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Free Resources for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Post 1 of 2)

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

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, with sexual assault allegations connected to the author, I knew I wouldn’t be able to teach it formally in the classroom anymore. My county took it off of the recommended reading list for 9th grade and it has been banished into oblivion. 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. I really want to separate the art from the artist, selfishly, because I want to keep teaching the book, but I haven’t been able to. I look at the cover and just feel disappointed. Maybe down the road this will change, but for now, it’s not a book I read or teach anymore.

That all being said, I used to really enjoy it and so did my kids. Below are some materials 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 that they knew about reservations, then they filled in what they learned about reservations while listening to Chapter 1, and then they 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, where they just took a few notes about Junior and Rowdy.

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.