Lesson Plan for

  by Laurie Halse Anderson

Presenter:  Grant T. Smith, Ph.D.

Viterbo University
900 Viterbo Drive
La Crosse, Wisconsin   54601
Phone: (608) 796-3485  Email :


Laurie Halse Anderson

Text Box:



Summary of Book (from Kirkus Reviews):


At the end of the summer before she enters high school, Melinda attends a party at which two bad things happen to her.  She gets drunk, and she is raped. Shocked and scared, she calls the police, who break up the party and send everyone home. She tells no one of her rape, and the other students, even her best friends, turn against her for ruining their good time. By the time school starts, she is completely alone, and utterly desolate. She withdraws more and more into herself, rarely talking, cutting classes, ignoring assignments, and becoming more estranged daily from the world around her. Few people penetrate her shell; one of them is Mr. Freeman, her art teacher, who works with her to help her express what she has so deeply repressed. When the unthinkable happens--the same upperclassman who raped her at the party attacks her again--something within the new Melinda says no, and in repelling her attacker, she becomes whole again. The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn, but it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics of the high school experience that makes this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget.

Awards: National Book Award Finalist, 1999

Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in YA Literature Honor Book, 1999

Age Level: This lesson plan would be directed at ninth-grade readers.


Flirting or Hurting: A Teacher's Guide on Student-to-Student Sexual Harassment in Schools by Nan Stein and Lisa Sjostrom, NEA Women and Girls Center for Change and the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1994.

"Reconstructing Masculinity in the Locker Room: The Mentors in Violence Prevention Project," by Jackson Katz in Harvard Educational Review. Summer, 1995, 65.2.

"Heterosexual Courtship Violence and Sexual Harassment: The Private and Public Control of Young Women" by June Larkin and Katherine Popaleni in Feminism and Psychology. May, 1994, 4.2, 213-227.

"Harassment in the Halls" by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc in Seventeen. September, 1992, 163-170.

"Five Girls Fight Back" by Kim Ratcliffe in Seventeen. July, 1996, 110-118.

Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope with Societal Issues. Ed. Pamela S. Carrol. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope with Identity Issues. Ed. Jeffrey S. Kaplan. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.


Ø   The students will be able to define and recognize verbal, visual, and physical sexual harassment.   

Ø   The students will be able to explain the "motives" behind sexual harassment.

Ø   The students will write journal responses (10 to 15 pages) to Speak.

Ø   The students will write one essay (3 to 5 typed pages) on Speak.

Ø   Keep a journal of examples of what you perceive to be "sexual harassment" throughout the week--at school, at work, at the recreation center, in the gym, the cafeteria, in the halls. In your journals keep a record of who commits the harassment, e.g. gender, age, etc. Also keep a record of what type of harassment you witnessed--verbal or written, gestures, or physical. Be able to explain why you considered the act harassment rather than "flirting." Also keep a record of the response of the person being harassed.

Discussion Questions: (In a large group or in small groups)

·    Is this a book about making intelligent decisions?  List three decisions that Melinda makes in the book.  Tell why you think she made the decisions and consequences of the decisions. Were there any consequences of her decisions that she could not have reasonably expected?

·    Is this a book about friendships? Cliques? Who are Melinda's friends?  How do her friendships change?  Why do they change?

·    How would you describe Mr. Freeman?  What qualities does he possess that make him a good teacher?  Have you ever known any teacher similar to Mr. Freeman?

·    Is this a book about life in a high school?  In what ways is Merryweather High School similar to your school?  In what ways is it different?

·    How would you characterize Melinda's relationship with her family?

·    In what ways do you conform to what is expected of you?  In what ways do you rebel against what is expected of you?

·    Melinda demonstrates many of the symptoms of clinical depression. What behaviors does she manifest that would cause you concern if you were her friend or teacher? What would you do to help her?



   Journal Assignment:

As you read the book, keep a journal of your responses to Melinda's story.  Include in your journal any of the following:

·    After you finish a chapter, try to predict what will happen next to Melinda.

·    Choose one passage from a chapter and write about why that passage caught your attention.  Did it surprise you? Puzzle you? Impress you?

·    Have you ever been in a situation similar to Melinda's--ostracized from the members of your school or neighborhood?  If so, what did you do?  Have you known anyone who was excluded from being a part of your school or community?  What did you do in that situation?

·    Have you ever been in a frightening situation similar to Melinda's where you no longer felt you had control of what was happening around you? Describe the event and how it was resolved.

·    Draw a picture of how you feel after you have finished reading Speak.

Ø Essay options: Choose one of the following essay topics.

Ø    Write an essay explaining how Melinda demonstrates any or all of the following effects of being sexually abused.  Include page numbers from the book to support your claims.

·    Psychological:

1.Fear of an authority figure

2.Fear of being threatened

3.Sense of not being believed

4.Being blamed for others' actions

5.Feeling of the pervasive reality of sex discrimination in the culture

6.Sense of helplessness



·    Physical:

1.Sleep disruption

2.Eating disorders


4.Stomach ailments


6.Inability to concentrate

7.Attempts to injure self

8.Suicide attempts

Ø  Write an essay on a time in your life when you stood up for what was right.  This essay may take the form of a personal narrative, an illustrated poem, or a two or three-act play.

Ø Write an article for your school newspaper on any issue related to Speak: date rape, teen-age parties, sexual harassment, alcohol abuse, cliques.

Ø   Write a summary of any of the additional readings provided to the class.  Include in your summary your personal response to the article: what you learned, why you disagreed with the author, how you connected the article to your personal experience.

Ø Do some research on teenage depression.   Write a two-to-three page essay on your research.

Problems-solving activities:

·    In small groups (four to five people) discuss one of the following.  Then as a group write a short (2 to 3 typed pages) essay describing the problem, your discussion of the problem, and your conclusion.  Be prepared to present your conclusion to the class.

·    Melinda reads the graffiti in a school’s bathroom.  Then she adds her own graffiti to what she sees there.  Your school has a problem with inappropriate graffiti in the bathrooms.  How could you figure out a way to end the problem?

·    Friday is "Flip-Up Day" at your school.  Any girl who wears a skirt or dress on Friday is fair game to have her clothes flipped up by the boys.  What can you do to end this "tradition?"

·    A new boy has transferred to your school.  As he passes through the corridor, you overhear some boys and girls in your class "whisper" that he is gay.  What is your response?

·    You are the only boy in the Anatomy and Physiology class.  Some of the girls have already said such things as, "Nice butt" and "Will you be our examination dummy?  "What should you do?  If you are a girl in the class, how do you respond to your classmates' comments?


There will be no exams for this unit.  The students will be assessed by how well they complete the assignments: class participation, journal responses, essay, and problem solving.


YA Literature Book Talk

Discussion Questions: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Here are some ideas to begin our book chat on Speak:

ü  What passage, scene, dialogue especially impressed or provoked you?  What “lasting” images stayed with you after you finished the book?

ü Do you want your teenage son or daughter to read this book?  Why or why not?  Would you be comfortable having this book taught at the ninth or tenth grade level?  Is date rape too sensitive of a topic for a YA novel?

ü  One parent has already told me that the book made her laugh and cry.  Was this your experience?  How does Anderson use the tragic/comic voice effectively?

ü  What did you think of the child/parents relationship in the novel?

ü Is this book “authentic?”  What makes it authentic?

ü Do you want to talk about the many literary strategies that Anderson uses?

  1. Reversals

  2. Names  (What is it with the mascots?)

  3. Symbols

  4. Allusions

  5. Themes

  6. Structure

  7. Characters

  8. Setting

  9. The cover

ü  This book has won several prestigious YA literature awards. Why?

ü  Does this book have a political agenda?  If so, what is it?

Here are some interesting web sites on Laurie Halse Anderson:



There are literally thousands of web sites on sexual harassment, but here is one that may interest you.



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