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Free Resources for Terry Trueman's Stuck in Neutral

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

Way back in the day, I taught Stuck in Neutral to my grade level freshmen. It was the only book in the book room that was close to their reading level (as indicated by reading inventory scores), and its high interest and low page count immediately appealed to my kids (who were just looking for a reason to run away from a book). Stuck in Neutral sucked them right in.

I have not taught this book in eight or nine years, so I can’t walk you through all of the ins and outs as I can with some of the things I am teaching right now, but below are my old unit notes and handouts.

My general unit objectives were:

Students will be able to back up their opinions with textual support.

Students will be able to write an opinion paragraph with text support.

Students will be able to make connections between texts.

Students will be able to describe three traits of Cerebral Palsy.

Start of Unit

I opened the unit, as always, by building anticipation and background knowledge.

I started with an anticipation guide (which I could not find), and then I lectured about Cerebral Palsy and had kids take a few notes on this handout: What is Cerebral Palsy? I thought my PowerPoint about Cerebral Palsy was lost but I just found it today (7/19/2022)!!! YAY! Here it is: Intro to Cerebral Palsy

After the lecture, I read the first two pages of Stuck in Neutral out loud and modeled the questions that a good reader would ask.

Day 2

On Day 2, I modeled how I wanted kids to read with their reading buddies, and then I asked the kids to read chapters 1 and 2 with their buddies and make a list about challenges Shawn faces in his daily life.

When everyone was done reading, each pair shared out the challenges that they identified in the reading and we wrote them on the board. Each individual student then had to use these ideas to fill in this paragraph frame: Cerebral Palsy Paragraph Frame

Day 3-Death Conversation

I started this day by giving the kids a copy of the reading guide for chapters 3 & 4: Reading Guide for Stuck in Neutral Chapters 3 & 4. We completed the chapter 3 reading question together, and then they read the chapter with their reading buddy and completed the “Chapter 3 Post-Reading Question.”

On Day 4, we continued with the above reading guide, but I paused to give a brief lecture on indirect and direct characterization by expounding on the following two examples:

Direct characterization: Mary is lazy

Indirect characterization: Mary sat on the couch all day eating potato chips instead of doing the chores her mother asked her to do. She had the energy to do her chores but decided not to.

After the lecture, I did a “Think Aloud” of the 1st few pages of chapter 4, modeling my thinking as I tried to identify examples of direct and indirect characterization. Then I let kids finish reading chapter 4 with their reading buddies and fill in the handout.

For homework that night, I asked students to read and annotate chapter 5 for examples of direct and indirect characterization. They learn more about Shawn’s dad in this chapter.

Days 4 & 5

I started this class period by showing students a video from MSN about seizures. I didn’t write down the link, so I didn’t have it anymore, but I am sure there are lots of informative videos out there about seizures.

I then gave students the reading guide for Chapters 5 & 6 and worked through the opening question with them: Stuck in Neutral Reading Guide for Chapters 5 & 6

Once the foundational thinking was done, I paired the students up and had them buddy read Chapter 6. While reading, students needed to put a sticky note whenever they came across something that happened during Shawn’s seizures and answer relevant questions in their reading guide.

After reading the chapter, in a paragraph, I asked students to describe what happens when Shawn has a seizure and write out a formal paragraph on their reading guide.

For homework, I asked students to read Chapter 6 and create a Venn diagram comparing their English class to Shawn’s class.

Days 6 & 7

We started class by having students share their answers from the Venn diagrams they completed for homework.

Next, I asked students to answer the pre-reading question on this reading guide for chapters 7-9 and then we talked it out before I put them in their reading pairs to read the three chapters.

Once the kids were done reading and filling in the reading guide, we participated in a “written conversation” about the chapters so that students could process Shawn’s dad, practice forming an opinion, and practice responding to others.

The written conversation is actually a product that I sell on TpT, so here is the link if you are interested: TpT Product: Discussion Activity About Special Education Funding. In a written conversation, one student writes down their opinion to the question, and then other students respond in writing, as well.

For homework, students were to read and annotate chapters 8 & 9 by themselves. For the “annotating,” I asked them to get some sticky notes and mark sentences when they made a personal connection to Shawn’s feelings. They needed to explain their connection in a few words on the sticky note.

Day 8

I started class today by having students share out what they annotated for homework. I gave them this sentence frame to use: I put a sticky note when I read______________________________ because ________________________.

Next, I paired kids up, assigned them a character (Cindy, Mom, Shawn, Sydney McDaniel, Earl Deutreux, Alice Ponds), and asked them to read Chapters 10 & 11 while paying special attention to the character they were assigned. I asked the kids to look at the character’s actions in this chapter as well as their thoughts and feelings, and then fill in the information on this chart: Role Play Character Chart. This information would be used in the next day's role playing activity.

Day 9

This class period I tested out a role playing activity, which is not my strong suit. I didn’t take too many notes since I didn’t know what I was doing, but generally, I asked one student from each pair to sit up front and represent their character. Then I asked the kids who were left in the room to be the audience and ask the characters questions. I have no memory of how this went, overall.

For homework, I asked students to read Chapter 12. In the beginning of the chapter, Cindy and Paul are reflecting on the Alice Ponds Show. Then something happens that shows us a little more about Paul. The students were directed to write a paragraph responding to Paul’s actions.

Days 10 & 11

We started class today by discussing Paul and his actions. I briefly lectured on foreshadowing, and then I let the kids loose to buddy-read and identify examples of foreshadowing in chapters 13-16. They recorded their findings on this handout: Reading Guide for Chapters 13-16.

Once students were done collecting clues and filling in the reading guide , students had to take a stand and fill in this voting card, which I used to jump start a discussion about the ending.

After the discussion, each student wrote a paragraph (at the end of their reading guide) about what they thought happened to Shawn at the end of the book.

Days 12-14

I always like to end my units with a paper. I know that is old-fashioned of me, but, for me, it helps to predominately focus on reading with a little writing mixed in, and then to switch to writing once we end the book. Trying to mix a well structured writing lesson in the middle of a very structured reading lesson just breaks up the flow of the reading too much for me.

The last time I taught this book, RAFT papers were all the rage. I have no idea if they still are. I haven’t done one in a while, but I think it’s a good way to give kids choice and to get an idea of an audience in their heads.

Here is the RAFT assignment that I gave my students. They chose one item from each column to start, and then the rest of the unit was basically walking the kids through this assignment and the writing process (brainstorming, outlining, etc.)

Day 15

This lesson was about developing ideas into paragraphs. I turned this into a product that I sell on TPT, so the link is here if you would like to buy it: Help Kids Develop Their Opinions (Paid Product)

This is an easy writing activity to help reluctant readers start developing their ideas with text support. The lesson starts off with easy-to-develop opinion statements and then moves onto more difficult tasks that require text support. The lesson ends with a small amount of writing: students turn one of the graphic organizers into a paragraph. The opinion statements that the kids have to develop are things like "Shawn is a normal teen" and "Families support each other in hard times," so this activity can be used once you are about half way through the novel.

After this lesson, students had to work to turn their RAFT outlines into rough drafts, which I assigned for homework.

Days 16-18

For the next few class periods, kids worked on drafting, revising, and editing their RAFT papers. I don’t have the PowerPoints or specifics for the mini lessons anymore :( . While the kids were working, my co-teachers and I circulated to check in with them.

Once I collected the papers, I used this RAFT rubric to grade them.

Towards the end of the class period on Day 17, we showed the kids how to review their notes in order to prepare for a reading test. (At the time, I was required to give some sort of quarter exam to prepare for high stakes testing, so I made a test for Stuck in Neutral since that is what we spent all quarter studying.

Day 19

Day 20

Once all of the writing was said and done, I wrapped up the unit with a Socratic Seminar, which, at some point, I prettied up and posted on TpT.

This is a ready-to-go seminar for students who know how to participate in a Socratic Seminar. A Socratic seminar is a student-led discussion. Students sit in a circle and share their ideas for each question, ideally building on each other and coming to new and exciting conclusions. If you feel your students are ready for a seminar, try this one with them!

This is an 8 question seminar that I used at the end of the novel. It has a graphic organizer for each question that prompts students to find examples for their ideas, and it includes an “A” group and a “B” group so that I could create two seminar groups in my bigger classes. This packet includes a step-by-step guide about how to use this activity in the classroom, a section for personal goal setting, questions for two groups, reflection questions, a rubric, and a note-taking sheet for the teacher.

Here it is if you would like it: Stuck in Neutral Socratic Seminar (paid product)

As I said earlier, I haven’t taught Stuck in Neutral in a long time (mostly because I have been teaching a lot of AP/IB lately), but I used to really enjoy teaching this book...maybe I’ll circle back to it one day in one of my reading classes. Lately, I have been teaching Wonder by R.J. Palacios in my reading classes, and because there’s a movie version, kids were interested from the get-go.

It is a great complement to Stuck in Neutral BUT it takes a very long time to break down and teach. Either book is an awesome choice for a whole class read, though. Whenever I get a chance, I will post the materials that I made a few years ago for Wonder.

Lastly, I just finished reading Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw, and I think it could be a great nonfiction complement to Stuck in Neutral, as well.

Good luck with your Stuck in Neutral unit. I hope these materials are helpful to you.

Ancillary Items

Here are some items that I used some years but not others.

Annotation Practice

Stuck In Neutral Short Answer Reading Quizzes

Things to Try the Next Time I Teach This Book

Have kids rate Dad on the “most evil” scale. My husband and I watched a lot of this series when it first came out.

Please feel free to post any resources that you feel will be helpful to others in the comments section below.

Other Ideas/Stuff

Direct/indirect characterization activity: Each group gets a little person. They need to tape the indirect characterization and direct characterization cards to their character. Put names on back and hand on board for classwork credit.

Chapter 13 & 14 Reading Guide. This one looks more specific than the one I posted above. I think I must have used one one year and one another year.

Connected Resources

Cruise Control by Terry Trueman is the same story as Stuck in Neutral but from Paul's point-of-view.

At some point, I must have offered Inside Out for kids to read as well, which is another book by Terry Trueman about a teenager with schizophrenia.I found this reading quiz in my files. I didn’t do a formal unit with it, so I don’t have anything else to post, but I thought someone might need these questions: Inside Out Reading Quiz

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