Finding a way to connect with the next generation in the classroom can be difficult, but a unit I developed to correspond with The Perks of Being a Wallflower brings music and film into the classroom to help students connect with the text and engage in classroom discussion. The unit also involves a writing component to help students enhance their writing skills.
Music plays an important role in Charlie’s life, which is something most teenagers can relate to.
As a class, the students will listen to “Asleep,” the song Charlie is most attached to throughout the novel. A class discussion will analyze the lyrics, compare it to pages 204-206 in the novel when Charlie says good-bye and discuss why Charlie likes this song. The next day, students will get into pairs and analyze a different song of their choice from the mixed tape Charlie makes in order to draw a connection between the song and the text. The pairs will then share their findings with the class.
Students enjoy watching film, but it can be more beneficial to the class to focus on a few specific scenes and a certain element they contain. For example, they might examine the lighting and visual choices in the scene to examine the mood that is purveyed.
The assignment is for students to watch one scene from The Perks of Being a Wallflower film. Their job will be to examine the scene’s thematic context; how the visuals and sounds lend to the scene (and does it connect at all with Charlie’s thoughts in that scene of the book); and the actor’s interpretation.
The days of writing letters are long gone, but the skills needed to write reflective or persuasive letters are still very important. This writing component encourages students to expand upon their letter and journal writing skills, as well as their ability to analyze and reflect on a situation.
With this unit, students would have to respond to a question each day that applies to what they read the night before and write it either in the form of a letter to an anonymous person or as a journal. These are private journals read only by the teacher, allowing the students to express themselves without fear of consequence.
Following are the first two days of prompts for their writing exercise:
Day 1: Write a letter telling about the most memorable friend in your life. Maybe it was a friend that moved away or one who has been your friend for life. Maybe it’s a friend who made an impact on you. If you don’t feel like you have had a memorable friend, write about the type of friend you wish you had.
Day 2: Write about a time that you felt peer pressure. Did you succumb or resist? Was this your first time? If you gave in, how did you feel after? If not, what regrets do you have or not have? It could be something as major as doing drugs or as simple as clothing that you were pressured into wearing.
The final assessment involves the students connecting The Perks of Being a Wallflower to real-life issues. For this, students would choose from the following short essay topics:
- Informative: Research the effects of sexual abuse, and write an informative essay regarding some of the symptoms victims of sexual abuse encounter and relate it to incidents in the book.
- Persuasive: Research the typical profile for an abuser. How often are abusers former victims? Then write an opinion piece based off Charlie’s father’s comment: “Even if you have a sob story, it’s no excuse.” Does evidence support this? Can blame be placed on the abuser’s own background? What are your own thoughts?
Shannon Venegas, Mount Mary University