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The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our Middle School ELA Category!

Student Activities for The Wednesday Wars Include:

The Wednesday Wars is a coming of age story that will provoke equal parts laughter and reflection. A comic account of the fictional Holling Hoodhood’s seventh grade year, the book also plumbs unexpected emotional depths as Holling navigates bullies, friendships, and familial stress, all to the grim backdrop of the Vietnam War. Throughout his adventures, Holling reads a number of Shakespearean plays at the direction of his teacher, making the book rife with literary allusions and explorations of Shakespeare’s most famous lines and themes. Holling’s first person narration also includes plenty of playful instances of figurative language. Teachers will find this book a perfect opportunity to explore literary concepts while keeping students engaged and entertained.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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Background Information

Most middle school readers will likely be unfamiliar with the Shakespeare Holling repeatedly alludes to. The book provides some context for Holling’s reflections on famous lines (such as “The quality of mercy is not strained”), but additional background may provide opportunities for reading support or enrichment activities. The list below contains the plays that Holling reads through the year. For short summaries of each one, click here. Summaries for many of the plays are also available in video form on Youtube.



In addition to the Shakespeare, young readers may need background on the history of the 1960s. The Vietnam War is in full swing when the novel begins, and issues like the draft, war protests, and political leaders come up repeatedly. The Battle of Kesanh is given particular prominence in the book, as Mrs. Baker’s husband goes missing in action during this five-month siege. (For video background on this battle and the Vietnam war in general, click here.) Other cultural realities of the sixties make their way into the story as well, from the hippie movement to Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News. Consider previewing the topics below with your students before reading The Wednesday Wars.


  • Vietnam War
  • Student Protests at Columbia University and UC Berkeley
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • Flower Children
  • Robert Kennedy
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • The Cold War

Essential Questions for The Wednesday Wars

  1. How can political events happening far away affect our home communities?
  2. How does Holling grow and change over the course of seventh grade?
  3. What role do books (and plays) play in Holling’s life?
  4. What does it mean to be a true friend to someone?
  5. How can we use defeat to grow?

The Wednesday Wars Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Wednesday Wars Plot Diagram


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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 help 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 The Wednesday Wars Plot Diagram

Exposition

Holling Hoodhood lives with his parents and sister in “the perfect house” on Long Island, New York. He is just beginning seventh grade at Camillo Junior High with the strict Mrs. Baker as his homeroom teacher.


Conflict

When the other students leave for religious education on Wednesday afternoons, Holling is the only student left in class. Holling believes that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him for this and is out to make his life miserable.


Rising Action

For the first few Wednesdays, Mrs. Baker gives Holling chores to keep him busy. Then she begins assigning him Shakespeare plays. As he goes through the year, the lessons of the plays seem to connect to his life. Holling navigates bullying, community theater, sports, and his first girlfriend, alongside fears about the Vietnam War and the unrest it causes. All the while, Holling's demanding father keeps tensions high in the Hoodhood household, causing Holling’s older sister to run away.


Climax

One Wednesday, Mrs. Baker takes Holling on an architectural tour of his city. During the tour, he realizes there is more to architecture than money and prestige as his father thinks. Holling reassesses his priorities; he realizes that he cares about his friends and Mrs. Baker and misses his sister Heather.


Falling Action

Holling cashes in his savings bond to help his sister return home. He goes on an end-of-the-year class field trip, and later attends Danny Hupfer’s bar mitzvah.


Resolution

Holling stands up to his father, telling him that being a man is about more than a good job. The story ends on a happy note with Holling surrounded by friends, watching as Mrs. Baker’s husband returns home safely from Vietnam.


The Wednesday Wars Plot Diagram

Example

(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 The Wednesday Wars.


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



Plot Diagram Template

Example

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





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Figurative Language in The Wednesday Wars


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Holling uses many instances of figurative language when recounting his story in The Wednesday Wars. Many of his exaggerated claims or dramatic comparisons lend humor to his tale. Storyboards can be a helpful way for students to explore these figurative meanings. Have students search for examples of metaphor, simile, personification, idiom, or hyperbole in the text. Next, ask them to depict each example and explain its meaning and significance below.


Examples of Figurative Language in The Wednesday Wars

Hyperbole Exaggeration or overstatement for humor or emphasis

"Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me."

Simile A comparison using 'like' or 'as'

"She slashed through my answers with a broad swathe of bright red ink. It looked like my test was bleeding to death."

Metaphor An implied comparison between two things

"I was to come to the Principal's office ... I headed off to Death Row."

Personification Giving human-like characteristics to non-human objects or abstract ideas

"There were the demon rats ... their eyes filled with the Big M - Murder! ... The faster I ran, the more their yellow hatred grew..."


The Wednesday Wars Figurative Language

Example

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


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows three examples of figurative language in The Wednesday Wars.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify use of figurative language in the text.
  3. Put the type of figurative language (such as simile or metaphor) in the title box.
  4. Give an example from the text in the description box.
  5. Illustrate the example using using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.



3 Figurative Language Ex Template

Example

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





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The Wednesday Wars Character Map

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!


The Wednesday Wars Characters

  • Holling Hoodhood
  • Mrs. Baker
  • Meryl Lee
  • Danny Hupfer
  • Doug Swieteck
  • Mai Thi
  • Heather Hoodhood
  • Mr. Hoodhood
  • Doug Swieteck’s older brother

The Wednesday Wars Character Map

Example

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The Wednesday Wars Character Development

The Wednesday Wars is an example of a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age story. Throughout his seventh grade year, Holling matures from a timid youngster who is pushed around by his family and peers to a confident young man on track to make a difference in the world. As students work to identify instances of Holling’s growth, storyboards can be an excellent way to keep them engaged. Have them depict moments in which Holling demonstrates character growth. Then, ask them to explain the scene’s significance below the image.


Example The Wednesday Wars Character Development

Makes Good Friends

Holling starts out the year on poor terms with his classmates. Meryl Lee is upset with him and several of his classmates threaten to kill him over the cream puffs. By the end of the year, he develops strong friendships with classmates who support him at his play, cross country meets, and other places. He even has a girlfriend.


Becomes a Successful Athlete

By the end of the book, Holling has become a dedicated cross country runner. Although he starts out running simply because he's told to, he eventually learns to take the sport seriously and train for a performance he can be proud of. Due to his hard work (and Mrs. Baker's training), Holling ends up being the best runner on the varsity team.


Supports His Sister

When Holling's sister runs away and ends up alone in Minneapolis, she turns to her brother for help. Holling shows his maturity and love for his sister when he cashes in his savings bond, wires his sister the money, and meets her at the bus station in New York City.


Appreciates Mrs. Baker

For the first few months of seventh grade, Holling sees Mrs. Baker as a strict, heartless teacher who is out to ruin his life. Over time, he realizes that she is a kind-hearted person with her own fears and concerns just like anyone else. He develops a good relationship with her, which is proven by his concern for her happiness and the safety of her husband. At the end of the book, he even speaks to her outside of school activities!


Stands Up to His Dad

At the end of the book, Holling finally stands up to his father. After Danny's bar mitzvah, Holling's father mocks the ceremony. Holling tells his father that it was meaningful, and more important to becoming a man than having the perfect career. Holling has finally developed the courage to tell his father that he does not want to become like him: cold-hearted, cutthroat, and obsessed with appearance.


The Wednesday War's Character Growth

Example

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The Wednesday Wars Themes, Symbols, and Motifs


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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.


The Wednesday Wars Themes to Look For and Discuss

People are not always what they seem

As he matures, Holling changes his opinions about the people around him. At first, he believes Mrs. Baker is an evil teaching machine, but later discovers that she is a former Olympic athlete with a soft heart. Holling also discovers that his idol, Mickey Mantle, is not actually a nice guy. Finally, he realizes that his father is not as wise as he once assumed. Other characters bear out this theme as well. Heather discovers that her boyfriend is not the wonderful person she had thought after he leaves her on her own in Minneapolis. Holling’s school community, and particularly Mrs. Bigio, also learn that it is wrong to judge Mai Thi based on her Vietnamese origins. Although they associate her with their enemies overseas, they eventually realize that, on the inside, she is no different from any of the American girls her age.


We must choose our own identities

Throughout The Wednesday Wars, Holling is struggling to find his identity. At home, he is the Hoodhood heir, dutiful successor to his father’s architectural firm. At school, however, he begins to explore his strengths and think for himself as he reads the Shakespeare Mrs. Baker assigns. Like the sprite Ariel, who longs to be free, Holling must escape the confines of expectation in order to live out his destiny. By the end of the book, he has begun to realize this when he decides that he does not want to be like his father. He proves his independence of mind when he boldly tells his father what it means to be a man after Danny’s bar mitzvah.



The Wednesday Wars Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

Holling’s yellow tights with white feathers

The tights Holling is forced to wear for his role of Ariel represent humiliation. Doug Swieteck's brother humiliates Holling when he plasters the newspaper photo of Holling's in his tights all over the school. The tights also lead Mickey Mantle, Holling’s hero, to mock him and refuse to provide an autograph. The tights are also a sign of Holling's insecurities and lack of confidence early in the year. He obsesses over what others will think of him and discourages his friends from attending the play due to his costume.


The collapsed ceiling in the perfect house

The collapsed ceiling represents the destruction of the "perfect house." As Mr. Hoodhood continues to pursue his career while ignoring the needs of his children, Holling begins to realize that his home is far from perfect. In fact, the tensions in his home have made his family quite fragile. This becomes increasingly clear when Heather runs away and Holling’s parents stop talking to each other. The collapse of Holling’s house mirrors the collapse of his family.


Shakespeare’s plays

Shakespearean plays are a recurring motif throughout The Wednesday Wars. Shakespeare's plays address many of the issues Holling faces in his daily life, including love, justice, betrayal, fear, hope, and identity. Mrs. Baker assigns Holling only comedies and tragedies, fitting for a book that mixes the comic foibles of Holling's seventh grade with the serious matters of the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, and the deaths of MLK and RFK. The novel is clearly marked as a comedy, however, by its conclusion. Mrs. Baker tells Holling that “comedy is about characters who dare to know that they may choose a happy ending after all”. In the last chapter, Holling dares to stand up to his father and choose his own future. Even more tellingly, the novel’s last scene shows Mrs. Baker joyfully reuniting with her husband, paralleling the romantic conclusions of Shakespeare’s comedies.


Themes, Motifs, and Symbols in The Wednesday Wars

Example

(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 The Wednesday Wars. 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 The Wednesday Wars 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.



Template: Theme

Example

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





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