as Darius) in America. I will emphasize that students should consider Darius’ sense of belonging upon returning to America! We will also discuss the assignment expectations and rubric.
  • Graphic Organizer: To prepare for writing an email to Sohrab, students will use a graphic organizer. I will project the graphic organizer for students to see, and we will talk through the sample idea that I have pre-populated into the organizer.
  • Movement Break: Go to the opposite end of the room and find a partner. Silently try to mimic one another’s movements without having one person act as the leader.
  • Work Time: Students will have about 20 minutes to get started on these graphic organizers. During this time they can ask questions, bounce ideas off of a trusted thought partner, or work independently. I will plan to check in on students who need a bit more scaffolding for writing assignments to make sure they have everything they need to get started.
  • Review Timeline for Writing Assignment


  • Read Chapters 14-16

Week 3, Day 2:


  • Mini-lesson: Review a writing strategy or grammar in context that is specific to the needs that appeared in the diagnostic
  • Journal: Jot down some quick goals that you have for this year. We will conference this quarter to discuss how you can achieve them!
  • Mindfulness practice: Hoberman Sphere Breathing
  • In-Class Writing Time<: I will give students time in class to work on their email writing assignment. I will also model good writing behavior so that they can see that teachers practice what they preach!


  • Read Chapters 17-19

Week 3, Day 3:

**Rough Draft of Email + Graphic Organizer Due Today


  • Warm-Up: As students enter the classroom, I will ask that they create a quick visual that graphs their interest in Darius the Great over time.I will have an example modeled on the board.
  • Small-Group Graphing: In groups of 3-4 students, each group will be given a relationship to map closeness over time. For instance, Darius and his sister’s map would maintain steady throughout the text.Students will then present their graphs to the class and share a couple of pieces of textual evidence that support their choices. As a full class, we will discuss how the different characters’ perspectives intertwine to create strong, strained, or complex relationships.
  • Movement Break/Community Building: Find 3 people and share a fun fact with them. Also, make sure to write your fun fact on a sheet of paper to share with me. At the start of next week, we will try to match everyone’s fun facts to one another!
  • Read aloud: I will read a section of last night’s reading aloud to the class pausing to point out moments when the Notice & Notice strategy, Again & Again, pops up and why the author might have chosen to do that. Now that we know these characters better, we have more data to determine why these repetitions are important!
  • Exit Slip: To check for understanding, I will include an exit slip that assesses student understanding of the previous day’s grammar mini-lesson.


  • Read Chapters 20-23

Week 4, Day 1:


  • Mindfulness strategy: We will spend a couple of minutes at the start of class practicing mindful drawing with breathwork!
  • Conver-stations: Students will rotate to different stations that each have different discussion questions and activities. Students will be assigned different roles such as note-taker, timekeeper, and spokesperson. At the end, one spokesperson for each group will share a couple of thoughts from the final station they end on.
  • Movement Break/Community Building: On the board, I will have all of the fun facts that students submitted at the end of last week. Students will have a pen and sticky notes and will have to put the name of which student they think each fun fact belongs to on the board.
  • Journal Activity

    • Prompt 1: Which character within Dariusdo you most relate to? Why?
    • Prompt 2: What qualities of a best friend do you think are most important? Do any of the characters in the book meet your criteria?
    • Journal Shareout
    • Closeout: At the start of class, I will give students a slip of paper with the name of one of their classmates on it. I will let students know that we are going to end class by shouting out something that the student whose name is written on their slip of paper said/did during class that they thought was interesting/smart/cool/etc. To close out class, I will ask that students share their shoutouts!


  • Read Chapters 23-25

Week 4, Day 2:


  • Conferences: Today we will do in-class conferences on the writing summative. When students are not conferencing, they can either read the next 3 chapters in Darius or work on their writing assignment. If students want to peer workshop and help their partner find one additional idea they want to add to their letter, students can do this as well.


  • Read Chapters 26-29

Week 4, Day 3:


  • Warm-Up: What other characters from TV, movies, and books might Darius be friends with if he were able to meet them?
  • Summarization Practice: In small groups, students will come up with a list of the most important events that have happened in the book so far. They will then need to assess which are the most important events and which are not essential to include in a re-telling of the text. The final list should include the top 5 most important events in the story. As a full class, we will discuss if our top 5 events are similar and why we chose them. How do these events help to tell the story and why are they meaningful?
  • Norms Check-In: Have we been living up to the class norms that we set at the beginning of class? Are there any new norms we want to add? What else can I do to help make our classroom a place where you feel like you belong? We will have a class conversation, but I will also give students time to write their thoughts on an exit slip for me in case they don’t feel comfortable sharing with the full class.
  • Mini-lesson: We will do a quick mini-lesson on the difference between revising and editing. I will share strategies for revising students’ email writing assignments.


  • Read Chapters 30-35

Week 5, Day 1:


  • Jeopardy!: To prepare for our reading quiz on Wednesday, we will play Jeopardy to review major concepts and ideas from Darius the Great.
  • Modified Concentric circles: Students will make two circles (one inside another) facing each other. For each round, I will project a new discussion question on the board based on last night’s reading. Each student will have 1:30 to respond to the question before rotating. At the end, I will ask for volunteers to share something their partner said with the class.
  • Debate: Prior to the debate, I will break students up into small groups and ask them to think about which character they feel grew the MOST during the text. I will ask them to jot down a couple of pieces of text that support their opinions. Then we will come back together as a full class and each team will get 3 minutes to share their perspective before rebuttals ensue!
  • Wrap-Up: I want to take time at the end of class to tell students that they matter regardless of how they do on any assessment in my room. I want to spend time telling them that while I want to help them grow, they deserve to feel a sense of belonging in my room no matter what!


  • Read Chapters 36-39
  • Prepare for reading quiz

Week 5, Day 2:


  • Reading Quiz: This will be a mix of multiple-choice questions and a couple of free-response questions. Students with accommodations can take extra time to finish the quiz outside of the classroom while we do the questionnaire, they can come in early, or they can stay late.;
  • Opinionnaire: After we finish our quiz, I will use tape on the floor to denote a spectrum of agree to disagree. I will then read out a variety of statements related to themes from the unit and see how the class feels about what we’ve done together this month!


  • Finish writing assignment

Week 5, Day 3:

 **Writing assignment due**