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Meghan McCarville

Literacy in the Intermediate Grades

November 22, 2011

Literary Focus Unit: Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter Dean Myers

Themes: courage, family, honesty, trust


Students will be able to use multiple ways to determine the meaning of unfamiliar
Students will improve the methods in which they comprehend the meaning of
text, resulting in them being able to create a clear summary of that text.
Students will become better writers after the writing activities and be able to
effectively relate real life events to the novel.
After completing their reading and discussing the questions provided, students
will have a clear and in depth understanding of Somewhere in the Darkness.

Background knowledge:

In order for one to be able to read this novel they should first, be at the appropriate
reading/grade level. Some of the vocabulary and content in the novel could be
considered inappropriate in the wrong setting. Teachers should explain to their students
that just because characters in the book talk and act a certain way doesnt mean its
appropriate to do so. Somewhere in the Darkness is a good novel to use with kids from
a different background than Jimmy to expose them to a different culture and way of life.
It would also be a good novel to use with at risk students since they may fluctuate more
to a story such as this. It would be a good way to interest them/keep them interested in
Vocabulary Words From Novel:

talcum powder
collard greens

conniption fit
the slam
conjure man

Vocabulary Activities:

1.Word of the day

-Pick a word out of the reading they had for that day that would be most likely unfamiliar
to the age group, write it on the board and have students make guesses as to what they
think the meaning is. Then discuss the history of the word so the students can have a
better understanding of it.
Using Dictionaries/Thesauruses
-Have them make list of words they arent familiar with from what they read for that day,
including page numbers. First, using the dictionaries, have them look up the words to
get the definitions and see how theyre pronounced. Then, using the thesaurus, have
them look up the words to get synonyms and antonyms of those words. This will help
them to better understand words that were unfamiliar to them before. To make sure they
understand the meaning of these new words, have them use each one in a sentence.
3.Deriving Meaning of Word From Context
-Having a similar start to the latter activity, have the students come up with a list of
words theyre unfamiliar with from that days reading with the page numbers. Instead of
having them look up the words in dictionaries, have them go back to the text. Explain to
them that in many cases, one can identify the meaning of a word by looking for context
clues in the text. Have them re-read the excerpt of the text where the word occurs. Then
have them look for clues around that word that could give them a clue about what the
word means. Once they have done this, have them look up the word to see if they are

correct. If not, tell them to go back once they have read the true definition and see how
the word fits the definition in this context. Again, have them use the words in a sentence
so you can see they know what it means.
Gunning, Thomas G. (2010). Creating Literacy for All Students, Seventh Edition.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Comprehension Strategies- These three activities can be used in a step-bystep sequence all leading up to being able to summarize a text or portion of text.

Comprehending themes of novel, main ideas
-Comprehending the main idea is essential to the students reading of a novel since
without this, no other activities you have planned throughout the unit will work. First, you
must show them and give examples of what a main idea is. Use stories you have
already read for examples. Explain to them that determining the main idea of something
comes slowly, as you read it. Have some examples of written paragraphs that have clear
main ideas (using the overhead or projector). Read over them as a class and with the
first one, model for them by telling them what you think the main idea is. Go through a
couple more as a whole class and call on students to tell what the main idea is. Lastly,
provide handouts with different paragraphs and split the students into small groups.
Have them determine the main idea in their groups. Come back as a class and share
what they all came up with.
2. Determine Important Details
-Determining the important details of a text is also essential to understanding the
reading process. The skill of note taking depends solely on if a person is able to take the
important details out of a text. A similar method to comprehending the main idea can be
used here. Using some overheads of short stories, read them over as a class. Have
them separate the important information from the information that isnt as essential to
the story with your help. Then you can practice note taking. Have a handout ready with
a short story for everyone. Give them time to read through the story and take notes on it,
using the important details. When finished, have them get into groups and compare their
notes. Walk around to each group to see what the results are.


-Finally, after being able to determine the main idea and important details, the students
will be ready to start the summary process. First, work on oral summaries. Explain to
the class what summary means and from there, work on examples like youve been
doing with the last two activities. Using overheads of paragraphs or short stories,
demonstrate for them how to summarize them in three sentences or less. Next, its their
turn to orally summarize. Call on different students for each example you show. To wrap
up the activity, have another short story handout for each student to read and this time
they are to write out their summary. When finished, get into groups and share their
summaries. Collect them at the end so you can see that each student understands the
Gunning, Thomas G. (2010). Creating Literacy for All Students, Seventh Edition.
Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Graphic Organizers

Pdf printouts are attached.

The Five Ws chart can be used at any point in the novel do document a significant
event. This could be tied in during the the comprehension portion of the unit to practice
using important details.
The Story Map should be used at the end of the novel and may be used to assess the
overall comprehension of the book.


Discussion Questions

Identify at least three themes in Somewhere in the Darkness. (Knowledge)

List and discuss ways in which Jimmy grew and changed throughout the novel.
Jimmy was bullied by Frank in the novel. Tell about a time where you may have
been bullied and what you did to solve the problem. (Knowledge)
Summarize why Crab decided to take Jimmy across the country with him.


Explain why Crab is no longer in prison (the real reason). (Comprehension)

Using a map, trace the route Jimmy and Crab took on their trip, starting in New
York. (Comprehension)
Give an example of a situation where you were asked to trust a person or
situation you werent familiar with. (Application)
Debate with a small group if you think Jimmy did the right thing by going with
Crab. Do you think it was a good thing that he went with him or do you think he would
have been better off not knowing his father? (Analysis)
Compare/contrast Jimmys home life at Mama Jeans with yours. In what ways
are they similar? In what ways are they different? (Analysis)
Analyze Crabs story about how he is innocent. Do you believe him at first, or do
you think he is hiding more things from Jimmy? (Analysis)
Examine Crabs relationship with Mavis. What kind of relationship do you think it
is: a friendship or a more romantic one? Look back on the text and make
observations. (Analysis)
Determine the factors leading up to the end of the novel. Do you agree with how
Jimmy felt towards Crab in the end or do you think you would feel differently? Explain.
Suppose you were in Mama Jeans place. Would you have let Jimmy go with
Crab so easily or would you have questioned it a bit more? Why? (Synthesis)
After reading the first two chapters, predict why Jimmys father is there and what
will happen next. (Synthesis)
Construct some thoughts about the conjure man scene. In your opinion, do you
think this sort of thing would help a person like Crab to feel better or do you think only
a real doctor could help? Explain. (Synthesis)
Generate an idea for what you would do if you were Jimmy in a situation like the
one where the police catch Crab. Discuss if you would sit back and let what happens
happen or if you would do something to try to stop it.
Decide at what point in the novel you think Jimmy started to change his opinion
of and trust Crab. (Evaluation)
In a discussion, justify the lies that Crab told throughout the novel. Why did he
tell them? (Evaluation)
In your opinion, do you think what Crab did (breaking out of the hospital and
telling lies) was right or wrong in the big picture? Explain. (Evaluation)
Act as a book critic and evaluate the novel. Talk about the writing style, word
choices and plot.

Similar Books for Independent Reading

Secrets in the Shadows by Anne Schraff (grades 9-12)

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers (7-9)
The Beast by Walter Dean Myers (9-12)
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (5-7)
Small Steps by Louis Sachar (5-8)
Holes by Louis Sachar (6-8)
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer (6-8)
Buried Onions by Gary Soto (6-9)
Taking Sides by Gary Soto (6-9)
Tangerine by Edward Bloor (6-8)
Retrieved from

Reading/Writing activities


Create an alternative ending for the novel. You will start at the point where the
police are chasing Crab and you can go from there. You must include:
*What happens to Crab as far as his disease and his breakout from prison
*What happens to Jimmy? Does he stay with Crab? Does he go back to New York? Its
up to you.

Keep a reading journal and make an entry for every three chapters you read. The
entries should include things like summaries, reflections, your opinion about what
happened, and predictions of what is to come.


Jimmy was put into an uncomfortable situation when he was told he had to go
with Crab to Chicago. In your journal, write about a time where you were in a situation
that was uncomfortable for you. Include what it was, who it involved, and the outcome
of he situation. Did it help you grow like Jimmys situation did or was there a different

4. Do a 10 minute free write in your journal without stopping your pencil. The topic of the
free write is you putting yourself in Mama Jeans shoes. Imagine if you were her, having

raised a boy into a teenager and one day his absent father comes into the picture and
wants to take him away from you. Jot down everything you are feeling and what you
would do about it.

Poetry- poems based on the themes in the novel

Cheated My Love (excerpt)

Growing up was tough because of you
You left and didn't care what I went through
Without you, I survived and grew
You were supposed to be my dad
but your actions were so bad
when I succeed you are never glad
You never tried to care
Never gave me your love to share
To forgive you I would never dare
Treated me so unfair
when I needed you, you weren't there
I don't trust the world because of what you did
I don't believe anything you ever said
All you ever did was lie
Always made me cry
You were why I wanted to die
You'll never stop you won't even try
Retrieved from Cheated My Love, Abandonment Poem


trusting someone,
it's like walking with your eyes closed,
trusting no one
is a sure way to lose those you hold close.
finding the right path,
it's harder than one thinks,
you want to trust,
but don't want to blink.
how does one know for sure,
when nothing seems pure.
to trust you,
it means to crush my walls,
to lose you,
means I lose my all.
going against instinct,
not protecting myself,
all to love someone,
I lose my walls for help.
if I must choose,
I choose you.
now I wonder.....
was it the right thing to do??
Retrieved from Learning To Trust, Trusting, Change Poem
Best Teen Poems


Daniel Vango
The courage I need
I need the courage to control my instincts
The courage I need to face my fears
I need the courage to see the future
The courage I need to compare facts and opinion
I need the courage to think right

The courage I need to see if my friends trust me

I need the courage to ask questions
The courage I need to survive
I need the courage to convince myself to do something
I have to prepare myself for any thing that comes up!
Retrieved from

Differentiated Instruction

One method of differentiated instruction that can be used during the teaching of this
novel is using independent reading time to do so. The list above of similar books to
Somewhere in the Darkness includes books of different reading levels so students can
read books during this part of class that theyre the most comfortable with. Another way
to differentiate is to split the students into reading groups based on their reading level.
This way, you can meet with them separately, giving the lower level groups more
guidance and monitor where they are in their reading process. Lastly, having the
students do small group activities like those listed in the comprehension section will
allow them to not only see their ideas but also those of others. This can help them in the
thinking process; seeing the point of view of other people is always beneficial.


Performance Assessment (to be done either during or after book is read)
Jimmy displays a great amount of courage to leave everything he knows and travel
across the country with a man he doesnt know. In groups of 4, come up with a skit that
displays a different act of something courageous. All group members must participate
Matching (to be done when book is complete)
Draw a line to connect the characters name to their description.

Resident of Marion who knew Crab when he was young


Boxer who was a bully to Jimmy

Mama Jean

Conjure man who helped ease Crabs pain

Boy whos father showed up and brought him across the country


Raised Jimmy from when he was young

High John

Escaped from prison to clear his name to his son

Miss Mckenzie

Framed Crab for murder


Old friend of Crabs in Chicago

Multiple Choice
Come up with short multiple choice quizzes to give out randomly after certain sections
of the book just to make sure that students are keeping up on their reading and that they
are comprehending what they read. Those two things are essential if the teacher wants
to have a meaningful class discussion of the book. An example of a question to use
would be:
Directions: Circle the best answer.
Crab told Mama Jean that he was released on parole because he was able to find work

San Francisco

The questions are meant to be simply a check on how the students are doing with the
4. Short Answer
These tests are effective because the teacher can use them either when the students
are in the process of reading or after theyve completed the book. The reason they are

so effective is because unlike multiple choice, one can see that the students really know
the correct answer; there is no way they can guess from different choices or use the
process of elimination. They can be used on a more formal exam. An example of a short
answer question one could use for this book would be:
Directions: After reading the question thoroughly, answer the entire question in 1-3
Why was it that Jimmy was so reluctant to leave with Crab?
You would be able to tell by the students answer if they read and comprehended the

Essay (to be used after the book is complete)

Compare/contrast Jimmys situation in Somewhere in the Darkness to a similar one that

youre either encountered yourself or heard about from another person. The other
situation should be similar in that is has to do with family and should be described with
details. Document specific events from the novel using characters names, if applicable,
and be sure to use page numbers.