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Using Contemporary Young Adult Fiction

and Nonfiction with Visual Media to Support

Higher Level Thinking by Sue Hebert
Grade level 8-10
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time
Indian by Sherman Alexie

Code Breaker Activities

Decoding the codes and conventions of written, spoken and visual texts, eg:
uses a range of strategies to support identification of words, eg sounds in words, letter
patterns, and word meaning
develops knowledge of various literary devices, eg similes and metaphors
attends to the function and use of various categories of words, eg parts of speech,
synonyms, prefixes
becomes familiar with the structures and conventions of different genre

Following are examples of activities to support the Code Breaker

1.In many ways, Junior is engulfed by the emotional realities of his life and his community. Yet
his spare, matter-of-fact language and his keen sense of irony help him to confront and negotiate
the hurt, the rage, and the senselessness of Wellpinits everyday realities. How does Junior use
language to lead readers, whose lives may be very different from his own, to the kind of
understanding that they will not get from young adult fiction whose writers do not have this kind
of lived experience? This question can be posed to a whole class for discussion or in small

Describe the style of writing in the first chapter.

Describe the cartoon on page 57. What does this symbolise about Juniors
Why does Junior draw cartoons? What do the first two cartoons depict?
What does this tell us about Junior?
What do Juniors cartoons (pp. 170 & 171) reveal about his emotions?
What does the cartoon on p. 182 demonstrate about his feelings?
Choose three cartoons from the novel and write a sustained analysis of each one.
Consider: what can we see? What does it reveal about Junior? How does it
complement the written text?
Choose your favourite three cartoons from the novel. Explain to the class why you
have selected these cartoons as your favorite and explain the significance of
each one.
Write your opinion:
It is Juniors drawings more than his words that depict his emotions and feelings.
Do you agree?

In order to help students with vocabulary I would let them use this site to
familiarize themselves with the words. They could be used before, during, or
after reading.
Students could choose a word and create a word map including definition, a
picture illustrating the word, a sentence related to their life, and the opposite
of the word.
Throughout the book I would ask students to find all of the figurative
language used and ask how it enhanced the story.

Meaning Maker
Meaning makers read to understand. They integrate knowledge from the illustrations:
visual features such as graphs, labels,or headings; background knowledge, etc. They
think beyond what is explicitly stated in the text to what is implied. They look for clues
provided by the author or illustrator that lead to understanding the text at a different level
of comprehension.To support meaning maker skills:
pose questions that address
*literal interpretation
*inferential interpretation
-discuss a story from a different point of view
-before reading a story, access and/ or build prior knowledge

There are many activities that support making meaning for this novel. Following
are several that I found to be collaborative and involve multimedia.

To motivate and engage students to read the book I would show this book trailer to
activate prior knowledge and provide some points for discussion.

In order to make meaning from the text as part of your class study of The Absolutely True
Diary of a Part-time Indian, answer the following research questions using the internet and
your school library.
Who are the Spokane Indians? Where are they located? What is their history? What
are their customs and traditions?
Why were reservations set up in America? What was their goal? Has it been
What are some of the issues and problems facing Native Americans?
Where in America is the Spokane Indian reservation located? Make a copy of a
map with the area highlighted. How big is the reservation? How many people live
Thats how we were taught to teach you. We were supposed to kill the Indian to
save the child. (p. 35) What does Mr P. mean when he says this? Why were they
encouraged to kill the Indian culture (p. 35)?
What do Americans celebrate at Thanksgiving?
What is the Bureau of Indian Affairs?
What is the Spokane Powwow?
How can the plight of the Native Americans be compared with the journey of the Indigenous
How are their experiences similar? How do they differ?

Character analysis is one important component of making meaning. Here is an

activity that would support character analysis:
You are a good kid. You deserve the world. (p. 41)
Juniors growth and development are central to the novel. Create a mind-map, either
using the computer program Inspiration, another software application or on a large piece of poster paper.
Referring closely to the text and using quotes, include the following information:
Three adjectives to describe Junior at the start of the novel
Three adjectives to describe Junior at the end of the novel
Turning points for Junior
Important relationships and how they develop
Physical description
Characteristics and personality
Three symbols to represent the character. Include a picture and explain each one.
Key actions and events in the novel
High points in the novel
Low points in the novel

For students to make meaning they can collaboratively work on oral reports or they
could be videotaped or put on Imovie to share with the class. Here are small group
presentation ideas that focus on making meaning which focus on higher level
thinking as opposed to just answering comprehension questions:
1. Before the Reardan Indians versus Wellpenit Redskins basketball game a news
crew comes to interview Junior. Working in small groups, write a script for the entire
news story, including interviews with Coach and Rowdy. Rehearse and then either
present the news story for the class or videotape and then show the class.
2. Both Mr P and Coach have a big impact on Junior due to their motivating words
and advice. Prepare and present a motivational speech, to be delivered to the
Wellpenit basketball team just before their second game against Reardan.
3. In ten years time Junior returns to Wellpenit High to deliver a speech to the
graduating class. What is his message to them? What has he done since high
school? Prepare and present his speech.

4. Choose your favourite three cartoons from the novel. Explain to the class why you
have selected these cartoons as your favourite and explain the significance of
each one.
5. Working in small groups, choose a scene from the novel to act out. Write your own
script before you rehearse and then present to the class. Choose from one of the
following scenes:
a. Juniors first day at Reardan.
b. The class walk out on Mrs Jeremy.
c. Junior and Penelope go out for pancakes after the dance.
d. Junior and Rowdy play basketball at the end of the novel.
6. Prepare an argumentative speech, using one of the following topics:
a. The pursuit of personal goals is more important than the expectations of the
b. Boys should be freer to express their feelings.
c. More education is required to eradicate racism from our society.
d. The misuse of alcohol has devastating effects on our community.
e. Self-belief is the most important quality to ensure success.

Text User
A text user has an understanding of genre and uses this knowledge to approach a text
appropriately. They expect, for example, to read fictional narratives for an understanding
of character and plot development, and,most importantly, for enjoyment. They
understand that factual texts would focus on information and would likely contain
specific text features to help the reader see ideas more clearly.
To support text user skills:
read aloud from a range of genres so students see this as an authentic form of
independent reading
use shared texts from a range of genres to explicitly teach students how to approach and interpret
the information contained in these texts
encourage students to write in a range of genres based on the purpose of the writing
ensure students have access to a wide range of fiction and factual texts for
independent reading

Following are activities that would support being a text user.

Cultural outsiders who write young adult fiction tend to romanticize the impoverishment of Indians. Junior is
having none of this: It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start
believing that youre poor because youre stupid and ugly.
And then you start believing that youre stupid and ugly because youre Indian. And because youre Indian
you start believing that youre destined to be poor. Its an ugly circle and theres nothing you can do about it.
Poverty doesnt give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you
how to be poor.

How does Juniors direct language address this stereotypical portrayal of Indians? What about his language
draw the teen reader into the realities of his life?
Students could respond in small groups, whole class or in writing.

Of note is the unique structure of the novel. Interspersed within the narrative are pictures;
cartoons that Junior draws because words are too limited. (p. 5) It is an engaging and
effective technique that could lead to interesting discussions about visual imagery in the
classroom, particularly about how the cartoons assist the readers understanding of the
text. The often irreverent and black humour expressed in the cartoons develops the
character of Junior more than would be possible with text alone. Further, the use of
cartoons has a thematic link to the poverty experienced by Junior and his community. He
draws because he want[s] the world to pay attention to [him] (p. 6) and he knows that
drawing is the only way [he] can become rich and famous. (p. 6) Junior acknowledges
that being rich and famous might be [his] only real chance to escape the reservation.
(p. 6) Therefore, the visual imagery has an added poignancy to it, illustrating both Juniors
emotions and feelings, alongside his desire to make something of his life.
Students could make cartoons relating to their lives and their struggles to connect with how the author used
the cartoons to convey meaning.

Text Critic
A text critic learns to evaluate a text to determine the authors purpose and the
conscious decisions the author made to include or exclude certain information. They
consider point of view, as well as social and cultural fairness or bias. Text critics also
consider how well the author achieved their purpose and how they might have written
in a different way.
To support text critic skills:
choose texts carefully and engage students in discussions that lead to the
development of these skills
discuss the author in a way that may lead to realizing their point of view or
encourage students to criticize their own writing and determine whether or not
their texts meet their objectives
Following are activities that support the text critict role.

Some questions for students to consider that put them in the role of text critic:
The sexual references in the novel are necessary in order to give Junior an
authentic voice. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Junior describes himself as having a head so big that little Indian skulls orbited
around it. (p. 3) He also has a stutter, a lisp, is susceptible to seizures, wears ugly,thick, plastic (p. 3)
glasses and is skinny with huge hands and feet. Due to this people call Junior a retard and he is beaten
up at least once a month (p. 4).
Why do people tease and bully those who look different? Would Junior be bullied or teased in your school?
Why/why not? How does this novel make you feel about the people who bully Junior?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is about the search for personal and cultural identity. Do
you agree?
To what extent is the novel about overcoming racism and adversity?

To be a text critic students will listen to the author to help understand the authors motivation and biases and
then analyze the book critically. Here is an audio interview:

This speech gives insight into the authors background and personal history.

I found an excellent resource that has several lessons that relate to Text Critic activities. They are labeled
at an 8th grade level but I feel that any of the lessons presented need to consider the maturity, cultural
makeup, and socioeconomic status of the class. Since I teach primary age students I would be cautious
of any book that I am considering teaching in a middle school or high school class.
I chose to include these lessons because as the author states: it contains supplementary works of poetry
and fiction, as well as opportunities for use of technology in the classroom. As outlined in more depth
below, the objectives of this unit are designed to encourage critical thinking, strengthen analysis, and build
communication and comprehension skills. Moreover, the central text and assessments were chosen with
the intention of reaching multiple intelligences; even the format of the book lends itself well to
differentiation due to the art throughout. Often times, the art in the text highlights the main idea of that
chapter, serving as a useful aid in reading comprehension for struggling learners and ELLs.

I found many of my activities on Teachingbooks.net:

Shared Reading
page 1
Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2005

Critical Literacy The Four Roles of the Reader