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Teaching Guide

Teaching Thirteen Reasons Why

And even more reasons to teach it.

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Thirteen Reasons Why isn't an easy book to teach. Heck, it isn't an easy book to read. But we're here to help you navigate sensitive issues and engage your students to boot.

In this guide you will find

  • reliable lessons exploring the concept of the unreliable narrator.
  • connections to other YA authors (hello, John Green).
  • resources on difficult topics like bullying and suicide and information on how these topics often cause books to get banned.

Shmoop has more than thirteen reasons why you should teach this book—and just as many strategies to help do it.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

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: The proverbial wall, not the actual bathroom wall that is surely covered with writing of a less-than-savory variety. This activity covers some sensitive material, so "handle with care" applies here. Sex, parties, suicide—this novel is ripe with challenging content. Is there an upside? We think so.

Students who read this book get to hear the story of someone who is struggling, and hopefully they take away insight into how to help someone in a similar position—or how to get help themselves if they are struggling. These may be tough issues, but there's no denying they are relevant for teens, and Shmoop likes any book that tries to shed some light on difficult topics. In this activity students will spend some time learning about suicide, its warning signs and how to help. This activity should take two class periods.

Materials Needed:

  • Computers with Internet
  • Copies of the novel

Step 1: Time to boot up those brain cells and get your students thinking about suicide and suicide interventions. Start by having students ponder the following questions when they come into class. You can have students write about these, discuss them, or both (it's like putting hot fudge AND caramel sauce on your sundae; who can resist?).

  • What do you think is the theme/central idea of this novel? How do you know?
  • Were there signs that Hannah needed help? What were they?
  • What might someone have done that could have helped Hannah?
  • Can you relate to Hannah? Have you ever felt incredibly sad, depressed, or hopeless? What would or what has helped you during difficult times?

Step 2: Let's dig a little deeper into those warning signs, shall we? Have your students pair up to compare notes and create a list of signs that Hannah exhibited before she committed suicide. Then have each pair share with the class and create a comprehensive class list on the board (you may want to ask your students if they have any other ideas about warning signs that maybe weren't in the novel and add these to the class list as well).

Need help? Check out Shmoop's handy summary.

Step 3: Fact check: Did we miss any warning signs? Plus, what are we supposed to do if we notice said warning signs? The topic of suicide is rife with misinformation, stereotypes, and assumptions, but we're going to cut through all that with some good, old-fashioned research. Have your students investigate by researching teen suicide and suicide prevention online. To avoid further misinformation, direct them to these suggested sites:

Oh, and they should take notes on what they discover. You know, unless they have a photographic memory.

Step 4: What are we to do with all this learning? Something tells us students should put it to good use, no? Tell your little researchers that they are going to compose informational letters to relevant concerned citizens (parents, fellow students, teachers, coaches, etc.). Basically, students should think about people who may be in a position to recognize and help suicidal teens, and then choose one of those specific groups to be the audience for their letter.

This is a good time to chat a bit about audience. After all, the advice and tone of a letter to a teenager will be different from a letter to a teacher, right (we hope, anyway)? To help students see this, try a quick-write or a role playing activity where students give the same info to two difference audiences, and then critique and discuss the differences in how they present each message (word choice, tone, information, etc.). Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Write an e-mail to your friend saying that you are sick and ask to reschedule your plans. Then write an e-mail to your teacher saying that you are sick and ask to reschedule your presentation for class.
  • Text a friend to say that you are running late to meet her. Text your mom or dad to say that you are running late for curfew. 
  • Try to convince a friend to go see a movie you really liked. Try to convince your parent to go see a movie you liked. (Are they even the same movie? Do you, perhaps, fail to mention to your dad that Justin Timberlake is sooo cute in this film? Etc.)

Step 5: Once students select an audience, it's time to compose their letters. It may be a good idea to lay out some requirements for your students, you know, so the letters don't resemble text messages. We've done the dirty work for you:

  • The letter must have a clear purpose (an explanation of why suicide is a problem and what the audience can do to help). 
  • The letter should be mostly informative (providing facts about teen suicide), but there's also an element of persuading the audience to take the problem seriously and take action if they notice a struggling teen.
  • The letter should cover the warning signs of someone considering suicide, and it should work to clear up any myths or stereotypes about suicide. 
  • The letter should leave the reader with some suggestions as to how they could help someone who may be contemplating suicide. 
  • The letter should show clear audience awareness, providing suggestions specific to the audience (for example, what a parent should do is different from what a teen should do, although, of course there's some overlap).
  • The letter should be formatted as a traditional, professional letter (what is this, the dark ages?), and it should be addressed to the specific audience (Dear Parents, etc.).
  • Encourage students to include their own relevant experiences if they feel comfortable, but assure them that a purely research-based letter is cool too.

Step 6: As always, Shmoop advocates sharing, and the traditional sharing-in-class activities are certainly an option. But an even better option? Actually get these letters out to their intended audiences. Maybe they can be published in the school newspaper or bulletin, or on a school or class website. Maybe the school counselor can help you plan an information session or school assembly to present these very important ideas. Maybe you can develop a blog or website to publish the letters, along with helpful links, a message board… the point is to get creative here.

And if you'll only be able to publish a few letters (as opposed to all eighty that you had the pleasure of grading), use class presentations to determine the best letters or use their letters as a starting point for a collaborative letter to each audience from your whole class. In short, show your students the value of taking action and the power of words to help solve problems. Oh, this is getting exciting. Is there something we can protest next? Some sort of march that requires inspiring posters and speeches?

Instructions for Your Students

So why do you think Mr. Asher decided to write this novel? If you are thinking somewhere along the lines of suicide awareness, you are on the right track. So, what's the big deal? Well, suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 15-24. The reality is that many teens out there, and probably some of you, have been or will be touched by suicide at some point. So what can you do about it? We're so glad you asked.

Step 1: Time to boot up those brain cells and start thinking about ways to prevent suicide. Ponder the following questions (promise, your participation will only help you out in the next stages of this assignment):

  • What do you think is the theme/central idea of this novel? How do you know?
  • Were there signs that Hannah needed help? What were they?
  • What might someone have done that could have helped Hannah?
  • Can you relate to Hannah? Have you ever felt incredibly sad, depressed, or hopeless? What would or what has helped you during difficult times?

Step 2: Let's dig a little deeper into those warning signs, shall we? Two heads are better than one, so grab a partner and start making a list of signs that showed Hannah was thinking about taking her life. Mr. Asher helps you out a bit (several times in the novel people kick themselves for not noticing little things that Hannah did). Then each pair will share (hey, that rhymes!) with the class so we can create a comprehensive class list on the board. Can you think of any warning signs that weren't in the book? Add those too.

Need help? Check out Shmoop's handy summary.

Step 3: Fact check: Did we miss any warning signs? Plus, what are we supposed to do if we notice said warning signs? The topic of suicide is full of misinformation, stereotypes, and assumptions, but we're going to cut through all that with some good, old-fashioned research. See what you can learn from these suggested sites:

Oh, and you should take notes on what you discover. You know, unless you have a photographic memory.

Step 4: What are we to do with all this learning? Something tells us you should put it to good use, no? Well, young researchers, you are going to compose informational letters to relevant concerned citizens (parents, fellow students, teachers, coaches, etc.). Basically, you should think about people who may be in a position to recognize and help suicidal teens, and then choose one of those specific groups to be the audience for your letter.

This is a good time to chat a bit about audience. After all, the advice and tone of a letter to a teenager will be different from a letter to a teacher, right? Not sure what we mean? Let's try this: We'll do a couple of quick activities where you have to give the same information to two different audiences. Ready?

  • Write an e-mail to your friend saying that you are sick and ask to reschedule your plans. Then write an e-mail to your teacher saying that you are sick and ask to reschedule your presentation for class.
  • Text a friend to say that you are running late to meet her. Text your mom or dad to say that you are running late for curfew. 
  • Try to convince a friend to go see a movie you really liked. Try to convince your parent to go see a movie you liked. (Are they even the same movie? Do you, perhaps, fail to mention to your dad that Justin Timberlake is sooo cute in this film? Etc.)

Okay, did your messages to your friends and parents look identical? If not, what was different about them? Why do you think you spoke differently to your pal than you did to you parent?

Step 5: Now that you have an audience (and you know how you should address said audience), it's time to compose your letters. Pay attention, people; we said letters, not text messages, so make sure yours meets all of the following requirements:

  • The letter must have a clear purpose (an explanation of why suicide is a problem and why they felt the letter needed to be written). 
  • The letter should be mostly informative (providing facts about teen suicide), but there's also an element of persuading the audience to take the problem seriously and take action if they notice a struggling teen.
  • The letter should cover the warning signs of someone considering suicide, and it should work to clear up any myths or stereotypes about suicide. 
  • The letter should leave the reader with some suggestions as to how they could help someone who may be contemplating suicide. 
  • The letter should show clear audience awareness, providing suggestions specific to the audience (for example, what a parent should do is different from what a teen should do, although, of course there's some overlap).
  • The letter should be formatted as a traditional, professional letter (what is this, the dark ages?), and it should be addressed to the specific audience (Dear Parents, etc.).
  • Encourage students to include their own relevant experiences if they feel comfortable, but assure them that a purely research-based letter is cool too.

Step 6: As always, you'll share your work when you finish. And we hope you'll share it by actually getting these letters out to their intended audiences.

Maybe they can be published in the school newspaper or bulletin, or on a school or class website. Maybe the school counselor can help you plan an information session or school assembly to present these very important ideas. Maybe you can develop a blog or website to publish the letters, along with helpful links, a message board… do you have a fabulous idea for publication? Tell us!

In short, we want you to see the value of taking action and the power of words to help solve problems. Oh, this is getting exciting. Is there something we can protest next? Some sort of march that requires inspiring posters and speeches?

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

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