The issues featured in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak can be viewed as controversial for classroom subject. However, this is an important piece of literature that realistically portrays some common issues adolescents face in school today. As with any text, teachers should completely familiarize themselves with the novel so that they will be prepared to answer any questions from students and/or parents.
When researching lesson ideas it is important to find material that is sensitive to the subject matter but still engages students and inspires analytical thought and debate. This is especially true when tackling complex issues like rape, sexual harassment, depression, and bullying that are focal themes of the novel Speak. I carefully chose the following teaching material because it consists of dynamic and diverse activities, as well as conversational topics, that encourage judgment-free discussions, close examination and critical analysis of the text.
“You have to know what you stand for, not just what you stand against.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak
Speak Lesson Plans
Penguin Classroom has teaching plans to accompany Laurie Halse Anderson’s novels. This novel companion includes the Common Core Standards that align with each lesson. The list for Speak is brief but I found some of the ideas useful. It includes thought-provoking pre-reading activities to introduce students to the social issues in Speak.
Various suggested activities for Speak include:
- Group discussions
- Essay prompts
- Writing a new scene
- Online research
- Banned books
- Picture books
Most students will have experienced or known someone who has experienced or at least be familiar with the type of trauma the main character, Melinda, goes through. If taught correctly, Speak should be the type of novel that motivates students to reflect on social issues like bullying, depression, rape, cutting, and suicide. Penguin Classroom’s novel companion also has a section dedicated to incorporating informational texts with Anderson’s novels. Suggested texts include newspapers, magazines, websites, film, pamphlets, and public service announcements. Teachers can use these project ideas to help students further explore the social issues in the novel.
This 23-page unit plan has questions and activities designed for high school English classes. It contains background information on Anderson, pre-reading survey questions and anticipation guide, a character map, and activity sheets focused on the novel's themes, symbols, allusions, quotations, and vocabulary.
Laurie Halse Anderson's website madwomanintheforest.com has some interesting discussion questions for Speak focusing on the theme of "finding your voice."
I chose this unit because it includes specific study guide questions, vocabulary lists, and graphic organizers. Classroom lessons include brainstorming, essay writing, analyzing figurative language like symbolism, similes, metaphors, and personification, poem analysis, and artistic interpretations.
Book Talk Topics
This website has 5 book talk topics for small group discussions. They are very specific and detailed and can be easily adapted depending on the age, reading level and background of your students.
This WebQuest contains educational and informative resources on teen bullying including downloadable worksheets, poetry and song connections, anti-bullying videos and research from public service organizations. Teachers can choose to follow this WebQuest as laid out or can choose some of its resources to complement their own lesson plans.
Speak: The Graphic Novel
Speak: The Graphic Novel
Since I first published this page Laurie Halse Anderson has published a graphic novel for Speak illustrated by Emily Carroll. I personally do not know any secondary ELA teachers using the graphic novel in their classroom yet but it has received many positive reviews from both critics and readers.
If your school already has several copies of the novel, it may be difficult to convince the ELA department to order dozens of copies of the graphic novel. In the future when I teach Speak again, I may use pages from my copy of the graphic novel for classroom activities or class discussions on particular events, themes or characters.
The link below is for an article in School Library Journal, "Loud and Clear: A Reflection on Teaching SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson in the Classroom (a guest post by author Eric Devine)" by Karen Jensen. In revealing details, this teacher shares their experiences teaching Speak to young teenagers. This article is especially helpful for teachers planning to teach the novel for the first time.
Laurie Halse Anderson Information and Interviews
This website gives students biographical information on Speak’s author, Laurie Halse Anderson.
The following links are written interviews with Anderson about the novel Speak.
Video Interviews with Laurie Halse Anderson
The above video is an interview with Anderson about the novel Speak.
The video below is of Anderson reading her poem “Listen,” which is compiled from reactions she has received about Speak.
I hope this compilation helps teachers who are either teaching Speak for the first time or looking for new, fresh ideas. As a teacher, I would suggest that you do not copy these plans word-for-word and use them as your daily script. Instead, use the various ideas as inspiration to shape and mold classroom lessons that fit your own teaching style and students. Good luck and have fun!