Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher – A Unit Plan
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.
Questions (for parents, teachers, reading specialists, and librarians):
are some obvious themes in this book that would appeal to young adult readers. Come prepared to discuss any of the
following. Mark passages in the
book that help to illustrate how the theme is developed.
Pursuit of an authentic “self”.
Effects of racism on an individual.
How do we communicate?
The role “fate” plays in my life.
Social structures in life (school).
Power dynamics in life.
The role athletics play in life.
are families represented in this book?
What can we learn from the different family types that appear in
- Did you
like TJ? What motivates him? Would you like him to be your son? Would you want him to date your
daughter? Should he have tanked
that last race?
the supporting cast well developed?
pivotal decisions does TJ make in the novel? How and why are those decisions
made? What are the results of the
“essence” of the book seems to be the tension between “society” and the
“individual.” We see this played
out in the “team” versus the “rebel,” in the Spokane
community versus diversity, as well as in Mr. Simet versus the
administration. Is TJ another
anti-authoritarian in the American tradition of Huck Finn and Holden
Caulfield? If so, do we see him as
heroic or a threat? (How would you
respond to TJ if he were a student in your class?)
- Is the
book more about making connections with others than rebelling against
are the hazards or risks in being a TJ personality?
language in this selection is “realistic.”
Or is it? Did you hear TJ’s
voice or did you hear Chris Crutcher’s voice? Is there a difference? What was your response to TJ’s humor? To
the author’s use of obscenities?
Read “The Censorship Connection” at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/winter98/censorship.html.
lessons about living can a reader learn from Whale Talk?
- If you
have read other Chris Crutcher books, compare Whale Talk to his other work.
If this is your first exposure to Crutcher, then what are your impressions? Click
for an Introduction to Chris Crutcher’s
King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography.
you satisfied with the conclusion of the novel? Or was it a “convenient” conclusion?
you like this book? Would you
recommend it to others? Why? What does it have to offer readers?
Some suggested teaching
plans for Whale Talk
Group Work (Literature Circles):
a list of questions that your group might want to discuss about this part
of the Whale Talk.
the discussion on task.
a few special sections of the novel that you would like to read aloud to
the group. The passage may be
something you found funny, puzzling, provocative, controversial,
informative, powerful, or important to the development of the plot, theme,
the discussion of the passages you chose.
connections between this book and the “world outside.” This means connecting Whale Talk to your own experiences,
to things at school, in your neighborhood, to similar events at other
times and places, to other people or problems, or other writings on the
same topic by this author or other authors.
a brief summary of the day’s assigned reading. Give a brief synopsis that conveys the
gist, key points, main highlights, the essence of the reading assignment.
the key points.
carefully the plot, setting, and characters.
words in the book that you find especially important. Include the denotation and connotation.
words are repeated often?
words are exotic?
words have multiple meanings?
words sent you to the dictionary?
background information on any topic related to the book, the period, the
setting, or author.
More suggestions for a
lesson plan on Whale Talk
Group or Individual
Taoism and write a brief summary of what you learn. How is Taoism important to the novel? The Taoism Information Page can be found
whales. Find out how whales
“communicate.” Why is this
information important in this book?
(There are many web sites on how whales communicate. Click on
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/how-do-whales-communicate-with-each-other.html to find out about interspecies
white supremacist groups and write a brief summary of what you learn.
nice to someone in your school who often takes the brunt of cruel
pranks. Record your actions and
responses for several days in a journal.
- Go on
the internet and find out about Chris Crutcher. Share your information with the class.
your favorite passage in the book.
Then draw a “snapshot” of that passage. Share your passage and drawing with the
class and explain why the passage was meaningful to you.
a T-shirt for TJ, Mike Barbour, Chris Coughlin, Rich Marshall, Oliver Van
Zandt, Simon DeLong, Jackie Craig, Andy Mott or Tay
Roy Kibble. Be prepared to discuss
how the T-shirt reveals what the character is all about, and what
ultimately the book is about.
a book cover for Whale Talk.
out one of the scenes in the book and videotape it for the class.
carefully at your school. Observe
closely the students, teachers, administrators, and staff. Who has power in your school? Who does not have power? How is the power manifested? What conclusions can you draw from your
observations? (Take five days to
record your observations.) Click on
www.mixitup.org to review another similar activity. Click on
www.tolerance.org for the home page on
the “groups” in your school. How do
you identify the groups? Is there a
“hierarchy” of power or popularity in the grouping of individuals?
prejudice. Find examples of
prejudice in Whale Talk. Is prejudice a problem at your
school? What can you do to reduce
prejudice at your school?
are important in this book. List
the different names and decide how the names help to define the
members of the swim team are “different.”
What do they learn about one another from their experiences on the
team? How do they learn it? What can we learn about being
“different” from this book?
of you may be offended by the language that some of the characters use in
the book. Can you defend the
author’s use of obscenities? Would
the book have been better if the author had not used obscenities?
role does athletics play in this novel?
What role does athletics play in your own school? How do you feel about the importance of
organized sports at school? If you
could change athletics at your school, what plan would you propose?
up the word “abuse” in the dictionary.
List the examples of abuse in Whale
Talk. Be prepared to discuss
how the different characters respond to abusive relationships. Do an internet search on domestic abuse.
breaks rules. Is this a good thing
or a bad thing? When (if ever) is
it okay to break rules? How would
your school be if everyone acted as TJ behaves?
the relationships in this book:
Father/Son; Mother/Son; Stranger/Friend; Husband/Wife;
Friend/Friend; Friend/Foe – Be prepared to discuss who was in the
relationship, provide a description of the relationship, detail how the
relationship changed, and what we can learn from each of the relationships. Is there a common “element” that appears
in each relationship that may help us learn how to maintain relationships
aloud for 15 minutes before allowing the students silent time for reading.
examples of foreshadowing, complex characters, symbols, climax,
denouement, and important images (scenes).
tragedy and comedy. Give examples
of both in Whale Talk. Discuss how tragedy and comedy influence
the characters and themes.
- Read a
passage from Whale Talk and then
allow for free writing time.
- Read a
review of Whale Talk. What did you learn about the book from
the review? Click on http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0688180191.asp
for a review of Whale Talk.
and contrast the types of coaches in Whale
Talk. Read Chris Crowe’s essay
on coaches in YA literature at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/fall94/Crowe.html.
Journal Suggestions: (These would be read only by the teacher.)
you someone who prefers to be alone?
Or are you someone who prefers to be in a group? Discuss in a short essay when and why
you prefer to be alone or with others?
TJ remind you of anyone you know?
If so, describe that person and tell how that person impresses you.
you ever experienced prejudice?
Have you ever been bullied?
Have you ever bullied someone else?
If so, share the experience in your journal.
of the families is perfect in Whale
Talk. Describe your own
family. What do you like about your
family? What challenges does your
your favorite passage in the book.
Discuss why it is your favorite passage.
five to ten questions you would like to ask Chris Crutcher about himself
or the book.
things happen to good people in this book.
Why do bad things happen to the characters? How do the characters respond when bad
things happen to them? What can we
learn about making decisions
from these characters’ actions?
Discuss any of these related questions in a two to three-page
essay. Share your first draft with
a friend, then revise the essay and bring it to the teacher.
(or criticize) the emphasis upon organized sports in your school.
a character analysis of TJ. How is
he presented at the beginning of the book?
Does he develop in any way?
What does he learn? How does
he learn it? What significance does
his character development have on the reader?
a different ending for Whale Talk.
a poem about Whale Talk.
- What problems and issues were
raised in the novel that are real to you?
Discuss how the author deals with these issues.
for a teacher’s resource guide to Chris Crutcher.
here for a lesson
plan for Whale Talk.
here for a lesson plan on whales.