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Using Literature to Connect to Students' Lives

Knowing what a coming-of-age novel is can help students understand that reading about one’s growth from a naive child to an experienced young adult is something most adolescents experience. Students see that they will view the world with a more discerning eye because they are armed with knowledge and experience. Even negative situations can become learning experiences, once resolved, and can make one a strong individual.
They will also become aware that they have many choices when facing challenges in their daily lives. For example, whom they can talk to or get help from, instead of feeling alone with nowhere to turn in times of need, is significant in their development into young adulthood. They can see how others handle their problems and learn they can make constructive choices. A coming-of-age novel gives students an outlet to write about their issues and how they resolve them or discuss what they are currently going through. They also can think about advice they might/would provide to others in a similar situation or facing a challenge unrelated to them.
In order to address some of the more pressing issues that adolescents face, I decided to teach Stephen Chbosky's coming-of-age novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and accompany a reading of the text with extensive personal journaling. Below are some of the specific materials and tasks in this unit of study.


Engaging Learners with the Coming-of-Age Novel: A Lesson

Reading Task: Read and analyze The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky by examining how the characters cope with abuse and develop interpersonal relationships when they find it challenging to trust others.

Background to share with students:

  • Review: A coming-of age novel the students had previously read was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, so we reviewed the main points of that story and examined the changes the major characters experienced. 
  • Relationships: Teacher will describe a relationship with a family member or friend in her life and share examples of quality time spent with others.
  • Problems teenagers face today: Teacher facilitates a discussion with students based on issues teens experience today and how they think they are different from what their parents may have experienced growing up.
  • Vocabulary: Teacher defines what a coming-of-age novel is and introduces new vocabulary from The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
  • Parts of a journal: Teach students how to respond to writing prompts and journal their feelings. Teacher responds to students journal entries in the margins.
Writing Task: You will write at least 8 journal entries that are reflections based on the issues we read about in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I will provide you with writing prompts to choose from. You must complete at least 8. You will earn extra credit if you complete 10 journal entries.

Scaffolding prior to journal writing: 

  • Lessons on issues that teens experience in society. 
  • Listing statistics on dating abuse, teen suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, etc. and finding videos of current events that connect to these issues in the novel. Discuss these issues and reflect on them in the form of journaling.
  • Make suggestions about how a teen should handle dating abuse.
  • Describe ways to help others experiencing these issues.
  • Map new vocabulary words.
  • Compare and contrast how these issues impact different socioeconomic groups.

Extension activity (optional): 

Students will create a list of 3 songs for each one of the characters who experienced abuse.  They will interpret the songs’ meanings and analyze why they think the songs relate to the character.