Standard Lesson

Demonstrating Understanding of Richard Wright's Rite of Passage

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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After reading Richard Wright's short novel Rite of Passage, students will demonstrate their understanding of
plot, character, and conflict by writing recommendations for the protagonists' future to a juvenile court system
judge. Students are guided through the development of these recommendations, including attention to
counterarguments based on potential prevailing attitudes in the justice system at the time.

Featured Resources

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology



This page summarizes the history of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, including its focus on addressing inequalities in the justice system.

From the Leadership Conference, a civil rights advocacy agency, this chapter from Justice on Trial examines historic and contemporary examples of racism within the juvenile justice system.

From the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, this page offers examples of racial inequality related to juvenile criminal sentencing.

From the African American registry, an educational non-profit, this page offers insight into the first African American female judge in New York City, appointed in 1939.

Biographical information on the first African American federal judge, appointed in 1937.


  1. While this lesson plan provides an authentic performance task that offers some guidance on the day-to-day
    teaching of the novel, it is not exhaustive by any means. The book provokes rich discussions
    around Johnny’s character, his predicament, and his response to it; the teacher should remain flexible
    in responding with instruction that meets student needs. Consider using an approach similar to the
    one in "Facilitating Student-Led Seminar Discussions with The Piano Lesson" to facilitate such discussions.
  2. Review the links in the Websites section to gain a sense of the juvenile justice system and emergence of
    African American judges that coincides roughly with the setting of this novel. Some teacher expertise
    in this area will be useful when students are considering the audience for their letter.
  3. Arrange for student access to Internet-connected computers for informal research in Session Three.
  4. There are multiple opportunities for teacher modeling and sharing of student work-in-process
    throughout the lesson. Preview resources such as the ReadWriteThink Strategy Guides on Write Alouds and Shared Writing to facilitate such work.

Student Objectives

Students will:

  • read Richard Wright’s novel Rite of Passage purposefully, with an eye toward demonstrating their understanding in a written assessment.
  • develop a well-supported plan for recommendations for the protagonist’s future, accounting for the identity of the audience and the complexity of the character’s situation.
  • demonstrate an understanding of the use of counterargument in persuasive writing.

Session One

  1. Introduce the novel by sharing with students the Rite of Passage Performance Task Description. Students may be taken aback by receiving the “final paper assignment” before even opening the book, so assure them that having the prompt will help focus their reading and will make writing easier.
  2. Discuss the Performance Task with students, helping them begin to understand their role (as social worker, advocating for what is best for Johnny within the legal system), their audience (a judge in the juvenile system), and their task (to use the book as “evidence” and provide a vision for Johnny’s future tied to some specific recommendations).  Without having read the book, their understanding of the task will be basic at best at this point; this is fine.
  3. Students will be intrigued by what is implied in the body of the Performance Task. Consider asking them to predict, either through discussion or in writing, what the book may be about.
  4. Help give focus to the connection between the task and the act of reading the novel by sharing the Making Sense of Johnny’s Situation T-Chart, where they can record their positive and negative impressions of Johnny’s experiences over the course of the book.
  5. As students read (in whole class, small group/partner, and independent settings), they should continuously refer to the Performance Task Description and Making Sense of Johnny’s Situation T-Chart to make sure they are ready to make recommendations and draft the document to the judge.  The notes students take on the T-Chart can serve as excellent informal checks for understanding as they read.

Session Two

  1. When the class has finished reading Rite of Passage, they should be ready to start drafting some recommendations for Johnny.  Before they begin thinking through the assignment analytically, give students time to freewrite in response to the question: “What should happen to Johnny?  Based on the experiences he’s had in the past day, where can you see him in five years?  Ten years?  Beyond?”
  2. Give students time to write and share some of their ideas with a few classmates.
  3. Review with students the Performance Task Description and provide them with the Recommendations Planning Chart.
  4. Remind students that at this point, they are merely brainstorming ideas.  They will likely not write about all the recommendations they consider at this point, so it is not a problem if their recommendations do not work well together.  In fact, you might encourage students to try to think about recommendations that contradict one another so they think through a range of possibilities.
  5. Depending on your students’ familiarity with persuasive writing, you may wish to show the ReadWriteThink video Persuasive Techniques in Advertising online video (  Although its focus is on advertising, the application of pathos, logos, and ethos is relevant to any sort of argument or persuasion.  For other ideas on teaching persuasive writing, see the Related Resources section of this lesson.  (Formal instruction on persuasion will require at least an additional session, either at this point, or interspersed throughout the composition process.)
  6. Give students time to think and write about several possible recommendations.  They should use their Making Sense of Johnny’s Situation T-Chart to start seeing connections between events in the novel and their recommendations in the assessment.  Encourage them to think about whether they are appealing to the judge’s sense of emotion, logic, or both in each case.
  7. Circulate the room and provide guidance and feedback, answering questions and helping students find direct textual evidence, when appropriate.
  8. Save some time at the end of class to have students briefly share all of their possible recommendations.  As each student shares, the rest of the class should be listening for recommendations they had not considered before.
  9. Close the class by reminding students that they should be making recommendations that work together to offer a vision for Johnny’s future.  Allow them a few minutes to begin writing in response to the final prompt on the Recommendations Planning Chart.  For the next session, students should have a sense of the vision for Johnny’s future and the specific recommendations that will support it.
  10. Optional:  As homework, direct students to the Bio-cube tool and ask them to compose a biography for Johnny’s life after Rite of Passage to help them think about what recommendations would suit him now.

Session Three

  1. Begin this session by asking for a few students to share their vision for Johnny’s future and the recommendations they will make to support it.  Allow classmates to provide feedback on how well the recommendations match the vision statement.
  2. Remind students of the Performance Task Description, focusing specifically on the audience for the document they will write: a judge in the New York City juvenile justice system in the 1940s.  Direct students to the resources listed in the Websites section and give them time to read through some of the articles.  (If students are able to access the Legal Defense Fund video, encourage them to watch the first 5 minutes and then the section on African Americans in the judiciary, at around 8 minutes.  Alternately, you may wish to show segments of the video before students look at the other sites).
  3. Lead a discussion that helps students draw appropriate inferences about who was likely to be a judge in New York City at the time, and what shortcomings might exist in the juvenile justice system as they relate to an African American teen at the time.
  4. Ask students to synthesize the day’s learning by writing about the likely audience for their letter to the court.  Who would likely be hearing the case?  What dispositions might he or she bring to the case?  What biases within the system might Johnny face?
  5. Collect student responses and, before the next session, compile some of the most important ideas to share with students on the white board or chart paper.

Session Four

  1. Begin the session by projecting, reading aloud, or sharing copies of the student responses from the previous session.  Ask students to think about what these circumstances suggest for someone writing on Johnny’s behalf.
  2. Distribute the Final Recommendations Chart, stressing how it builds off the work students did in their initial brainstorming.  Point out two key differences
    • Beginning with the vision for Johnny’s future in mind—When students were brainstorming, their vision for Johnny’s future came last because the recommendations implied it.  Now, a clear vision statement should unify all the recommendations students will make.
    • Inclusion of a column for counterarguments—Now that students have considered the possible audience for their document, they need to consider how the judge might respond to their recommendations.  Share with students possible signal words for addressing counterarguments, such as 
      • While I understand that … , I believe that … because …
      • Some people may believe that … but I feel that … because …
      • Although there is reason to think that … please consider …
  3. Ask some students to share some of their recommendations and model how you would think through a possible counterargument (based on the potential point of view of the judge and court), using the signal words about and evidence from the novel to develop a sentence or two addressed directly to the sensibility of the judge that is the document’s audience.
  4. Encourage students to incorporate at least one address to a counterargument, probably in the vision statement itself or in the recommendation with which the judge is perhaps least likely to agree.
  5. Give students time to plan their document using the Final Recommendations Chart.

Session Five and beyond

  1. Begin the session by sharing with students the Performance Task Evaluation Sheet.  They will notice that the performance standards were shared with them before they began the book.
  2. Review the standards with students before they begin drafting.  Circulate the room as they begin moving from their Final Recommendations Chart to a first draft.
  3. If students get stuck moving from the chart to the draft, remind them that this is a formal letter, but they are communicating directly to the judge.  They may wish to use the first paragraph to familiarize the judge with the case and provide his or her vision for Johnny’s future.  Subsequent paragraphs can offer up the specific recommendations supported by references to the novel.
  4. When students have completed their drafts, have the creators of the judge identities read the recommendations addressed to them.  They should use a Performance Task Evaluation Sheet and provide feedback to the author to prompt revision before the writing is submitted for evaluation by the teacher.


  • When students submit their final draft for evaluation, ask them to submit a second copy.  Have students trade papers and prompt them to write a brief letter from the perspective of the judge to the social worker explaining his or her views on the recommendations.

Student Assessment / Reflections

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