The Southpaw

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Describe the conflict that arises between characters and the series of events that leads to a compromise.

Big Idea

Passing notes at school? What an intriguing way to tell a story!


15 minutes

Note: The text and many of the support materials for this lesson come from Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes: Copper Level (Prentice Hall, 1999), a literary anthology.

Short Summary of the text for his lesson: Judith Viorst, the author of The Southpaw, lays out this story in a series of notes passed between a young girl and boy.  Richard and Janet are good friends and each is an avid baseball player. Their relationship suffers when Richard overlooks Janet in his search for players for his team.   

To get the lesson started, I write the word ‘southpaw’ on the board and ask if anyone knows the meaning. This is a way to build background knowledge and get the students guessing about the topic of today’s text. Many students are unfamiliar with the word, some make wild guesses, and just a few get it right. A southpaw is a left-handed pitcher or a boxer who uses his left hand for the most powerful blows. Of course all this talk about sports has everyone jumping into the discussion and I lead it in a way that gets to the heart of the matter: Should boys and girls play on the same teams? Why? Why not? Now that everyone is primed, it is time to get into the story…

Independent Work

30 minutes

Students love the format of this story! They see it as post-its or instant messages. They also enjoy that Richard and Janet are portrayed so realistically. They can ‘hear’ the naturalness of the exchanges between these two characters. I like it because of the opportunity to delve into the characters motivations and how this is revealed in their messages. Plus we get to examine narration by dual characters. By reading between the lines we can trace how Richard changes from his strong stance against having girls on the team to relenting after suffering a series of losses. Janet stands strong in her belief that she will be an asset to the team and eventually wins a place for herself and her friends.

I assign this story as independent work to see how students work on their own to find meaning in the text. Will they use the reading strategies we have worked so hard to develop? Will they annotate the text? How will they do answering the comprehension questions? Fortunately, I am pleasantly surprised by the outcome as seen in these samples: 1 & 2. Some thoughts on one of the samples appears here:

Wrap Up

15 minutes

To wrap up the lesson we review the answers to the comprehension questions. Then I ask them to brainstorm ideas of an open response question that fits this short story. What would it be? What examples from the text could be used in the response?