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Catching on to Catcher in the Rye

Subject:English Language Arts, ESL

Grade Level: 9-12

Description: To truly make the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger come to life, students look at it through a modern microscope: the Internet. This program makes the main character, Holden Caulfield, relevant to today's students, and the use of new media in the classroom helps accomplish this.

How it Works: Students use online resources to analyze characters (i.e., a site on gifted children to discuss Phoebe, or a site about adolescent mental health when discussing Holden's problems). Students write from cues taken directly from the novel (by actually writing a composition only mentioned in the novel, and by writing a letter from one character to another). They are able to read about the influence of this classic novel in material available online (New York Times and Salon.com articles) that is modern-day literary criticism. This program also contains drama activities, collaborative work, and a formal essay in addition to the other writing assignments. Students are exposed to a variety of different genres and are required to write in a variety of different styles. As a result, they are able to not only expand their writing, reading comprehension, and technology skills, but to also deeply connect with a classic work of literature.

Final Project/Product: Students develop an essay on whether or not this novel should remain in their school curriculum, and a class debate is waged on this subject. This debate can also be recorded as a podcast, and students can blog in their roles, as characters in the mock trial.

Overall Value: This unit allows students to connect the events and people in The Catcher in the Rye with the outside world through the use of technology. Students are literally able to update these characters by using information found online. Through technology and writing assignments, students improve their comprehension of the novel, connect with it on a deeper level, and improve their overall reading and writing skills. This program attempts to make the reading of a classic literary work fun while challenging students at the same time.

English Language Learners: I read the entire novel out loud with the class. Most of my ESL students had never read a full-length novel (in English) before, in school or on their own. Reading out loud, and having student volunteers to do so, helped them comprehend the novel and practice English verbal skills at the same time. When possible, get visual aids to help students understand the material. Photos of locations mentioned in the novel are readily available online (check flickr.com).

Tips for the Teacher: Look at written assignments early to see if students understand the novel--since the assignments are heavily based on events in the novel, it's easy to spot a student who is having difficulty with comprehension (or, alternately, who isn't reading the novel). The assignments are based on the novel, but are personal at the same time, so copying is also easily spotted. Students will have to work individually and think critically in order to do well!


 Standards Addressed
Students will apply technological knowledge and skills to design, construct, use, and evaluate products and systems to satisfy human and environmental needs.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: Math, Science, and Technology
Students read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: English Language Arts
Students read, write, listen, and speak for literary response and expression.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: English Language Arts
Students read, write, listen, and speak for critical analysis and evaluation.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: English Language Arts
Students listen, speak, read, and write in English for critical analysis and evaluation.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: ESL
Students listen, speak, read, and write in English for literary response, enjoyment and expression.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: ESL

Day 1: Holdenspeak
Students will comprehend the unique language used in the novel.
Students will understand the uses of 1950s slang in the novel.
Students will understand the purpose and use of slang in society.
Students will understand the literary purpose of the casual way in which the narrator (Holden Caulfield) speaks.
Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 1
Holden game
link to Flappers to Rappers article
slang, the words used in by Holden in the novel, slang terms mentioned in Flappers to Rappers
Procedure 1
After reading a small part of the book (at least most of Chapter 1), ask students if they notice the distinctive way in which Holden speaks and is narrating this novel.
a. Discuss why Holden is speaking this way--take student suggestions.
b. Since they are just getting to know the character of Holden Caulfield, ask students to create a list of what we are learning about him from the way he is talking.
c. Ask students to share in a small group, but make sure to report back to the whole class. (Among other valid responses, some might include that you realize that Holden is young, he is not talking to a teacher or is in a formal setting, he is living in a certain time in history.)
Procedure 2
In groups, ask students to come up with 5-10 slang words they use frequently and what those slang words mean. You may want to insist that students not choose vulgar or curse words--there is plenty of "clean" slang for them to choose from. Depending on your population, you may also ask them to think of slang words used by members of their own culture.
a. Students can consult one of the several online slang dictionaries if they need to obtain a precise translation.
b. Students will share the slang words and terms. You may want to ask a student volunteer to record these on a laptop, board, notebook, etc., for later reference.
c. Ask students why they speak in slang. If they are not sure, prompt them with some questions: Where and/or how did they learn slang? Do adults have difficulty understanding what you are talking about at times?
Urban Dictionary http://urbandictionary.com
Procedure 3
Read "Flappers 2 Rappers," which discusses teen use of slang words all throughout the 20th Century.
a. It may be helpful to read this aloud for the benefit of ELL learners, but students may also read silently from their own computers (or print-outs).
b. Ask students what slang origins surprised them. Where does the slang they use come from?
c. Ask students, "Why do teenagers use slang?"
d. Then draw the connection back to Holden, "Why do you think Holden uses slang?"
Flappers 2 Rappers http://tinyurl.com/3b2avu
Procedure 4
Again in groups, have students go through the different words used by Holden in The Catcher in the Rye as seen on the matching quiz. [Teacher answer key on the bottom of that page--see attachments to this unit.]
a. On the left is the "Holden word" and on the right is a rough definition. Students may again consult a slang dictionary for assistance, or they can find the words used in the novel and determine what they mean by their usage.
b. Review answers with the class, and make sure students do understand the terms, since they are used repetitively throughout the novel.
Slang of the 50s http://fiftiesweb.com/fashion/slang.htm
Procedure 5
Students are to come up with their own slang dictionaries for their generation based on their group work and their own input.
Informal: responses to questions and quiz

Day 2: Allie's Life and Death
Students will learn about the full impact of a life-altering incident on the main character, Holden.
Students will read and comprehend real medical documents relating to the characters.
Students will be able to relate real-world information to the novel and the characters.
Students will discover how adolescents generally handle traumatic events such as losing a sibling.
websites listed in lesson
Chapter 5 of Catcher in the Rye
medical terms found on web sites listed below (lymphoma, acute, chemotherapy, vulnerability, depression, trauma), and any students cull from their reading
Procedure 1
Ask students to silently write responses to the following prompt/s: Holden briefly tells us about the events of his brother's death, but it is apparent that it is deeply troubling him. What short-term results did Allie's death have on Holden? What long-term effects do you think his death is having?
a. You can have students hand in their writing before class discussion (to see how closely they have read, or if at all), or allow them to keep it to help them participate--it's up to you--but it's a good check-in moment.
Procedure 2
After reading Chapter 5, discuss the impact of Allie's death on Holden.
a. Ask the students what Holden tells us about the facts surrounding Allie's death. (Responses may include: Holden remembers the exact date, Holden feels guilt about not letting Allie play with his friends, Holden broke all the windows in the garage when Allie died causing a permanent injury to his hand, among other valid answers.)
b. Create a chart/notes on the following, based on student response: What do we know about Allie? How is he similar/different to Holden? Why did Holden love him so much? (Responses may include: Allie was very nice, extremely smart, kind and loving, he had very red hair, he laughed a lot, and was very close to Holden.)
c. On the board, chart paper, or via a digital display device, have students make a list of "immediate impact" and "long-term impact" effects that Allie's death has had or could have on Holden.
Procedure 3
Ask student to read a psychologist's report that discusses how the death of a sibling can affect an adolescent (see link below). [Note: You may want to determine whether or not your students have dealt with this issue before proceeding.]
a. Ask students to report back what they have learned from the article.
b. Ask students, "How is Allie's death influencing Holden?" Ask students to make connections to the medical information they have read to Holden's experience.
c. How accurate or true is Holden to the effects mentioned in the article? What other effects may become evident in Holden in the future, if he does not receive help?
Experiencing the Death of a Sibling as an Adolescent http://counselingstlouis.net/page13.html
Homework: Write the composition that Holden wrote for Stradlater about Allie's baseball mitt (see attachments for a student sample of this assignment).

Many students may also be curious about leukemia. You can, or ask students to look up some information on leukemia using medical website, such as webmd.com. What kind of death was this? Why would dying from leukemia be especially tragic?

Classroom discussions, in-class writing

Day 3: Woe is Holden
Students will be able to determine how serious Holden's problems are.
Students can decide how Holden can help himself and start getting past his problems.
Students will learn about typical problems of adolescence.
Students will devise some advice for Holden to help him.
up to Chapter 14 in Catcher in the Rye
links listed below
Dear Abby letter (see attachments)
psychological terms and adolescent issues as revealed in web links listed below (for example: high-risk youth, depression, stress)
Procedure 1
Do an in-class writing to get thoughts out about the day's topic.
a. Ask students to respond to the following questions in writing: 1) What are Holden's problems? 2) Are Holden's problems normal or abnormal? 3) How are Holden's problems impeding his life? 4) What can Holden do to improve his life and overcome his problems?
b. Again, you can choose to have students submit this writing as an assessment or keep it to assist them with the day's work ahead.
Procedure 2
Holden is going through many problems in his life...what are they? Ask students to name some. [Some of his problems include: the death of his brother, a lack of friends, hating other people, failing out of school, having no love in his life, being a virgin, telling lies about himself, being obsessed with phonies, being in love with a girl from his past, etc.]
a. Ask the students to find places in the book where Holden discusses his problems or where they perceive a problem. Students can do this individually, or they can work in groups. They should have their books in hand, and refer to specific chapters, scenes, and page numbers.
b. Students will share their responses with the whole class, and others should follow along as students read passages from the novel.
c. Create a list of these incidents on the board, chart paper, or display device.
Procedure 3
Ask students to refer to the "Teens in Distress" web site (see link below). Students should read the article, paying special attention to the section, "A Closer Look At High Risk Youth" and how it may apply to Holden.
a. Ask students to report back. What in the article reminded you of Holden?
b. Go back to your list of problems. There should be between 4-6 incidents listed. Divide students into groups according to the number of incidents listed.
c. For each incident, the groups should determine: 1) If the incident is "normal" or "abnormal" of a typical adolescent problem; 2) How Holden could have handled the situation differently and have had a more positive result. Give students adequate time to discuss.
d. After each group has reported back to the class, have a discussion about how Holden might be able to solve these problems through a change in his behavior or life situation.
Teens in Distress Series http://extension.umn.edu/distribution/youthdevelopment/DA3083.html
Procedure 4
Do a drama activity with the class.
a. Have one student volunteer to be Holden. The rest of the class should stand in a circle around "Holden."
b. Students should come up one-by-one and pretend to give something to Holden to help him out with his problems.
c. Ask students, if they need some prompting: What does Holden really need to make a change? What would you give to him to help him, even if it was not realistically possible?
d. In my class, these gifts ranged from the concrete like money, a good friend, a therapist, or a girlfriend, to the more abstract, like courage, love, or self-confidence. Allow students to be creative in their responses, as long as they are valid to the novel.
Procedure 5
Have students visit the Dear Abby website in preparation for their homework.
a. Students should read several samples of the letters and Abby's responses to get a sense of her style and her "no-nonsense" replies.
b. Ask the students what they think of Abby's advice. Do they appreciate her bluntness or think she is too harsh? Does she give good advice or not?
c. Hand out or link to a letter Holden might have written to Dear Abby (see attachments).
Dear Abby letters http://uexpress.com/dearabby/
Students are to reply to Holden's letter as if they were Dear Abby.
In-class activities, writing, and discussion

Day 4: Phoebe Caulfield's Character
Students will analyze the unique character of Phoebe Caulfield.
Students will discuss how realistic the character of Phoebe is.
Students will understand the impact and role of Phoebe in the life of Holden Caulfield.
Students will understand gifted childen, and their unique abilities.
up to Chapter 22 in Catcher in the Rye
websites listed in lesson
Pheobe web page template (see attachments)
Procedure 1
After reading Chapter 22 of The Catcher in the Rye, students will begin to form an opinion about Phoebe Caulfield.
a. Ask students to describe the character of Phoebe. Create a list of responses on a display device. [Responses included: very intelligent, advanced intelligence and maturity, creative, popular, enjoys life, likes to rollerskate and play with friends, very loving and affectionate, has a good sense of humor, honest and critical of Holden when she needs to be.]
b. Ask students to make a list of advice and criticism Phoebe has for Holden. How does she treat him? [My students were very astute on this point. "She talks to him like a mother would talk to her child," said one of my students.]
c. Redirect students to Chapter 10 and Chapter 16 when Holden discusses his feelings for Phoebe at length.
d. Ask students to respond verbally or in print to the following: Why does Holden feel so close to Phoebe? Why does he look for her in the park, then hesitate to find her? What is the significance of the "Little Shirley Beans" record and the fact that Holden breaks it? [My students were not surprised at the close relationship as they enjoyed the character of Phoebe so much. Holden liked her because they had fun together, they had the same taste in movies and things they liked to do, Holden could relate to her as she was mature for her age and he was immature for his, Phoebe is also loving towards him when no one else in the whole novel is at all. Holden wants to take his sister with him, but hesistates at drawing her in too closely. He knows that he is "ruined," and does not want to "ruin" her.]
Procedure 2
Ask the students if Phoebe behaves like you would expect a ten-year-old to behave? How is she different from other children?
a. Direct students to the gifted children website (see link below).
b. After reading the information about gifted children, ask students to determine whether or not they believe Phoebe is gifted. Did this information shed new light on the character of Phoebe?
Gifted Children-- http://kidsource.com/kidsource/content/giftedness_and_gifted.html
Procedure 3
Discuss what reaction Phoebe's advice might have on Holden. Does she offer good advice?
a. Ask students a question to connect: What role does Phoebe serve in the life of Holden? [Students felt that Phoebe's advice was just what Holden needed to hear. Being rejected by her leads to his eventual breakdown, but he needed to hit that low point in order to seek help and eventually get better.]
Design Phoebe's website (of course, pretending that websites were around in the 1950s). Write up a brief explanation of your design. (See attachments for a template and for student samples of this assignment).

Write a detective story based on Phoebe's female detective, Hazel Weatherfield. Write it as if you were Phoebe. (See a student sample of this assignment in attachments.)

Other alternatives: design Phoebe's MySpace page, or a home page actually on the web, if you students are proficient.

Day 5: The Catcher Controversy
Students will be able to evaluate the importance (or lack of importance) of The Catcher in the Rye
Students will be able to analyze themes & symbols used in the novel.
Students will discover past objections to this novel and the controversial issues surrounding its publication (which still arise when teaching the novel today!).
Students will be able to create a rationale for teaching The Catcher in the Rye as part of the school curriculum.
Students will be able to decide what meaning this novel has for the reader.
copies of The Catcher in the Rye
essay assignment
links included in the lesson
overhead or LCD projector
Procedure 1
After finishing the novel, ask students for their opinion: Is this novel and the character of Holden still relevant today?
a. Ask students to form groups. In their group, students should come up with at least three main issues or messages (or "themes," but do not call it this yet) of the novel.
b. Make a list of student responses on a display device. [Some valid responses might be: Be true to yourself, The world can be an ugly place, The individual can get lost in society, Sometimes people are cold, Act to improve your situation not make it worse, Family members are the only ones who you can really depend upon, Be realistic with your dreams and don't fool yourself, You can't protect everyone from getting hurt.]
c. Alert students to the fact that they have just come up with themes of the novel. Make sure everyone knows what a theme is (a message the author wishes to send to his/her readers, a "moral of the story").
Procedure 2
Direct students to a collection of different Catcher in the Rye covers throughout history (international editions are also included). Some of the covers contain drawings and illustrations. Display them in the classroom using an overhead projector or LCD display.
a. Ask students what images keep showing up from cover to cover? Why? [The red hunting hat, images of New York City, suitcases, a young man, the carousel]
b. Point out that many of these images are in fact, symbols of the novel.
c. What are the important images in this novel? Make a list on a display device. Ask students why does Salinger keep repeating these images? What's the point?
Catcher covers (see thumbnails and enlarge) http://members.home.nl/wolthuis/salinger.htm
Procedure 3
One of the most pervading symbols in the novel is the red hunting hat (and it's been one of the most controversial as well, with some seeing it as a symbol of underlying violence in the novel).
a. Have students break up into four groups.
b. There are four major mentions of the red hunting hat: Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 20, and the end of Chapter 25. Each group will cover one mention.
c. Ask each group to re-read the section where the red hunting hat is mentioned. Then each group will answer the same questions: 1) What is going on in this scene? 2) Why does Holden put the hunting hat on? 3) What symbolic meaning does the hat have for Holden in this scene?
d. Each group will then report back to the class and will come to a consensus about the symbolism behind Holden's red hunting hat. [Although the red hunting hat comes up at many different points in the novel, students found that it functioned as a security blanket, and that Holden put it on when he felt insecure, lonely, or vulnerable.]
Procedure 4
Some people do not consider The Catcher in the Rye to be an important novel, and see it as a threat to the young people who read it.
a. Explain to students what censorship is--and try to think of a relevant example from today (rap lyrics might be a good example).
b. Ask them why they think The Catcher in the Rye has been a target of censorship efforts. [Some of my students were indeed shocked at the cursing throughout the novel and also uncomfortable discussing some scenes, especially where Holden hires the prostitute. It was evident to the class why this book was controversial.]
c. Assign students a Regents-style essay. (See attachments for this assignment.)
d. Direct students to the websites listed to begin their Internet research and prepare for either an offense or a defense for teaching The Catcher in the Rye in their school. [Note: This essay is written in the style of a Task 2 essay for the New York State English Language Arts English exam. However, this assignment is valuable for any teacher wishing to teach persuasive writing.]
Procedure 5
Based on the results of the essay, you may have some students advocating for and against the teaching of The Catcher in the Rye in schools. Stage a mock school-board hearing in which the novel goes on trial.
a. Try to assign students roles based on their personal convictions surrounding the novel. If that is not possible (if too many students concur one way or another), they may have to take an opposing side. Some students will have neutral roles, such as a member of the school board.
b. Assign realistic roles: parents, teachers, students, principals, concerned citizens, member of the media, the mayor, politicians, and other members of the community who have a stake in this result. You may want to get creative and call in "J.D. Salinger" or characters in the novel to testify as well.
c. If it is technologically possible, podcast the debate and create blogs, in character.
Homework #1: Design a cover for The Catcher in the Rye that contains a symbol from the novel. Write a brief explanation for your design. (See attachments for student samples of this assignment.)

Homework #2: Write a persuasive essay arguing for or against the teaching of The Catcher in the Rye. [Surprisingly, most of my students saw why the novel was controversial, but most of them supported reading this novel in public school.]

In-class activities, debate, discussions, essay and homework assignments

Sandy Scragg


Murry Bergtraum High School
411 Pearl Street
New York, NY 10038

Sandy Scragg is a consultant for Teachers Network's TeachNet Project. She has been a technology trainer, staff developer, and an English teacher for the New York City Public Schools. She maintains a web site for teachers at: http://sandyscragg.com.

Important documents for this lesson plan.

Catcher writing assignments.pdf
Holden Slang Matching Quiz.pdf
student samples.pdf


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