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Free Resources for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Updated: Apr 30

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Sherman Alexie’s sexual assaults went public around 2018. I was so mad, for all the obvious reasons, but also because his book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was a favorite in my classroom. It was one of those books that kids would stop me on the stairs about and say “Ms. L-I haven’t read a book in years but I finished that one in one night! It was soooooo good!” Those kinds of comments would make my whole day... maybe even my whole year.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a hard sell to administrators and parents in the first place because of its racist and sexual content, but the kids loved it, so I would teach it whenever I could. Now, it it no longer on the reading list for 9th grade. I remember one of my coworkers saying that we should separate the art from the artist and I am still working through this idea. I don’t know how I feel yet.

That all being said, I used to really enjoy it and so did my kids. Below are some free resources that could be helpful to others who are still teaching The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. I taught it a few times over a few different years so some of the materials below overlap in some places.

My objectives for the unit were simple: I wanted kids to learn about Native Americans and reservations, make connections between texts, increase their vocabulary, write a character analysis essay, and explore themes connected to identity and hope.

Day 1

I started this unit with a character quote activity. I posted them on butcher paper that I then hung around the room. Students had to read the quotations and then write down something they inferred about the character or learned about the character. They could also react to the passage.

Students then had to choose one quotation and turn the information on the butcher paper into a paragraph. I called this the “Character Prediction Paragraph.”

Once the kids were done with their predictions, we talked through each sheet of butcher paper, summarizing, and I explained that all of these quotations were about the main character in a book called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

Next, we previewed the book cover and made some predictions. After the predictions, I read Chapter 1 out loud to the kids and we talked through what we learned. I used this handout to guide the students through it: Absolutely True Diary Day 1 Prediction Guide

Day 2

After introducing the main characters and hopefully hooking the kids in a bit, I tried to build a bit of background knowledge about reservations by having them watch an episode of 30 Days titled “Life on an Indian Reservation.”

We used a modified “KWL” chart for lesson... actually I guess it’s more of a “KL” chart now that I think about it, but, anyway, first kids wrote down what they knew about reservations, then they filled in whatever they learned about reservations while listening to Chapter 1. They then filled in the rest of the chart as we watched the episode.

Day 3

Once we finished watching “Life on an Indian Reservation” and filled in the KL chart, I asked students to write a short essay about what they learned. I think I did this as a writing diagnostic because it seems like a buzzkill to do at this point in the unit. I had students finish their short essay for homework.

Day 4

After building some background knowledge about reservations, we revisited Chapter 1. This time, I asked the kids to read pages 1-14 on their own and fill in this Chapter 1 Character Chart.

Day 5

One thing I consistently tried to focus on during this unit, which I usually taught to grade-level freshmen, was annotating. This was usually a new concept to them, so I always started by introducing text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world type annotations, which I think are pretty accessible for kids just learning to annotate.

After introducing students to the different types of connections (explaining them, defining them, and modeling how to make them), I asked students to read through page 24 and annotate by finding two examples of each type of annotation. This usually turned into homework.

Another year, I asked students to fill in this reading guide, “Reading Guide 2,” where the kids continued their study of Rowdy and Junior’s friendship and then compared Rowdy to their own best friend.

Day 6

I started the next day of class by having the kids turn to the others at their table and share out three text connections that they made, and then I asked them to read the next chunk of pages (24-53) and continue making connections.

Day 7

Once kids covered some ground in the book, we stopped to process. On this day, I started with a journal prompt and discussion.

Prompt: Junior thinks that white people have the most hope. What do you think? Write for 10 minutes and be prepared to share one idea from your journal.

Once we discussed the journal, we filled in a character chart to process some of the new characters. First I lectured on direct and indirect characterization(paid product) and then I had the kids work at their tables to fill in as much as they could of this Absolutely True Diary character chart.

As an exit ticket, I gave kids a blank sheet of scrap paper and asked them to list five characters AND one major issue that this novel is going to tackle.

For homework, I asked students to read and annotate pages 54-80.

Day 8

I started this class off with another journal prompt.

Prompt: In one paragraph, write about a time when you felt that you or someone you know were stereotyped. Or, write about a time when you stereotyped others. Connect your experiences to Junior’s arrival at his new school.

After journaling, I handed out scrap paper and had students write down any questions about the story OR a line from the story that they thought was funny. We then went around the room and shared out.

This part of the book was about how to fit into your neighborhood. I asked the kids to make a “rules” list for their neighborhood, family or other group that they are a part of. We then talked about the “rules,” which ones made sense and which ones didn’t.

For homework I asked kids to read pages 81-100.

Day 9

As I have started many other classes, I started today with a journal. The kids could choose from one of the following prompts:

Option 1: Junior make’s friends with Gordy. Why do you think he did this? Would you make friends with Gordy?

Option 2: Junior’s sister up and left the reservation and got married. What do you think about this decision? Do you know anyone who has done something like this before?

Next, I had kids complete this Character Review Handout.

After the review, I talked to kids about the characteristics of healthy decisions vs. unhealthy decisions and had them fill in the “pre-reading” section of this handout: Absolutely True Diary Reading Guide for Pages 100-117.

After the whole class discussion, I put kids with partners and asked them to read pages 100-117 and complete the rest of the handout.

For homework, I asked them to finish the “during” section of the handout and then and read through page 134.

Day 10

Today I started with a journal. I gave students a choice of two prompts:

  • Prompt 1: In this chapter, Junior/Arnold’s discusses his dual personality. In one paragraph, write about a time when you were caught between two worlds or someone whom you know was caught between two worlds.

  • Prompt 2: I read somewhere recently that we have many identities that serve us in different parts of our lives. Write about your different identities.

Next, I asked students to complete the partner essay on their Absolutely True Diary Reading Guide for Pages 100-117. The essay prompt was: What are some healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with stress? Do the characters in The Absolutely True Diary... deal with their stress in a healthy manner or an unhealthy manner?

First, I had the kids get with their assigned partner, brainstorm ideas, & outline for 10-15 minutes. Next, I called them back together as a class and did a mini lesson on introductory paragraphs (paid product). Then I released them back to partners and had them write a hook and book summary for their intro paragraph.

For homework, I asked students to catch up on their reading.

Day 11

Today we continued with the partner essay. I reviewed the elements of an introductory paragraph and then had the students try and write a thesis statement with their partners.

Once the kids had good thesis statements, I did a whole-class mini lesson on how to write body paragraphs, and then I asked the students to work together to try and write two body paragraphs.

Once they completed the body paragraphs, I reviewed the elements of a conclusion paragraph and had the kids attempt their own conclusions in order to finish up their partner essays.

For homework, I asked kids to catch up on any reading they were behind on.

Day 12

Once we finished the partner essays, we went back to doing a bit of informal writing. For today’s prompt, I posted quotations from the previous night’s reading and asked students to reflect on one of them OR to write about a connection they made to one of them.

Here were the quotations I chose:

  • Page 129: “If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.”

  • Page 131: “ I know, I know, but some Indians think you have to act white to make your life better. Some Indians think you become white if you try to make your life better, if you become successful. If that were true, then wouldn’t all white people be successful?”

  • Page 132: “Well, life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.”

Once the kids were done writing, I asked them to share out with a person sitting near them, and then I gave them time to start their homework.

For homework, I asked kids to read pages 134-168 in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This section of the text is very sad (Junior’s grandma dies), so I always give the kids a bit of a warning.

Day 13

I usually start the class after last night’s reading by acknowledging the sadness in it, and then we mimic what Junior does at the end of the chapter to try and cheer himself up. The prompt I give the students to start class is as follows:

“At the end of the reading, Junior tries to cheer himself up by making lists of things that make him happy. These are some of the lists he creates:

People Who Give You The Most Joy in Life

-Musicians Who Play the Most Joyous Music (according to you)

-My Favorite Foods

-My Favorite Books

-My Favorite Sports Players

Using Junior’s list headings or your own, create two lists of things that make you happy. You could also have kids use this handout, if you would like.

After writing time, share out is voluntary since this is a personal topic.

After writing time, I wanted to do a lesson on irony since there were a few good examples in last night’s reading. I also had the kids try and explain why the author would include these moments in the story, but this was a big leap for my freshmen. I briefly lectured, using just a generic PowerPoint that I made and use whenever I want to talk about irony. I had the kids take notes while we talked through the slides.

Here are the slides and the note-taking guide:

Next, I introduced some of the vocabulary words that were going to pop up in tonight’s reading. I did this by putting the words on a PowerPoint with an example sentence and asking students if they had heard the word before and if they knew what it meant, OR if they could figure out the meaning from the question. If I am really on my game, I put the actual sentence from the story on the PowerPoint, so then the vocabulary preview also serves as a story introduction.

Here were the words I chose for pages 170-196: scintillating, demoralized, primitive, and blubbering and here are the slides for The Absolutely True Diary vocabulary preview.

For homework I asked the kids to do the following:

  • Read pages 170-196 of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and annotate by making 10 text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections.

  • Complete this vocabulary handout. The vocabulary handout asked students to choose the definition that best matches the way the word was used in the story.

Day 14

Today I had kids complete this assignment: Write like Sherman Alexi assignment (paid product). It is a simple assignment where I asked the kids to mimic Alexi’s writing and I made this handout to give the activity a bit of structure. Once we finished, I gave them the rest of class to finish reading the book.

I assigned the following homework: Finish reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

Day 15

Whenever kids get to the end of a book, I love to give them a chance to vent or talk about the ending. To start class, I had them complete this end of book reflection, and then I let a bunch of kids share their answers.

Next, I gave kids time to prepare for a Socratic Seminar by filling in this handout: Socratic Seminar. This usually takes a while, so I give kids a lot of class time to work on it.

Day 16

On this day, students participated in a Socratic Seminar.

There’s a lot that goes into a Socratic Seminar. Sometimes I love them and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I am good at setting them up and sometimes I’m not. But a Socratic Seminar is basically a student-led discussion. In short, students should prepare some ideas ahead of time and then sit in a circle to discuss their answers without much teacher involvement. The teacher should be busy tracking the quality of everyone’s answers. I had a very helpful resource teacher when I started at my new school, and she came in and did two 90-minute lessons to help my students (and me) understand how to participate in a seminar.

I am not an expert at seminars, and, as I mentioned before, I usually break the rules, etc., but if you would like to run a student-led discussion in your classroom, here are some books that may be helpful:

Days 17-19

After the seminar, I wanted to help the students write an essay, so I gave them this assignment sheet with three choices:

  • Option 1: Choose a character and describe how he/she changes over the course of the novel. Discuss the characters in the beginning, middle, and end. You can also choose a character and discuss how they do not change from the beginning of the novel.

  • Option 2: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is a controversial book. Write a persuasive essay explaining why your school should or should not have students read this book.

  • Option 3: Create your own prompt and pitch it to me. The idea must lend itself to an analytical essay.

Once we talked through the prompts, I showed kids the essay rubric to see if anyone had any questions.

Once students settled on a prompt, I gave them time to outline ideas and write out a rough draft while my coteacher and I circulated.

Once the students had a rough draft, I gave them each a copy of an essay one of my AP students wrote and asked them to identify what made it such a strong essay. From there, we helped kids to improve their own essays and submit.

Day 20

After the essay writing, I was not done yet! I wanted students to take a unit test. To review the story, I had students watch this interview with Sherman Alexi and then compare and contrast his life to Junior’s.

I had students track their ideas in this note taking guide.

Day 21

The unit test that I gave the kids was part multiple choice (for ease of grading).

The multiple choice questions are for sale in my TpT store:

Sometimes I feel fine with just the multiple choice questions, depending on how the essays go, but if you wanted to add some open-ended questions, here are a few that you could add: Open-ended questions you could add.

Annnnnndddd that’s the end of my Absolutely True Diary unit. I hope some these free resources for The Absolutely True Diary are helpful to you.

Below are other odds & ends.

Other Random Handouts I Must Have Used At Some Point

Books Connected to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

I just came across a review for this book that said it was AWESOME! It is about a basketball team from the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana that made it to the state championships. This could be a great follow up for any kid that really enjoyed Absolutely True Diary.

I am not sure I would use this one in the classroom, at least not with the younger kiddos, but I could not put this down. A true story, David Grann digs into a series of murders of members of the Osage tribe in the 1920s.

This is the "young reader" version of Killers of the Flower Moon. I don't usually like adapted texts so have not read it. Please leave a comment if you have read it and let us know what you think.

Shows & Media Connected to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

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