Julianne Beebe , ,
8th Grade ELA : Unit #6 - Bad Boy Part II : Lesson #4

Sonny's Blues

Objective: SWBAT read the introduction of "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin, then view a short-film adaptation of the story, in order to make connections to Walter Dean Myers' Bad Boy.
Standards: RL.8.1 RL.8.2 RL.8.3 RL.8.4 RL.8.5 RL.8.6
Subject(s): English / Language Arts
60 minutes
1 Bad Boy Reading Quiz #4 and Review - 20 minutes

It's the first day back from Winter Break and my students were assigned the remaining chapters of Bad Boy to read over their holiday.  Thus, we begin class with a reading quiz on the final four chapters. A sample set of questions for one class includes:

  1. Explain what happens at Myers' high school graduation.
  2. Myers accompanies his friend, Frank, on another job.  What happens to Frank on this job?
  3. What does the army recruiting officer do to Myers' application for the military?
  4. What piece of advice comes back to Myers that helps him decide to change career paths?
  5. Who describes Myers' job as "typing stories for a living?"

At the conclusion of the quiz, we will address the questions as a whole group, as a review of the final chapters of the book.  In this way, I will be able to steer the conversation towards the second part of the lesson, particularly when reviewing the advice Myers remembers from his high-school English teacher to "never stop writing."  I will then ask my students if they remember the name(s) of any of the influential writers Myers mentions in the last few pages of the book, expecting at least one student to remember James Baldwin.

2 "Sonny's Blues" - 20 minutes

I have reproduced only the first two pages of Sonny's Blues for my students to read, in that the complete story is over 20 pages long, and my unit closure for Bad Boy does not allow for ample exploration of the entire story.  What the first two pages provide, however, are enough text to work with in order to see how and why such a story would inspire Walter Dean Myers, excellent examples of narrative technique, as well as my unyielding belief in the importance of exposing students, even if marginally, to great literature (for more on that philosophy, see my reflection in this lesson).

Before we begin reading, I remind my students that they should never read empty-handed, especially when they own the text ("own" in this context means that it is theirs to keep, and so have permission to write on it).  While this advice harkens back to earlier lessons where I have encouraged my students to use the margins of a text for interacting with it, I give my students the specific task for this assignment to mark any unfamiliar vocabulary words they may encounter as we read.

We will read the text as a whole group, pausing wherever necessary to check for comprehension and/or the necessity for clarity. When the reading is complete, I will ask my students two key questions:

  1. Why do you think a story such as this resonated with Walter Dean Myers?
  2. Would you keep reading this story?  Why or why not? (Thank You, Walter Dean Myers!)

The first question will provide an opportunity for my students to demonstrate their comprehension of both texts and the implicit connections between them.  The second question is designed to open up a discussion of the continued awareness I am trying to instill in my students of narrative technique.

3 Short Film - 20 minutes

I anticipate that many, if not most, of my students will answer in the affirmative, that they would indeed continue reading Baldwin's story.  Thus, I will transition from our discussion of it to this short film adaptation of the story, in order to somewhat satisfy their curiosity.  


Before the film begins, I instruct my students to determine the story's theme as they watch and, again, how and why they believe this story inspired Myers as a writer, now that they will see how the story develops and ends.

I. Love. YouTube.
Diverse Entry Points

Where would I be without my beloved YouTube?  How did I survive all those years as a teacher without it?

Perhaps I exaggerate, but access to YouTube has opened up the potential of reaching so many more students by appealing to differing learning styles with ease like no other avenue.  When I am able to layer my lessons with a dose of more than one information delivery system, I can see the results immediately: the visual learners sit up a bit straighter and tend to participate more readily in post-discussion of a viewing.

In this particular instance, I believe my students received the best of both worlds.  They were exposed to a rich, complex text that we were able to effectively discuss and analyze, and then the short film allowed for what might have remained an incomplete thematic exploration of a complex text its full due.  As proof, in each of my classes, my students were able to see Myers in both Sonny and in his brother, to see how the potential in Sonny was evident in his skill as a musician, and to ultimately see how a story such as Sonny's gave Myers the permission to tell similar stories of his experience of growing up in Harlem.

Long live YouTube. 

4 Closure and Homework - 10 minutes

At the conclusion of the film, I then ask my students what they think the theme of the story is and how they think this theme relates to and inspired Walter Dean Myers.  We will briefly share ideas as a whole group. 

For homework, then, I assign my students the task of identifying two lines of inspiration from Bad Boy to write out and be prepared to work with in class the following day, as a starting point for their next writing assignment.