Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

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Student Activities for 13 Reasons Why Include:

Thirteen Reasons Why tells the story of thirteen people who influenced high schooler Hannah Baker to commit suicide. Told from the point of view of her classmate Clay, who is slowly listening to seven cassette tapes on which Hannah has recorded her story, the novel is a suspenseful revelation of the many forces that combined to demoralize Hannah. Author Jay Asher addresses this heavy subject matter with realism and fairness. Covering such issues as self-esteem, identity, rumors, romance, sexual abuse, teen drinking, and depression, Hannah’s experiences and those of her peers will resonate with many young readers. Students will not only be caught up in the riveting read, but may also find the novel a thought-provoking reflection on aspects of their own lives. Jay Asher’s novel provides parents and educators with a helpful starting point for many difficult topics that too often go unaddressed.

13 Reasons Why Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Thirteen Reasons Why Summary

Copy Assignment

A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example Thirteen Reasons Why Summary


The faculty and students at Crestmont High School are shocked to see Hannah Baker's empty desk and learn that she has committed suicide. The student body is disturbed, but there is little discussion of the incident, and no one attends her out-of-town funeral.


Clay Jensen, a boy who had a crush on Hannah, discovers a package of cassette tapes at his front door. The tapes contain the story of thirteen reasons (people) for Hannah's suicide. Each of the 13 people who will receive the box of tapes will learn how they contributed to Hannah's decision to take her own life.

Rising Action

As Clay listens to the tapes, he learns that Hannah was misrepresented in rumors that spread around school. As a result of these rumors, Hannah struggled to fit in, and was betrayed and abused by many of her peers. Clay worries about his own reason for appearing on the tapes, as he agonizes over the pain Hannah expresses in her story.


Clay listens to tape #5 and discovers his connection to Hannah's death. Hannah doesn't blame him, but explains that she liked him. She describes a party where she and Clay talked for the first time. Due to their similarities and mutual attraction, they had could have become close. But after they kiss, Hannah pushes Clay away. Later, Hannah witnesses a rape and a drunk driving accident. This night is a turning point, eliminating her sense of self-worth and desire to open up to others.

Falling Action

All but determined to take her own life, Hannah makes one last attempt to reach out for help by talking to Mr. Porter. When he tells her to “move beyond” her troubles, she makes a final decision to kill herself. She records the tapes, mails them, and then commits suicide.


After listening to the tapes, Clay finally understands why Hannah took her own life. He is filled with grief but learns from her story. The next day at school, he skips class to reach out to Skye Miller, another girl who is showing signs of social avoidance and unhappiness.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Thirteen Reasons Why.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Thirteen Reasons Why Character Map

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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Thirteen Reasons Why Characters

  • Hannah Baker
  • Clay Jensen
  • Justin Foley
  • Alex Standall
  • Jessica Davis
  • Tyler Down
  • Courtney Crimson
  • Marcus Cooley
  • Zach Dempsey
  • Ryan Shaver
  • Jenny Kurtz
  • Bryce Walker
  • Mr. Porter
  • Skye Walker
  • Tony

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Thirteen Reasons Why and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Character Traits, Why is This Character on Hannah's List, and How Does This Character Change over the Course of the Book.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Thirteen Reasons Why Themes, Symbols, and Motif

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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

Thirteen Reasons Why Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Destructive Power of Selfishness

Many of the worst behaviors in Thirteen Reasons Why are motivated by characters’ selfishness. The characters take a number of risks for selfish reasons, but rarely risk being kind. Tyler sneaks around taking voyeuristic photos. Marcus tries to molest Hannah in Rosie’s Diner. Jenny Kurtz drives away from a broken stop sign so she does not have to admit she was driving drunk. In each case, a character is ignoring the well-being of other people to pursue their own pleasure or to avoid facing justice. The novel suggests that a healthy, happy community requires concern for others. People must look outside themselves and consider the feelings of those around them. By the end of the novel, Clay takes this to heart when he reaches out to Skye in the school corridor.

Interconnectedness of People and Events

Hannah talks about the “snowball effect”, arguing that a single action combines with other small actions and reactions to produce many unintended repercussions. Seemingly minor incidents that occur early in Hannah’s time at Crestmont High School end up making Hannah’s life more difficult even years later. When Alex passes around the “hot or not” list, for example, he is building up the school’s image of Hannah as sexually promiscuous, which probably leads to Tyler’s fascination with her, Marcus’s advances upon her, and Bryce’s molestations. Another prime example of the unforeseen consequences of a single act is the car accident. Jenny’s drunk driving leads to a broken stop sign. The missing sign causes a car crash, which results in the death of a senior at Crestmont. The knowledge of this accident contributes to Hannah’s feelings of guilt and worthlessness, which leads to her suicide. As Hannah tells her story, she notices more and more connections between people and events that have brought her to the point of suicide.

The Role of Rumors and Reputation

Hannah’s tapes repeatedly draws attention to the harmful effects of rumors. Rumors about her, though completely unsubstantiated, build a reputation that influences the way others treat her. Many of the most negative incidents in Hannah’s first year at Crestmont stem from rumors about her relationship with Justin. As her reputation grows, people like Bryce take advantage of her by touching her in unwanted and inappropriate ways. Ultimately, a rumor is the first step in the long sequence of events that leads to Hannah’s suicide.

Thirteen Reasons Why Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Broken Stop Sign

The broken stop sign reflects the characters' inability or unwillingness to stop the negative forces in their lives. A number of tragedies in the book - the car crash, Jessica's rape, Hannah's suicide - could have been stopped if people had made better choices and bystanders had made stronger efforts to intervene.

Hannah’s Scar

Hannah's scar is a physical representation of her emotional pain. Given to her when Jessica slapped her and left a nail embedded in her eyebrow, the scar is a daily reminder to Hannah of the kind of betrayal and lack of dependable friends that she experiences over and over. Each new time she is betrayed, her emotional wound grows deeper.

The Cassette Tapes

The cassette tapes are the central symbol in the book. Since they bring revelations about Hannah’s life and expose a number of hurtful behaviors, they represent both truth and revenge. Although they reveal the reality behind the scenes, they also stand in contrast to reality. The listener’s ability to pause, stop, and rewind them at will is a poignant reminder that real life cannot be paused or rewound; our actions are immutable and their consequences must be faced.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Thirteen Reasons Why. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Thirteen Reasons Why you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Thirteen Reasons Why Solutions Square

Thirteen Reasons Why concludes with a suggestion that Clay will work to end the cycle of selfishness and misunderstanding that led to Hannah’s suicide. As Hannah’s tapes reveal, however, this is not a simple task. There were a number of factors that went into her decision. Some of these were small, relatively harmless incidents, but others were violations of decency and the law.

Discussing what Clay should do now that he has heard the tapes is one way to facilitate discussions about suicide prevention, anti-bullying measures, and reporting abuse. Use storyboards to spark a discussion. Ask each student to depict one or more ways that Clay can use the information from the tapes to improve the lives of those around him and attempt to prevent further tragedy. The storyboard below provides an example.

Thirteen Reasons Why Solution Square

What should Clay do next?

Clay needs to tell an adult at least some of what he heard. Hannah's tapes revealed a number of people (like Bryce and Tyler) who had harmed others and might continue to do so if they are not stopped.

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Thirteen Reasons Why Bullying Prevention

Thirteen Reasons Why contains details of bullying and abuse that contribute to Hannah’s suicide and other harmful incidents throughout the story. Though fictional, these instances are very realistic and make excellent material for discussions on bullying prevention. Use storyboards to help students make connections between the book and the real world.

Using a T-Chart, ask students to look for ways that characters in the book enabled bullying and abuse. Students should depict and describe these examples in one column. In the other column, have students depict and explain how to turn each enabling situation into one that works to stop the bullying.

Thirteen Reasons Why Bullying Prevention

Actions that Enable Bullying

Actions that Combat Bullying

Rumors and GossipSelf-Control and Positive Words
From the beginning of Hannah's time at Crestmont High, rumors fly about her and Justin. This leads to her negative reputation and a host of other untrue rumors. Even people who are friendly to Hannah hear and pass on these rumors. Do not engage in gossip and spreading rumors. Many rumors are untrue, but even if true they can be very harmful to a person's self-esteem. Stopping the rumor chain can be as simple as redirecting the conversation. It can also be helpful to say something positive about a person to help build them up rather than tear them down. Remember, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
Pre-Judging OthersGet to Know Someone
Clay falls into the trap of judging Hannah based on the rumors he hears about her. His belief that she has a lot of sexual experience with boys makes him hesitate to befriend her. Had he befriended her earlier, she might not have felt so alone. We should get to know someone before we draw conclusions about them. Sometimes you will find they are exactly like you thought they were, but other times you will be surprised by what you find. We are less likely to think of someone as different, odd, or worthless once we get to know them.
Watching Bullying or Assault without InterveningStanding up for Those Being Hurt
When Marcus starts to molest Hannah in Rosie's diner, his actions are visible to most of the people in the diner. It is clear that he is making Hannah uncomfortable, yet no one in the diner does anything to intervene. Zach comes up and speaks to Hannah only after Marcus has left. When someone is being hurt, you should do something to stop it. Sometimes this means stepping up and stopping the behavior yourself. Other times it means calling for help or reporting the incident to a trusted adult.

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Thirteen Reasons Why Literary Devices

Thirteen Reasons Why provides opportunities for teaching a number of useful literary devices. Have students use storyboards to demonstrate their demonstrate their understanding of these devices in an engaging way. Have students depict scenes from the novel that illustrate concepts like stream of consciousness, foil, tragic flaw, foreshadowing, irony, figurative language, or deus ex machina. Students should then clearly explain how the scene makes use of that literary device.

Example Thirteen Reasons Why Literary Devices

Tragic Flaw

Although Hannah certainly faces many difficult and unjust challenges, she is not without flaws herself. Her tragic flaw is that she is too trusting. On multiple occasions, Hannah confides in someone or agrees to something against her better judgment. If she had followed her instincts and said "no", she might have avoided some painful situations.


Jay Asher uses many instances of foreshadowing to create suspense in Thirteen Reasons Why. By hinting at secrets to come, he increases the reader’s sense of dread and heightens the ominous, heavy tone of the novel. The very first chapter foreshadows several later events. As Clay mails the tapes to the next recipient, he hints at the pain that they contain. He also makes cryptic comments about Jenny and Mr. Porter that leave us wondering what they did wrong. The foreshadowing continues throughout the tapes when Hannah refers to people, but does not name them until later tapes.

Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness, also referred to as interior monologue, is a method of narration in which the speaker expresses thoughts and feelings in a continuous flow of words, without editing for clarity or reader comprehension. Author Jay Asher uses Clay Jensen’s stream of consciousness to give the reader a window into the events of the novel. Clay’s thoughts jump from the past to present. Some are complete sentences, others are fragments. This point of view helps build the suspense of the novel since Clay often makes statements (like “I know who she’s talking about now”) that the reader must keep reading in order to understand.


Clay Jensen acts as a foil for Hannah Baker. The two have very similar personalities as well as overlapping circles of friends. They work at the same movie theater and are secretly attracted to each other. In many ways, however, their lives could not be more different. Clay’s actions and situation serve to contrast with Hannah’s.

Clay is both a good student and well-liked by his peers. He rarely attends parties, but is welcomed when he does. Clay seems act without regard to public opinion, yet the rumors about him are all positive - so much so that Hannah has trouble believing he can be that good. By contrast, the rumors about Hannah paint her in a negative light. Hannah tries everything to fit in and feel wanted, but her actions always seem to backfire. She attends parties to try to make friends, but ends up feeling betrayed by her classmates. Everything she does seems to make her less likable. By developing Clay as a foil, Asher magnifies the tragedy of Hannah’s death. Had small events unfolded differently, her life could have gone in an entirely different direction. She could have been as happy and well-adjusted as her foil, Clay.

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Thirteen Reasons Why addresses many controversial topics that students may initially be uncomfortable discussing. Teachers, too, may find the subject matter difficult to approach. Before beginning the novel, teachers should take care to prepare with relevant background reading on subjects such as bullying, suicide, and sexual abuse. Make sure to also research appropriate authorities and helplines for providing official student support in these areas. The organizations below may be helpful resources for both teachers and students.

In addition to its powerful thematic content, Thirteen Reasons Why can be a wonderful tool for teaching literary concepts. Asher uses a creative story structure and alternating point of view to tell his story and maintain suspense. The novel contains parallel stories, which alternate every few lines from Clay’s narration in the present to Hannah’s narration in the past. Clay’s part of the story is told through stream of consciousness, a method of narration in which the speaker expresses thoughts and feelings in a continuous flow of words. Asher also employs unique formatting techniques, including italics to indicate Hannah’s recorded voice and symbols representing the “stop”, “pause”, and “play” functions of the cassette player. These symbols also indicate a switch in narrative point of view. Other literary devices to teach along with this novel include foil, tragic flaw, foreshadowing, irony, figurative language, and deus ex machina.

Essential Questions for Thirteen Reasons Why

  1. What is the snowball effect? How can the snowball effect relate to your own life?
  2. How can a person’s perspective be changed?
  3. What role do rumors and reputation play at your school?
  4. What can you do to help prevent your classmates from making destructive decisions?
  5. What mistakes did Hannah make in dealing with her stress and unhappiness?

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