I have been teaching The Outsiders ever since I started teaching junior high. The only “required” novel when I got to my school in 1993 was Tom Sawyer. The “approved” novels were shtuff like A Day no Pigs Would Die and Where the Red Fern Grows. Ummm, no offense, but I couldn’t cope. (Actually, I kinda liked ADNPWD – a bit.) I was rummaging around in the old English department storage room, and came across a class set of The Outsiders. Paydirt! Way better than Summer of the Monkeys.
But it was only a class set. So, not knowing what else to do at the time, I decided we would read the whole thing as a class, in class.
It has worked out beautifully. In fact, if I could only make one recommendation about teaching the novel, it would be this: don’t let them take it home! Hide all the copies in the school library. Tell the parents not to let them buy it or rent the cheesy movie. Read the whole thing in class! And read most of it to them.
By the time we hit “I was wrong” at the end of chapter 3, most of them are begging to read more every time they come in the door. You could hear a pin drop during the scene in the park in chapter 4. Even the “ADHD” kids are rapt. In fact, this year, we’re only up to page 6 or 8 at this point (depending upon the class), and I already have those professing their undying love.
And using The Outsiders, you can teach just about every literary device and whatnot that the standards want: foreshadowing (”I know better now,” “…not over his dead body…”), irony (omg, take your pick), 1st person vs 3rd person narration (I always stop when Pony passes out in chapter 4, and remind them “what are the disadvantages of a first person narrator?), flat vs 3d characters, metaphor, the list goes on… S.E. Hinton was in high school, and the writing leaves most of this stuff pretty close to the surface, so to speak; easy for 7th graders to pick up. Reading it aloud allows me to demo how they should be reading to themselves (like when they do KBAR) and the novel offers easy to understand examples of almost everything we want to teach them in English.
Plus, if you let them take it home, they kill it in a night, and want to move on, missing most of what I want to use the novel to teach them. I usually stretch it out over 4-6 weeks…it’s a beautiful thing to hear 7th graders beg to read.