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Free Resources for Flowers for Algernon

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

I have been spending part of my time going through all my teaching materials from the beginning of my career. Most of it is garbage (Where was I even trying to go with this activity???????) but every once in a while I dig up something that may be helpful to someone else.

I recently went through my Flowers for Algernon (FFA) paperwork (from 13 years ago) and posted some stuff I thought would be helpful.

I couldn't find my original unit plan, so I do not remember what Big Idea I was working towards. I think it was something along the lines of "everyone is smart/special in their own way." If I ever had to teach this book again, though, I would like to think that I would avoid that corny theme and get into some real discussions about how people with intellectual disabilities are treated in the United States. I am no longer the naive person who started teaching 14 years ago, and I know that there are much more serious conversations to be had with students who are reading this book than the ones I attempted thirteen years ago.

What sorts of conversations do you have with your students when you read Flowers for Algernon together?

If you were teaching Flowers for Algernon right now, what current(ish) event would you discuss with your students? I would show them the clip of Trump making fun of a disabled NYT reporter and have them connect that moment to the book. I would also have them journal/ reflect on what the moment says about our country. I would have conversations about #ableism.

Media Connections

For media connections, I would also have them watch The Peanut Butter Falcon.

In The Peanut Butter Falcon, a boy with Down Syndrome escapes his group home in order to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. On his way, he attaches himself to Shia Lebeouf, who is on the run from his own problems. It's a great adventure story with a great message, as well. After the film, students could compare/contrast the Big Ideas in The Peanut Butter Falcon to Flowers for Algernon.

Book Connections

This week, looking for a break from my usual nonfiction diet, I checked out Bewilderment by Roger Powers and found that, indeed, Flowers for Algernon may live again. Bewilderment, a novel about a father trying to raise his son alone, is heavy on science and wonder and the mixed bag that is humanity. Set in the not-so-distant future, the main character, Theo has lost his wife in a car accident and is trying to raise his son who has been diagnosed has having autism...sort of. After his son has another violent outbreak at school the principal threatens to call Child Protective Services if anything else happens. In desperation, Theo asks a rival scientist/psychologist for help in dealing with his son's uncontrollable outbursts, and the solution seems to be cutting- edge, untested biotechnology. Be prepared to cry your face off in this modern take on Flowers For Algernon.

Two more good choices would be Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman and Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw.

In Stuck in Neutral, the main character has Cerebral Palsy. He cannot control any of his muscles. He had a vibrant inner life, but no one has any idea, and Shawn's father wonders when Shawn would be better off dead. You'll have to read to see what he decides.

Laughing at my Nightmare is a collection of essays by Shane Burcaw. Shane has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and can control very few of his muscles. In this book, he uses humor to share moments from his life, from everyday hassles to big struggles.

Both Shawn from Stuck in Neutral and Shane from Laughing at my Nightmare, are happy with who they are, which could be a great contrast to Flowers for Algernon.

Overall, if I taught Flowers for Algernon again, I would do nothing that I did before. And that's okay, because that's what teachers do. We learn and grow. ...and sometimes we need to look at our materials from 13 years ago to realize it!

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