A High-Interest Novel Helps Struggling Readers Confront Bullying in Schools
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In many of today's schools, bullying and violence are prevalent. After completing this lesson, students will have a more in-depth understanding of these problems. Using a realistic, high-interest novel (The Bully by Paul Langan) and interactive reading strategies, students discuss many issues that surround bullying and consider what they themselves can do to prevent bullying. In a multisession lesson, students read The Bully in stages, discuss the story events and issues related to bullying, and complete graphic organizers to help them organize story information. As students read, they write reflective journals and perform Readers Theatre in groups. Students are continuously asked to put themselves in the characters' shoes and explain how they would respond and react in similar situations.
Literary Elements Map: Students can use this interactive site to complete four different types of graphic organizers—a character map, a conflict map, a resolution map, and a setting map—based on their reading of The Bully.
From Theory to Practice
- Schools need to be proactive and find ways to address the issue of bullying directly in classrooms.
- Although overt bullying sometimes declines in high school, there is still a need for bullying prevention since bullying can, and has, led to violent incidents in schools.
- Young adult novels are good starting points for the discussion and understanding of bullying.
A good synopsis and review of the novel The Bully are provided.
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.
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
- 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).
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
Copies of The Bully by Paul Langan (Townsend Press, 2002)
- T-chart handout
- Character Map handout
- Conflict Map handout
- Resolution Map handout
For background information on Readers Theatre and how to implement it, go to
For background information on bullying in schools, go to
- Increase reading comprehension and understanding of the theme by developing and applying various reading strategies (i.e., predicting, making text-to-self and text-to-world connections, using T-charts, writing in a response journal, performing Readers Theatre)
- Explore various aspects of bullying (drawing on their own experiences and characters' viewpoints) and demonstrate an understanding of the effects of bullying
- Work cooperatively in groups to summarize plot elements, discuss the text, and help one another better understand the theme
- Respond to the text on a personal level through journal writing
- Improve their reading ability and demonstrate their understanding of the relationships and reactions among various characters in the novel through Readers Theatre rehearsal and performance
|1.||Ask students to share any personal experiences they have had in relocating to a new school. You could ask some or all of the following questions:
|2.||If students haven't mentioned issues of bullying by this point, bring it to their attention. Introduce the novel The Bully and explain that the situation you were just discussing (moving and changing schools in the middle of freshman year) is what takes place in 15-year-old Darrell's life. Ask them, based on the title of the book, what they think the main problem will be for Darrell. Has this ever happened to any of them? Allow them to share.
|3.||After interest has been generated, have students read Chapter 1 silently or read it to them.
|4.||Next, have them discuss Darrell's thoughts about moving from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and starting at a new school. Encourage them to make relevant connections to their prereading responses.
|5.||Divide students into six teams (referred to hereafter as Teams A, B, C, D, E, and F) and distribute a T-chart to each one. For the topic line at the top of the page, have Teams A and B write 'Someone who is a Bully'; Teams C and D, 'Someone who is Bullied'; and Teams E and F, 'Someone who is a Bystander'. Give them time to brainstorm on their topics, coming up with at least five descriptions in each column ('Looks Like' and 'Sounds Like').
|6.||Next, have the groups share their ideas. Write each group's ideas on chart paper for classroom display and reference purposes.
|7.||With remaining time or as homework, have students go to the STRYVE website for information on bullying and what they can do to prevent and stop it. Also let them know that this information will provide background for understanding and discussing the rest of the novel The Bully.|
|1.||Explain to the students that they will be reading the rest of the novel in segments (Chapters 2-5, Chapters 6-8, and Chapters 9-12) and will be using several reading strategies to help them understand the text and its theme. Let them know that these strategies are:
|2.||Have students read independently or partner read with a team member Chapters 2-5 of The Bully. (You might also read the first of these chapters aloud to the class.)
|3.||Let students know to be on the lookout for key scenes that highlight plot and character development for use in Readers Theatre reenactments. As they are reading, students should use sticky notes to mark various parts that they think would be interesting to 'act out.'
|4.||After reading the chapters, have students work in their teams using the Character Map and Conflict Map handouts. For Chapters 2-5, students should focus on the characters of Darrell, Mom, Tyray, and Uncle Jason.
|5.||Have Teams A and B share their maps. (Teams C and D will share in Session 3; E and F, in Session 4.)
|6.||Still in teams, have students create new T-charts revolving around specific characters from the novel as follows:
|7.||As was done in the first session, have students share their work and record their responses on chart paper. Invite discussion.
|8.||At the end of class, have students write a personal response in their journals. You can allow students free response or you can use prompts. For this set of chapters, sample prompts might include:
|9.||Collect students' materials to be sure they are following directions and completing their written assignments as expected. You should also respond to their journals and, as need be, model the type of response you would like them to make; however, do not give a grade for these until the end of the unit.|
|1.||Have students read independently or partner read with a team member Chapters 6-8 of the novel. (Again, you might instead read the first of these chapters aloud to the class.)
|2.||Remind students to remain on the lookout and use sticky notes for scenes and lines they'd like to reenact.
|3.||After reading, have students work in their teams to update and/or create new Character Map and Conflict Map handouts. New Character Maps could be created for Rodney, Amberlynn, Harold, and Mr. Mitchell.
|4.||Have Teams C and D share their new maps and any additions they have made to their old ones.
|5.||As a group, add to the class chart information about the characters who are bullies, bullied, or bystanders.
|6.||At this point, give students time to reread and rehearse for Readers Theatre. Team A should choose a scene from Chapter 1, Team B from Chapter 2, and so on through Team F choosing from Chapter 6.
Remind students that the scene and dialogue should deal with bullying issues and character development. For example, in Chapter 6, the scene in the locker room would be a good one to demonstrate how bullies intimidate their victims.
Students should develop a script for acting out the scenes using the exact dialogue from the text or adding dialogue to make it richer or longer. They do not have to memorize it, but can read from the text as necessary; the emphasis should be on building reading fluency and comprehension.
|7.||Devote the last few minutes of class time to journals, either with open writing about personal connections they have made to the novel or with a prompt. Sample prompts for this set of chapters might include:
|8.||Collect and review students' materials as before.|
|1.||In the manner they've done before, have students read the remainder of the novel.
|2.||In addition to updating Character Map and Conflict Map handouts, distribute Resolution Map handouts to the teams and allow time to work on these.
|3.||Have the final two teams share their work on the maps.
|4.||Invite new information that could be added to the class T-chart, then move on to discuss and create a new T-chart on what bullying prevention looks like and sounds like. Mr. Mitchell could be a minor character here, with Darrell then becoming the focus.
|5.||Give students time to reread and rehearse for Readers Theatre performances, this time selecting new scenes from the second half of the novel. Team A should now choose a scene from Chapter 7, Team B from Chapter 8, and so on through Team F choosing from Chapter 12.
|6.||For the journal writing activity, sample prompts for the last chapters might include:
|7.||Collect and review students' materials as before.|
|1.||Have teams use the Literary Elements Map interactive on this website to create final drafts of their map handouts. (The Setting Map does not need to be completed.)
|2.||Give students final script development and rehearsal time for the two scenes they will be performing for Readers Theatre.|
|1.||As a culmination of the work they've done in reading The Bully and analyzing the issues at hand, have the teams perform for their peers the scenes they've selected.
If possible, in the interest of awareness building and bullying prevention, have them perform for a larger audience. (Of course, if you have arranged for this, you will want to have told them this in Session 2.) Performing for a wider audience could also be done as an extension.
|2.||Have students write a final journal entry reflecting on what they learned from this experience and the impact it has on their relationships in and out of school.|
- Students can work in their teams or with a team partner to create (their choice) a poem, rap, song, poster, slogan, artwork, or cheer against bullying. These can then be shared with the class and displayed on a bulletin board. These do not have to be graded or assessed, but are meant to demonstrate your students' creativity and their understanding of bullying and its effects.
- Students can write their own scripts for various scenes in the novel, creating two outcomes-the original one and an alternative. They can then perform them for the class.
- Students can do further research on the topic of bullying or violence in schools and write reports to share with the class.
- In Chapter 7 of the novel, Mr. Mitchell recommends that Darrell read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen because he believes that Darrell can learn about survival from it. Darrell reluctantly accepts the novel, but as he reads it, he finds that its main character Brian has many similarities to him in his lonely and 'impossible' situation. Students can read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (or, if this is too difficult, do this as a read aloud or shared reading). Lead students in a discussion of the events that influenced both Brian and Darrell to change their lives to solve their problems at school; help your students connect these events to their own lives.
- Encourage students to find out more about Paul Langan. They can also read other books in the Bluford Series.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Assess students' participation in teams and whole-class activities and discussions through observation. Also, the Group Processing Evaluation Form may serve as a sample rubric.
- Compare the original group T-charts with the final class versions, and reflect on your students' use of T-charts to summarize information about the characters in relation to bullying.
- Review the completed Literary Element Maps to be sure students have included and understood the key character, conflict, and resolution points that are most relevant to the text.
- Assess Readers Theatre participation and performance by considering if students select appropriate scenes to reenact (i.e., scenes that have dialogue or events relevant to the theme of bullying) and by observing if their performances are fluent, expressive, and reflect comprehension. For assessment, you may also use the Readers Theatre Evaluation form.
- For journal entries, ask the following questions during assessment:
- Are the entries reflective of an understanding of the text?
- Do students make personal connections that are relevant to the text and the discussions?
- Are the entries reflective of an understanding of the text?
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