This blog first appeared as an article in the SCBWI-Illinois journal, Prairie Wind.
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During the 1980s and into the 1990s I used to write educational materials: activity sheets, teacher guides, parent guides, flashcards, scripts for audio how-to instructions, and teacher guides and parent guides. At one point I was doing freelance work for educational publishers in twenty-nine different states! I had a cork board US map on my wall and had a pin stuck into each state I had worked “in”.
After about a dozen years of such intense concentration on guides and activity sheets, I let the work taper off, so that I could refresh. That was good for me. It allowed me to spend more time writing the things I wanted to write: novels and nonfiction books. Every five years or so, I might take one job writing educational materials. I enjoyed dipping back into the waters of educational writing. But one dip was enough for another five years.
Which brings us to the present day. I haven’t written educational materials for at least ten years, and then one day my editor at City of Light Publishing said, “Let’s have an Educator Guide for The F Words.”
Okay. This made sense to me. Educator Guides are vital to most teachers, who are overworked with too many students and too much to teach. If somebody can prepare a good guide for the teacher, then the teacher doesn’t have to do it herself.
With that in mind, I set myself the task of writing a good educator guide for The F Words. This ended up taking more time than I thought it would for two reasons: (1) As the author of the book, I knew waaaayyyyy too much about The F Words, and this knowledge crept into the questions I asked. (2) Because most teachers teach novels chapter by chapter, or at least in groups of chapters, but some teachers prefer to ask their big questions after students have read the entire book, I felt that the guide needed two sections — a section of questions based on each chapter, and a section of questions based on the entire novel. I had never written such a guide before . . . and I can see why. This took twice as much time!
- Pros and Cons — When Treva tells Cole that she might be changing her mind about being an anarchist, she says she’s been talking to people. When Cole asks her who, what does she reply? What are the pros and cons of “naming names”?
- Analysis of Motivation — When Jillian tells Treva, “I’d like to talk to Cole. Alone,” what do you think she expects to happen? Is she dissing Treva? Explain your reasons for thinking yes or no. What happens that is the opposite of Jillian’s expectations? What does this scene tell us about Jillian? What does it tell us about Treva?
- Vocabulary — Ms. Delaney tells Cole to not talk to her “in that insolent tone.” What does insolent mean? Do you agree or disagree that Cole was being insolent when he asked the question she reacted to?
- Analysis — Upon leaving Delaney’s office, Cole writes the poem “Fence.” In what way is the poem a response to what just happened in Ms. Delaney’s office?
- In Chapter 2, Cole thinks: Nachman is messing with my mind, even though he’s not here. In what ways did Mr. Nachman end up “messing with” Cole’s mind?
- In Chapter 2, Ms. Delaney introduces the term troublemaker, warning Cole to not turn into one. In what other places in the novel does this term come up? Is being a troublemaker always a bad thing, or can it sometimes be a good thing?
- In Chapter 2, Felipe says “Tió Hank is strong.” Felipe says this several times throughout the story. In what ways is Hank Renner strong? In what ways is his strength important?
- Spanish is part of this story. It first appears in the second chapter, and from there throughout the novel. Discuss the different attitudes that characters have toward people who speak Spanish. What is Treva’s attitude? Jillian’s? The teacher who told Bianca to learn English or “go home”? Why do you think so many Anglo Americans feel hostility toward people who speak Spanish?
After “overwriting” the guide, I then went back and cut out about a third of the questions, to make things more manageable. Even so, this is an in-depth guide. Teachers and anyone else can download this Educator Guide for free from the City of Light Publishing web site.
What’s more, after writing the guide I was inspired to write ten activity sheets. These are also downloadable for free.
Writing an educator guide for a novel I was the author of — this was a new experience, very different from all my previous writing of educator guides. And despite the hard work, it was an enjoyable experience.
You obviously don’t need a guide or quizzes to read and enjoy The F Words. But you might want one or both of these things if you’re teaching the book. Or if you’re curious about what kinds of questions help students better understand literature.
The F Words is available for Pre-Order wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.