I’ve started reading again. After a moment of unpleasant reflection when I publicly admitted I’m an English teacher who doesn’t actually read much, I decided to make a change.

The uncomfortable truth is that we give our time to the things that matter most to us. Reading and thinking about books? Yup, that matters to me. Instagram Stories and Facebook feeds? Not so much.

My New Routine = A Win for You

I know myself; I can’t read more than two paragraphs at bedtime before my eyelids decide my day is done. To add pages to my life, I’ve become unapologetically selfish for the hour or so before dinner when I unplug from everything and grab a book that I’d told myself I’ve been too busy to read. Fresh air matters, too, so I’m usually on the patio. It helps that I have only one kid still at home, a fiercely self-sufficient teen who just took a job slinging pizzas, and an Italian husband who happily does most of the cooking – I have a charmed life, I am aware.

In September, I read Wonder, Love, Hate & Other Filters, and Long Way Down. Auggie and Maya are great, but Will from Long Way Down is the one who won’t leave my head. Author Jason Reynolds’ novel-in-verse is a quick but meaty read and I know so many kids, so many boys who would relate to Will’s story of revenge and fear. I’ll put the book in their hands when I can, but I also wanted to know more about Reynolds. And what do you do when you want to know more about someone? Hop on YouTube, of course. There, my friends, I found a prize – Reynolds’ recent commencement address at Lesley University – that I need to share with you today.

Now grab a warm drink, sit back, and enjoy these next 10 minutes:

I was so struck by Reynolds’ message and manner of delivery that I was compelled (like, wake-up-at-4-in-the-morning-every-day-this-week compelled) to turn his speech into a full-blown lesson. He’s someone our kids should know and I’m doing my part to make his speech go viral. Click here to download some free lesson materials to help you use Reynolds’ speech with your classes.

These materials can be used as:
• a stand-alone lesson in between units
• a model of powerful public speaking
• a reminder of the value of storytelling rather than lecuring
• an example of effectively using poetic devices as rhetorical tools
• a supplement to any literature that deals with issues of equity or social justice
• an emergency sub plan

I’m not sure whether to use this the next time I teach To Kill a Mockingbird (I mean, Tom Robinson is Confucius, the fish. You see that, right?) or to save it as a speech assignment warm-up. How would you use Reynolds’ speech? What connections to other literary works do you see in his words? Let’s pool our ideas in the “Leave a Reply” area below and tell all of our English teacher friends about this jewel of a fish story. Teach on, everyone!

Image Credit: Avery Jensen, WikiMedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Join the conversation! 20 Comments

  1. I’m reading Long Way Down as a read aloud to my sophomores. They are enthralled, boys and girls alike. They groan when I stop for the day! Thanks so much for this resource!


  2. Fantastic, Kara. I think they’ll really enjoy hearing Reynolds’ voice aloud, too. I can’t stop thinking about the layers of this speech.


  3. Thank you—again and as always—for the inspiration. Your work is a gift to our profession.


  4. Thanks, Martha, but I think of myself just as a funnel. Reynolds is the gift. 😉


  5. I use Long Way Down as an introduction to poetry with my 8th graders. My most reluctant readers did not want to stop reading it. Thanks for the wonderful lesson.


  6. My pleasure, Barbara. Embarrassed that I’m so late to find Mr. Reynolds’ work, but really glad to finally be here with you. 🙂


  7. A thousand thank yous, high-fives, and fist bumps for alerting me to this speech and making the materials at 4am!


  8. High-fives always happily accepted! 😉


  9. Amazing and inspirational (you *and* Reynolds)! Thanks Laura! 🙂


  10. Oh, stop it, Heather. (blushes)


  11. The book seems great and I’ve only read the few pages Amazon gives as a preview.

    I have a student reading another book (Impulse by Ellen Hopkins) written in verse like this one for SSR. How many pages would you count for a book like this for SSR?


  12. Great question, Amanda! I always work this out one-on-one with the student. I’ll thumb through the book and ask the kid what she thinks is a reasonable number of pages for Book Talk credit based on the amount of text involved. For something like Long Way Gone, there’s probably an average of 1/3 text per page, so the kid might suggest she be awarded 1/3 of the total pages. I’ve found the kids usually suggest a lower number of pages than I would offer and we quickly come to an agreement. When in doubt, I tilt in the kid’s favor. Hope this helps! 🙂


  13. Awhile back when I asked you to create some author study pages for me (J.R. being one of them), it was because of my love/obsession with his amazing work. A day doesn’t go by without someone in class mentioning his name or one of his books. I love everything he stands for and supports – everything he does to promote literacy, growth, and success to and for today’s youth. I love that when he speaks to kids, he is 100% real with them about the realities of life, and I love that he doesn’t hold back any truth surrounding his own life. What I especially love, though, is that when he talks, my students listen – like, “ears perked up, knees facing his direction, eyes wide open” type of listen. Having similar experiences growing up, my students relate well to his words and find his tone to be inspiring and engaging. He gives hope and makes the possibility of a bright future within reach. I think he is a great role model, and he is making a difference every single day by introducing us to characters like Will in Long Way Down. Thank you so much for putting this lesson together – I love it!!! 🙂


  14. Yeah, Tara, I’m late to the Jason Reynolds party, but glad to be here. Did you see that he just released Lu, the last of his Track series, this week? I also love his post from yesterday showing that Barnes & Noble has given him a dedicated section on their YA shelf: https://www.instagram.com/p/BpRk95QH_pe/?taken-by=jasonreynolds83 Awesome!


  15. Thank you; I’m going to use this with Lord of the Flies and possibly Crucible.


  16. So glad you found this post, Julie! 🙂


  17. Running to my school’s library to check out this book! Can’t wait to plan for next semester’s classes!


  18. So glad you found this, Jessica!


  19. I’ve taught this book several times along with All American Boys and he is a phenomenal writer. Any and everyone who has read this book in my class has been enthralled. I can’t say enough about him.


  20. Agreed, Jamilla! He’s the real deal. I just finished Reynolds’ short story, “Eraser Tattoo,” from the Fresh Ink anthology. It is so good and so deep.


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American literture, high school English, print and teach, sub plans


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