The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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

Catcher in the Rye Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Catcher in the Rye Include:

J.D. Salinger described his work The Catcher in the Rye as a novel about “an individual’s alienation in a heartless world.” Indeed, one of the primary themes that is highlighted throughout Holden Caulfield’s whirlwind narrative of mental breakdown is alienation. Holden seems only to connect with children younger than himself, those who have not yet been scarred or corrupted by the heartless world around them. He increasingly isolates himself by finding fault with others (everyone is a “phony”), getting tossed out of boarding school after school, ruining every chance he has to establish a romantic relationship, and voicing his paranoia and disdain about the world to anyone who will listen. This narrative gives readers a look into the mind of a character whose world is crumbling around him, and his crumbling with it. It also gives voice to the impact and symptoms of mental illness. Holden’s breakdown highlights the importance of getting the necessary help for children who are dealing with grief.

The Catcher in the Rye Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Catcher in the Rye 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. By creating their own The Catcher in the Rye summary, students can grasp the novel both as a whole, and by its individual key events.

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 Catcher in the Rye Plot Diagram


Holden opens the novel by telling a story that happened to him last Christmas. He has been expelled from his fourth boarding school, the people around him are all phonies, and he needs to kill a few days before going home to tell his parents the bad news about school.


Holden becomes increasingly manic. His brother Allie passed away from Leukemia three years before, and it seems that Holden has unresolved guilt and complicated grief over Allie’s passing. He spends a few days in New York, trying to find a way to belong, but ends up isolating himself more.

Rising Action

After being punched by a pimp named Maurice, Holden goes on a date where he expresses he just wants to run away. His date, Sally, doesn’t take it well, and Holden starts to unravel even more. He goes home to visit Phoebe, where he tells her he wants to be a “catcher in the rye”; metaphorically, he wants to save children from losing their innocence.


After spending the night in Grand Central Station, Holden decides he’s going to hitchhike out West. He leaves a note for Phoebe at her school to meet him at the museum. She shows up with her suitcase; she’s going with him. Holden won’t let her, and Phoebe gets upset.

Falling Action

Phoebe and Holden go to the zoo and then a park, where Holden buys her a ticket to ride on the carousel. As she rides around, he sits on a bench in the falling rain and watches her, finally bursting into tears.


Holden returns to the present, revealing he’s in some sort of medical institution. He’s been evaluated, and his doctors are planning on sending him back to school in September. Holden finds that he misses a lot of people, including those he called “phonies”.

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Catcher in the Rye.

  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.

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

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Catcher in the Rye 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!

Use a character map to help track the different characters that are discussed in The Catcher in the Rye. Because this novel is very much a stream-of-consciousness narrative, have students include characters’ traits, how Holden feels about them/reacts to them, and a quote for support!

Holden Caulfield:

  • Traits: 16 years old; flunks out of 4th prep school; seems depressed; thinks everyone around him is a phony; wears a red hunting hat; only happy around innocence of children
  • How Holden feels about himself: Holden is often depressed and feels lousy. He is always looking for others to blame, but sometimes, his own insecurity can’t be blamed on anyone else. He is afraid of change.
  • Quote: “Certain things should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”

Other characters included in this map are: Stradlater, Phoebe, Allie, Jane Gallagher, Sally Hayes, Mr. Antolini

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Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in The Catcher in the Rye 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 Traits, How Holden Feels about Him/Her, and Quote.
  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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Identifying Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

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.

Themes and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

Fear of Change and the Transition into Adulthood

Throughout the novel, Holden finds solace in things that stay the same, and shows trepidation towards events that signal a change. This reflects his reluctance to leave the safety of his childhood, and he frequently finds fault with others so he doesn’t have to accept responsibility for his own actions. Holden feels much more calm in the presence of children, who don’t expect very much from him, but he is anxious in situations where he has to take responsibility. Ironically, it is this stubborn immaturity that prevents Holden from establishing any sort of romantic relationship, which he seems to want.

Loss of Innocence

Holden sees childhood innocence as something that no one should ever lose. Holden lost his with his brother Allie’s death, and it’s something that he still has not dealt with properly. Holden tells Phoebe that he wants to be a “catcher in the rye.” He imagines standing in a field of rye, where children are playing, and catching any children who start to run towards a cliff at the edge of the field. The cliff is a metaphor for a loss of innocence, when children inevitably begin the transition from childhood to adulthood.


Holden does not feel that he fits with the world around him; he does not fit in with his peers at the elite prep schools; he is so absent-minded that he leaves the fencing team’s equipment on the train; he buys a red hunting hat and wears it, even indoors, tugging on it when he feels insecure—which sets him apart even more from those around him; he lies often and finds fault with everyone around him; and he frequently wants to run away from his problems to start a new life somewhere else. The only people Holden establishes a true, honest connection with are his sister Phoebe, the nuns, and Jane Gallagher.

Unresolved Guilt and Grief

When Allie dies, Holden punches out every window in the garage of his family’s summer home in Maine. When he writes Stradlater’s composition assignment, he chooses to write about Allie’s baseball mitt which has poems written all over it. He sometimes regrets the day that he didn’t invite Allie to go shoot BB guns with him and Bobby Fallon in Maine. At the height of his mental breakdown, as Holden steps off curbs, he feels he’s going to fall into an abyss and asks Allie to keep him from disappearing. When Phoebe asks Holden what he likes in life, he answers Allie, and talking to her. It is clear that this young teenager has not dealt with the grief he holds for his brother whom he lost when he was only 13, and it’s not entirely clear that he’s getting support from his family, since he’s being shipped off to boarding schools.

Motifs & Symbols

Red Hunting Hat

The red hunting hat that Holden purchases in New York the day the novel open becomes a source of safety and security for him. He keeps the red hunting hat on when he writes the composition about Allie’s baseball mitt, when he leaves Pencey Prep in the middle of the night, and when he is thinking to himself in private. He doesn’t wear it out in public much, which seems to make it more personal for him. He eventually gives it to Phoebe as a gift when she gives him some of his Christmas money, and she gives it back to him at the end of the novel. It’s something that sets him apart, which alienates him but also gives him a sense of security.

Ducks in Central Park

Holden is concerned with the fate of the ducks in Central Park during the winter. Holden feels a kinship with the ducks, because it seems like they have nowhere to go, much in the way Holden feels lost in this world where he can’t seem to connect with anyone else. He can’t go home because of his expulsion from school, he can’t establish a connection with any girls, and the one teacher he has any trust in gets creepy with him. One promising thing about the ducks though is that they return every year. This seems promising for Holden’s future after his stint in the institution.


Holden sees the profanity scratched into the walls at Phoebe’s school, and later, on a wall at the Museum of Natural History. Holden takes this opportunity to observe that there are no nice and peaceful places left anymore because someone will always sneak in and write something that threatens the innocence of that place. The profanity bothers Holden at the school especially, because it is in a place where children can see it, and he knows that using profanity and seeing profanity is the beginning of things that will make them all a little less innocent. This begins the transition from childhood to adulthood that Holden himself fears so much.

Museum of Natural History

The Museum of Natural History is one place that has remained the same since Holden was a little boy and took school trips there. The mummies and Native American exhibits are in the same place. There is no real change in the building, which Holden likes, because he doesn’t like change. Change reminds him of the inevitable transition he will have to soon make into being an adult, which he is avoiding by doing things like flunking out of school.

Holden’s Name

Holden Caulfield. Once dissected, it reads: “hold on” [to the] “caul”, or hold on to the membrane that surrounds the baby in utero, which is expelled during birth. This is symbolic of Holden trying to hang on to his innocence, even though it has been shattered by Allie’s death. The “field” refers to the rye field, and brings the reader back to the moment when Holden declares he wants to be a catcher in the rye, and to prevent other children from facing the same loss of innocence that he has.

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The Catcher in the Rye Literary Conflict

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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflict. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the Storyboard Creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.

Examples of Literary Conflict in The Catcher in the Rye


Holden and Stradlater get into a physical fight because Holden is upset that Stradlater took Jane Gallagher out on a date. He thinks Jane is too good for Stradlater, and he’s annoyed that Stradlater won’t tell him what they did on their date. He is also annoyed that Stradlater didn’t like his composition about Allie’s baseball mitt.


Holden remembers a time when he should have invited Allie to come out and shoot BB guns with him and Bobby Fallon, but instead, he told him he was too young. Holden now tells Allie sometimes to go get his bike and meet them, revealing he has some unresolved guilt and grief about Allie’s death. Later, as his mental breakdown worsens, he asks Allie not to let him disappear.


Holden is constantly concerned with things that the rest of society either doesn’t want to think about, or doesn’t care about. For instance, Holden is concerned with where the ducks from Central Park go in the winter; he is legitimately afraid that they don’t have anywhere to go, much like him. He is also upset by the profanity he finds carved into the walls at Phoebe’s school, because he sees signs like that as threatening the innocence of children who read them.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in The Catcher in the Rye.

  1. Identify conflicts in The Catcher in the Rye.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  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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Holden Caulfield as an Anti-Hero

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Uncovering the motivations of a protagonist and understanding different archetypes in fiction is an important part of literary appreciation. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield is considered an anti-hero. Students can create Storyboards with cells tracking the protagonist's actions, and find support that categorizes him as an anti-hero.

For front-loading terms and a lesson plan, see our article on anti-heroes.

An anti-hero, by definition, is a central character who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Some even display qualities that are almost more in line with villains. Traits like conceitedness, immorality, rebellion, and dishonesty signal that the author does not intend the audience to admire the protagonist. In the sample board below, the Frayer Model is used to reveal how Holden fits this archetype.

  • Anti-hero Definition: a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes such as idealism, moral goodness, and altruism.

  • Characteristics: Holden is an anti-hero because he is a perpetual liar, he frequently judges and finds fault with others, and he fails to follow through with any plans.

  • Examples: Holden meets three girls in a bar and dances with them, but he thinks they’re all morons. He eventually tells one girl that he has just seen Gary Cooper, the movie star, to mess with her because he can’t stand her. When she tells the other girls she even caught a glimpse of him, Holden gets a good laugh.

  • Non-Examples: Phoebe is the opposite of Holden. She is sweet, innocent, and genuinely concerned for Holden. When she finds out he’s failed out of school, she’s afraid of the punishment he’ll get from their father. When he tells her he’s hitchhiking out West, she tries to come along, and follows him to the zoo afterwards, even though she’s upset.

(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 how Holden Caulfield can be considered an antihero.

  1. Identify events of the story or characteristics of Holden that fit into attributes of an antihero.
  2. Illustrate examples for Definition, Characteristics, Examples and Non-Examples.
  3. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Holden Caulfield as an antihero.
  4. 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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A Quick Synopsis of The Catcher in the Rye (Contains Spoilers)

The novel opens with the narrator, Holden Caulfield, apparently relating a story that happened to him the previous Christmas. He was kicked out of Pencey Prep for failing every subject except English. This is the fourth elite boarding school that Holden has flunked out of. Holden is supposed to be going home in three days for Christmas break, but after an altercation with his roommate Stradlater, he decides to leave early and hang out in New York City before breaking the news of his expulsion to his parents.

Stradlater asks Holden to write his English composition for him, while he goes out on a date with a girl that Holden knows and seems to respect. Holden writes a composition about his little brother Allie’s baseball glove, which had poems written all over it. It is revealed that Allie died three years earlier, after losing a battle to Leukemia. Holden has not fully dealt with his grief over Allie’s death, although he did break all of the windows in the garage of his family’s summer house on the night Allie died.

Holden takes off for New York City. Once in his hotel, he decides to go down to a nightclub, the Lavender Room. He dances with three girls in the club, but he thinks they are all morons, and they end up ditching him later on.

Holden leaves the Lavender Room and starts thinking about Jane Gallagher again. He remembers one particular day very fondly. They were up in Maine, and playing checkers at her house. Her drunken stepfather came out of the house to ask Jane if there were any cigarettes, but she refuses to answer him. When he goes back inside, Holden sees that she is crying. He later asks her if her stepfather has ever tried to get “wise” with her, but she says no.

Holden decides to take a cab down to a nightclub in Greenwich Village called Ernie’s. Along the way, he asks the cab driver where the ducks in Central Park go during the winter. The driver becomes confused and then incensed by the question, talking about fish instead.

Holden continues to wonder about the ducks. In his eyes, they are a lot like him: without a home, or a place to belong. At Ernie’s Holden runs into a girl his brother used to date. Once he finds out she’s there with a date, he decides not to waste anymore time at the club and walks back to his hotel. He finds the club filled with Ivy-League “jerks” anyway.

Back at his hotel, he is propositioned by the elevator operator, Maurice, a pimp for prostitutes who frequent the hotel. He tells Holden that he’ll send a girl up to him. When Sunny, the prostitute, arrives, Holden realizes how nervous he is. He is a virgin, and has very little experience at all with girls. He tries to have a conversation with her, stalling. She is annoyed that he is taking up so much of her time. Holden offers to pay her anyway, and he hands her a $5 bill, which is what Maurice had told him the cost would be. She argues that her price is $10, which annoys Holden.

Sunny leaves, and Holden sits for awhile, thinking about Allie. He remembers when he and a friend up in Maine, were going to go shoot their BB guns. Allie wanted to come along, but Holden told him he was too young. It’s clear that Holden is working through some unresolved guilt over not having spent more time with Allie before he died.

Maurice comes back with Sunny to collect the other $5 Holden “owes” him. Sunny gets Holden’s wallet and takes $5 out of it, but Maurice doesn’t leave without first punching him in the stomach. Holden fantasizes about going down in the elevator to get revenge on Maurice, but he just takes a bath and falls asleep.

Holden wakes up and calls Sally Hayes, a girl he still keeps in touch with from one of his old schools. He makes plans with her to go to a matinee downtown. He checks out of the hotel and checks his luggage at Grand Central Station. While at the station, he gets lunch and strikes up a conversation with two nuns. Holden makes a $10 donation to them, and they talk about English, which is Holden’s best subject. This encounter is one of the few times Holden does not find fault with people he is interacting with. When they leave, he regrets not having more money to give them.

Holden decides to see if his little sister Phoebe might be rollerskating in the park. Along the way, he sees a little boy walking in the street and humming a song that goes, “If a body catch a body coming through the rye.” Suddenly, Holden is not so depressed anymore, something that happens often whenever Holden is around children.

Holden buys a record for Phoebe and goes to the park. He runs into a little girl there and asks if she knows where Phoebe might be that day. The girl mentions the Museum of Natural History, but realizing it’s Sunday, retracts the suggestion. Holden loves thinking about the museum, because everything there stays the same. Nothing ever changes, and it’s all still as he remembers it when he took school trips there as a child.

Holden’s date with Sally doesn’t go well. They go to see a show, but Holden is not very impressed. They go ice skating and Holden tells Sally that they should run away together to a cabin in the woods. He grows frustrated when Sally doesn’t see the charm of such an impulsive move. Holden is bordering on manic and she can’t seem to calm him down. He eventually insults her, Sally cries, and they end the date early. Holden calls Jane a couple of times, but he doesn’t get a hold of her.

After going out to meet an acquaintance, Carl Luce, and getting drunk, Holden eventually returns home. He sneaks into the apartment and into Phoebe’s room. Phoebe figures out that Holden has been kicked out of yet another school, and is upset with him. She calls him out on not liking anything, since he is always complaining.

Holden wracks his brain, and finally comes up with the fact that he likes Allie, even though he is dead, and he likes talking to Phoebe. Phoebe asks him what he would like to be. Holden remembers the song from earlier. It’s based on a poem by Robert Burns, and Phoebe corrects him on the wording: “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.”

Holden tells her that he thinks about all these little kids playing in a big field of rye, and he is the only “big” person in the field. He has to catch the children if they’re running and not looking where they’re going, because there’s a big cliff at the end of the field. He says he knows it sounds crazy, but really, the only thing he wants to be in life is a catcher in the rye.

Before Holden leaves to go see an old teacher of his, Mr. Antolini, Phoebe gives him some of her Christmas money so that he can take care of himself over the next few days. She is scared that their father might actually kill him when he finds out he’s been kicked out of another school. Her kindness causes Holden to begin crying, and he gives her his red hunting hat. Holden visits Mr. and Mrs. Antolini, and they offer to put him up for the night. Mrs. Antolini goes to bed, and Mr. Antolini and Holden stay up talking. Mr. Antolini offers Holden advice, and Holden finally begins to feel tired. Holden falls asleep on the couch, but wakes up to find Mr. Antolini on the floor next to him, stroking his head. Holden gets so freaked out that he leaves and spends the rest of the night in Grand Central.

Holden walks around the city the next morning, and becomes scared as he notices that each time he comes to a curb, he suddenly thought he was going to drop into an abyss. He starts to pray to Allie, telling him, “Allie, don’t let me disappear.” As he walks, Holden decides to hitchhike out West and get a job at a gas station. He’d pretend to be deaf-mute so that he wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. He’d build a cabin for himself and marry another deaf-mute and live a happy life. He decides that he’s going to tell Phoebe good-bye, and return her Christmas money to her. He writes her a note to meet him at the museum he loves so much.

When Phoebe shows up, she has a suitcase with her; she’s going with him. She begs him not to leave and begins to cry. Holden tries to walk her back to school, but she refuses, so he walks to the zoo and she follows him, on the other side of the street.

After leaving the zoo, they go to a park across the street that has a carousel. Holden buys Phoebe a ticket and he watches her ride around and around. As he’s watching, it begins to rain, and Holden finally breaks down into tears. This is ends his recollection of last year, and returns the story to the present.

Holden is telling this story from an institution. He has psychoanalysts asking him if he’s going to apply himself at his new school next September, but Holden isn’t interested in the subject. He ends by saying, “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

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Essential Questions for The Catcher in the Rye

  1. How does experience affect one’s perspective and observations of the world around them?
  2. What are some of the side effects of grief?
  3. What are some reasons why a person might isolate themselves from the world around them?
  4. Why is childhood innocence so important?
  5. What are some reasons why a person might be afraid of change?
  6. What are some obstacles children and teenagers face as they transition into adulthood?
  7. What is a “phony”? Why is it so important for people to be honest in who they are?

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•   (English) The Catcher in the Rye   •   (Español) El Guardian en el Centeno   •   (Français) Le Catcher au Seigle   •   (Deutsch) Der Fänger im Roggen   •   (Italiana) Il Cacciatore Nella Segale   •   (Nederlands) The Catcher in the Rye   •   (Português) O Coletor no Rye   •   (עברית) התפסן בשדה השיפון   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الحارس في حقل الشوفان   •   (हिन्दी) राई में पकड़ने वाला   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Ловец во ржи   •   (Dansk) Forbandede Ungdom   •   (Svenska) Räddaren i Nöden   •   (Suomi) Sieppari Ruispellossa   •   (Norsk) Redderen i Rugen   •   (Türkçe) Çaydanlık Yakalayıcı   •   (Polski) Buszujący w Zbożu   •   (Româna) De Veghe în Lanul de Secară   •   (Ceština) Kdo Chytá v Žitě   •   (Slovenský) Kto Chytá v Žite   •   (Magyar) Zabhegyező   •   (Hrvatski) Lovac u Žitu   •   (български) Спасителят в Ръжта   •   (Lietuvos) Rugiuose Prie Bedugnės   •   (Slovenščina) Varuh v rži   •   (Latvijas) Uz Kraujas Rudzu Laukā   •   (eesti) Kuristik Rukkis