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Teaching Guide

Teaching Stargirl

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You might not expect deep philosophy from a book called Stargirl, but we all know not to judge a book by its title.

In this guide you will find

  • a lesson analyzing the novel's narrative technique and point of view.
  • discussion questions on bullying and social rules.
  • reading quizzes to be sure students know Stargirl didn't come from outer space like Starmen Jeff Bridges or David Bowie.

Our teaching guide reaches for the stars.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: A major theme in Stargirl is the way most of us have two sides—the one we allow everyone to see, and our truer, quirkier self that most of us keep private for fear of rejection or ridicule. Unfortunately, some things don't change, even after high school. Understanding this two-sided nature is important if students are going to really unpack the central conflict and the theme of identity.

In this activity, students will do an in-depth character analysis of one of our two main players—Stargirl or Leo. These guys are complicated, so don't let students hang around in the shallow end on this one. Push them (gently) off the diving board and then toss out a Shmoop flotation device or two if needed. Students will identify the two sides of these characters and analyze the desires, motivations, and personality traits of each. They will support their findings with text evidence and will discuss how the conflicting natures of each character contribute to the central conflict of the book. See? We want some deep-water stuff here.

Students may work in pairs or individually. Plan on one class period for students to complete the project (they could be allowed to finish it for homework) and a second class period for discussion.

Materials Needed: Text of Stargirl, large paper for portraits/charts

Step 1: Start with a quick review of round vs. flat characters. Then ask students to think about the way Stargirl addresses the idea that we all have different sides to our personality—some more public than others. If you're feeling brave, share a little of your private side to show what you mean. Here are some questions to get things rolling:

  • Which aspects of our personality do we let everyone in on? 
  • Which do we keep to ourselves? 
  • What motivates these choices? 
  • Which version of us is the real one? Or are both versions "real" in some way?

Step 2: Explain that in their two-sided character analysis for Stargirl or Leo, students will be looking at what drives each version of the character and should be able to explain how the character's two sides play into the conflict in the book. Ever find yourself wanting two completely contradictory things? Yeah, us too. And we know it only leads to trouble and emotional strife, as is the case with Leo and Stargirl. However, your students may be tempted to see the main conflict as purely external—Leo and Stargirl against the unrelenting social machine of Mica High. In your discussions, help them see how the contradictions in these characters are the true source of the conflict.

At this point you can put students into groups if needed and either assign a character or allow them to choose between Stargirl and Leo. Students should examine and explain each of the following areas for both sides of their character. Each description or explanation should be supported with text evidence.

  • Appearance—How does the character dress?
  • World view—How does the character see the world? 
  • Self-image—How does the character see him/herself?
  • Thoughts—What occupies the character's thoughts?
  • Heart—What does the character care about or value?
  • Desire/Motivation—What does the character want? What drives his/her actions?

Step 3: Students can choose to create a character portrait (à la Two-Face from Batman), a collage, T-chart, or Venn diagram to display the results of their analysis. The important thing is for students to visually represent the two sides of Stargirl and Leo for easy compare/contrast. And besides, what's a Stargirl lesson without a little bit of craftiness and artistic flair?

Step 4: Ask students to present their findings to the class. Use their ideas to jumpstart a discussion about these characters. Shmoop loves a helpful list, so here are some questions to help guide your discussion:

  • In what ways are the two sides of the characters in conflict with each other?
  • How do the characters' conflicting desires relate to the central conflict of the book?
  • How do the characters resolve the conflicting sides of their personalities? What do they ultimately choose? Who are they really? Remind students that their "true self" may have elements from both sides of their personality. 
  • Can you relate to these characters? Do you have a public self and a more private self? Have you ever tried to change yourself in order to please someone else or to be accepted by a group? If so, did you find yourself facing some of the same difficulties as Stargirl and Leo?
  • What can we learn from the experiences of Stargirl and Leo? Why does this matter?

Instructions for Your Students

A major theme in Stargirl is the way most of us have two sides—the one we strut at school for everyone to see, and our true, quirky self that most of us keep hidden for fear of being pointed and laughed at. You know, the kind of pointing and laughter that happens when someone accidentally drops a tray of food in the lunchroom. And we don't blame you; adults fear rejection too, and we work just as hard to be our most crowd-pleasing self in public. But is that who we really are?

In this activity, you'll do a two-sided character analysis of one of our two main characters—Stargirl or Leo. For this analysis, you'll need to dig deep into both sides of these characters, identifying more than just their most dominant traits. Get out of the kiddie pool because we're talking deep. Then you'll grab a ukulele or a sunflower and give your analysis some of Stargirl's artistic flair.

Step 1: Good books feature characters who are as complex and interesting as real people. When characters have many dimensions or more than one side to their personality, we call them round characters.

These are different from flat characters, which are characters who are simplified and have only one main character trait, like a villain who is purely evil. Like the evil queen from Snow White. There's nothing complex or terribly interesting about her; she's just the bad guy.

Since Stargirl deals with how identity relates to society and class, the two sides of the character we'll look at are the public self and the private self. By public self, we mean the version of the character that is influenced by public opinion or that tries to please the crowd. By private self, we mean who the character is when no one is looking. The singing-in-the-shower self.

Now, you may have noticed that most of the time, Stargirl is who she is regardless of who's watching, but even she tries to hide her true colors at one point in order to fit in. Hey, that peer pressure stuff is no joke; it gets to everybody sometimes.

Let's think about a few questions to get warmed up:

  • Which aspects of our personality do we let everyone in on? 
  • Which do we keep to ourselves? 
  • What motivates these choices? 
  • Which version of us is the real one? Or are both versions "real" in some way?

Step 2: Let's get started. In your two-sided character analysis for Stargirl or Leo, pay special attention to what drives each version of the character. Stargirl and Leo find themselves wanting completely contradictory things. Explain how the contradictions of these characters play into the overall conflict in the book. Remember, we're in the grown-up pool here, so show us some depth.

In your analysis, examine and explain each of the following areas for both sides of your character. Got proof? Each description/explanation should be supported with text evidence.

  • Appearance—How does the character dress?
  • World view—How does the character see the world? 
  • Self-image—How does the character see him/herself?
  • Thoughts—What occupies the character's thoughts?
  • Heart—What does the character care about or value?
  • Desire/Motivation—What does the character want? What drives his/her actions?

Step 3: Time for some artistic flair. Come up with a creative way to display the results of your two-sided analysis. You can create a collage, T-chart, Venn diagram, or a character portrait à la Two-Face from Batman. The important thing is to visually represent the two sides of Stargirl and Leo for easy compare/contrast.

Step 4: Let's talk. What did you come up with?

  • In what ways are the two sides of the characters in conflict with each other?
  • How do the characters' conflicting desires relate to the central conflict of the book?
  • How do the characters resolve the conflicting sides of their personalities? What do they ultimately choose? Who are they really? 
  • Can you relate to these characters? Do you have a public self and a more private self? Have you ever tried to change yourself in order to please someone else or to be accepted by a group? If so, did you find yourself facing some of the same difficulties as Stargirl and Leo?
  • What can we learn from the experiences of Stargirl and Leo? Why does this matter?

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Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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