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S.E. Hinton was only 15 when she started writing her classic novel, The Outsiders. Now, over 50 years after its publication, Hinton’s coming of age novel continues to provide an impactful commentary on society. Year after year, many English teachers return to this story, each time glimpsing something new through the eyes of its memorable protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis. This has long been a favorite in the ELA classroom. Its dramatic and emotional plotline lends itself incredibly well to creative activities that make teaching The Outsiders engaging year after year. Below are my 7 favorite activities for teaching S.E. Hinton’s classic.
This first activity gets students to dig deeper into themes of identity in the novel. It challenges students to think about how identity is represented in The Outsiders by teaching them to make connections to the way they view their own identities.
On the day after students have read chapters 1-2 from The Outsiders, I like to initiate this activity by putting up an identity-related poster on the classroom door. This gets students thinking about the idea of “identity” before they even sit down.
At the start of class, I explain that Ponyboy identifies himself as a greaser. Then, in small groups or as a whole class, I get students to discuss the important elements of identifying with this group (i.e. appearance, interests, actions, personality, etc.). Students should develop a list that may include such things as having long greased hair, fighting, committing crimes, being tough, carrying a switchblade, and showing loyalty, for example.
Students then get the chance to analyze their own identities. I have them consider what kind of group they associate with. I hang identity cards on the wall all around the room (football player, musician, academic etc.). Then, I explain that students should look around and have them choose one that they identify with the most. I always offer the option for students to create their own identity card as well as some may not feel connected to the pre-selected options. It’s important to tell them that it doesn’t matter if they are alone in a group since perhaps the other people who identify with this group are simply not in this class!
To close the activity off, I like to start a whole class discussion using questions like…
The second activity I use for teaching The Outsiders will prompt students to dig deeper and empathize with the characters. This time, however, it is by deconstructing the stereotypes at the center of the novel. I usually do this activity after students have finished reading chapters 3 and 4.
I start this activity by putting up 5 pictures of strangers around the classroom. Then, in small groups, I get them to discuss assumptions they have about what their personalities would be like, what job they would have, etc. After they’re done this first part of the activity, I like to pause and provide students with the definition of stereotype: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. I have students discuss with their groups whether or not they stereotyped during this activity.
Then, I explain that in The Outsiders, the Socs and Greasers cannot get along with each other because they hold stereotypes. The Socs think the greasers are low-life thugs while the greasers think the Socs are rich snobs. I also explain that in these chapters, Cherry and Ponyboy, two people from completely different groups, are able to break down stereotypes and find common ground with one another.
As a second part of the activity, I have students try to find examples of Ponyboy’s shift in perspective. Below are a few possible responses that students might share:
I like to conclude this activity by starting a class discussion with questions such as “How do you think it feels to be stereotyped” and “What are the negative consequences of believing stereotypes?”
In chapter 5 of The Outsiders, Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” The poem is referenced again later on in the novel when Johnny Cade says to Ponyboy, “Stay gold.” After students have read chapters 5 and 6, I get them to complete an activity centered around Frost’s poem to prepare them for the impact of Johnny’s memorable line.
For this activity, I put students into groups of 3 or 4. I hand out printed copies of Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” to each group, and I project a video of Ponyboy reciting the poem from The Outsiders movie, getting students to follow along.
I then go through the poem line by line, and I ask them questions that invite them to dig deeper into the poem’s meaning. For example, for the first line, I ask “What does nature’s first green mean” and “Why is it gold? Do you think Frost means the color gold? What else could gold symbolize/represent?” Students record their answers on a brainstorming sheet, and then once we’ve gone through each line, we discuss possible interpretations and lingering questions about the poem as a whole and its significance to the novel so far.
The idea of impermanence is central to Robert Frost’s poem—and to The Outsiders. As a final question, I ask students to reflect on things in their lives that will eventually change. I get them to consider how will they cope with these changes.
This activity is designed to be used for after students have read chapters 7-8 of The Outsiders. In these chapters, Ponyboy tells the reader about being interviewed by reporters while in the hospital visiting Johnny and Dally. Not much detail is provided on who is interviewed and what questions are asked, but the reader gets more insight into this in chapter 8 when Ponyboy says what information was included in the article.
I start this interview activity by putting students into pairs. Students will be using the information we have from the newspaper article for this activity, so I have them read the long quotation in the novel where Ponyboy describes the information included in the articles. Then, I get them to choose one of the characters listed below to be interviewed:
From the long quotation, they will infer what questions a local reporter might ask the character they’ve selected. Their questions should also be informed by their reading, and they must include responses from the interviewee. I encourage students to try and make this as realistic and professional as possible. I usually give each group some time to practice their written interview before performing it out loud in front of the class.
This activity is not only entertaining, but it will also force students to further invest themselves in the characters and the details of the novel!
The Socs vs. Greasers rumble activity can be done after chapters 9-10 to get students thinking critically about the idea of the rivalry between Socs (East) and Greasers (West). In these chapters, the hostile relationship between the Socs and the Greasers comes to a climax with the planned rumble. Students will be exploring this rivalry using information from the whole novel.
For this activity, I put students into groups of four and label their table Greasers or Socs. I then tell the students that they are now looking at their new gang! Sometimes, I’ll even pit them against another specific group from the opposing gang for a little added fun.
Next, I have the groups complete an “East vs. West Rumble Assignment” where they answer distinguishing questions according to their assigned gang (Soc or Greaser). Students should be encouraged to “get into the character’s brain” and really pretend that they are a member of that gang to answer questions like “What are some things you dislike about the Socs / Greasers?” and “How would you react if a Soc / Greaser was insulting a member of your gang?” After they’re done, I get each group to share what they wrote with the rest of the class from the perspective of a Greaser or Soc. The answers are always mostly very negative towards the other gang as they are biased towards their own.
After students have shared, I tell them that they will now look at each gang objectively—not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. They will share the biggest differences and similarities between the gangs and the gang members. Through this activity, it is always my goal for the students to realize that the gangs actually have a lot in common.
When I’m teaching The Outsiders, I like to separate the last two chapters of the novel into two fun activities. The first is this wanted poster assignment. Earlier in the novel, Ponyboy is involved in an altercation where his friend Johnny ends up killing someone, and Dally instructs them to get away and hide in an abandoned church until he comes for them. For the wanted poster activity, students will create a “Wanted Poster” for one of these two characters who were on the run. This is a fun activity that will allow students to show their understanding of key details surrounding these characters.
Using a graphic organizer, students plan out their poster before they begin working on a good copy. I get students to focus on the following information:
I also get them to include an image (either drawn or found), and I encourage them to be as creative as possible!
This final activity for teaching The Outsiders is one that students tend to really enjoy! Tattoos are not only something that is sure to spark your students’ interest, but they also lend themselves well to teaching about symbolism in The Outsiders.
I start this activity by asking my students to imagine that a character from The Outsiders decides to get two tattoos on his or her arm. Then, I get them to consider what they would choose based on what they know about the character. The character, the tattoo designs, and the explanation behind them are up to the students. However, the choices should be grounded by concrete details in the novel. Students get to draw the tattoos. I like to give them a tattoo worksheet for this with a bare arm graphic as a canvas.
To make this even more fun, I suggest putting the artwork up on the walls and turning the class into a full-on Outsiders Tattoo Expo. Get students to go around and look at all the tattoos. Then, wrap up with a discussion on which tattoos each student liked and why!
You can grab a bundle of these ready-to-use resources by clicking here. They are also included in my best selling unit plan with over 300+ slides and everything you need for teaching The Outsiders by clicking here.
I hope you found these 7 creative activities for teaching The Outsiders helpful! If you are interested in more tips and resources for developing students’ reading skills in ELA, click here.
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