Speak – Teacher’s Section

Does SPEAK change the way kids view rape?

    SPEAK has been in curriculum all over the United States for a decade. Thousands of teachers have anecdotal evidence about the impact the book has made on their students, both in terms of its literary merit, and in the emotional maturity of their students. But we haven’t had the kind of research and data that some curriculum directors require before putting a new book on the shelves.

    We have it now!

    Victor Malo-Juvera wrote his dissertation, “The Effect of Young Adult Literature on Adolescents’ Rape Myth Acceptance”on the research he did using SPEAK in his eighth grade classroom.

    Victor has graciously written a summary of his work, below, and allowed me to link to the full dissertation and share it with the world.

    I have taught Speak for the past 8 years as a middle school Language Arts teacher and it is far and away the students’ favorite novel each year. Every year, I was approached by at least one student who had been victimized by sexual assault and hearing their stories led me to quickly enlist the school’s TRUST counselor to assist me in instruction by conducting comprehensive presentations on dating violence. While teaching Speak, I have had the privilege to be part of many heated discussions where I could see opinions and attitudes about date rape change during the course of one class period. When it came time to do my dissertation, the only choice for me was to try to show through the scientific method what countless teachers and students already knew – that reading good novels can really help teens far beyond being successful on multiple choice tests. In my case, specifically, I wanted to show that an instructional unit based on Speak could significantly reduce rape myth acceptance in adolescents. Rape myth acceptance is the degree to which an individual adheres to beliefs that deny rapes as being real (she wouldn’t have gone to his hotel room if she didn’t want to) or exonerate rapists of their actions (she shouldn’t have gone that far if she didn’t want to go all the way).

    Participants in the study were 8th grade language arts students at a Title I middle school in a major metropolitan school district. Classes were randomly assigned to treatment or control condition and participants were pretested using the Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (Burt, 1980) and a researcher created scale, the Adolescent Date Rape Acceptance Scale (ADRMS). The pretests showed that boys had significantly higher levels of rape myth acceptance than girls, which has been found to be the case in numerous other studies. The Speak unit lasted about five weeks and in addition to more traditional literary instruction, students participated in assignments, both written and discussed, that asked them to write a letter to Melinda, to write a conversation pretending they were a friend of Andy’s, and to write reflections reevaluating their own views on date rape. Posttests on the ADRMS showed that the unit was effective in significantly reducing rape myth acceptance. Simply put, the instructional unit worked and students who participated had lower levels of rape myth acceptance than students who did not.

    This is just a brief overview of the research – for those who are interested, my dissertation goes far more in depth into all aspects of the study. I think one of the most important aspects of this study was allowing students to discuss their views in the classroom. A great book like Speak incites thinking in readers, and the classroom should be an ideal place for views to be discussed; unfortunately, even though the statistics regarding teens and sexual assault are shocking, there are many educators who do not believe that rape is a topic that should be discussed in school. It is my hope that research such as this can show educators the benefits that teaching books like Speak can bring to young readers and maybe open their minds to a curriculum beyond sanitized test preparation.

Teacher’s Guide

SPEAK Classroom Guides and Resources

SPEAK is taught in schools around the United States and Canada, from eighth grade through college. Below you’ll find links to teacher resources, online classroom guides, and links relating to the subject of the book. We would love to post or link to more SPEAK lesson plans. Email us here at MWITF with the text or your curriculum unit or the link to your classroom project. Be sure to include your name and your school so we can put in the appropriate copyright notice. Thank you!

Classroom Guides

Deceit, Despair and Dejection: Connecting Speak and The Scarlet Letter, by Judith A. Hayn and Brigid Patrizi Schultz, Teacher Preparation Program, Loyola University Chicago — Appropriate for any secondary school class. Includes essay questions (with a discussion of the Graffiti Strategy), suggestions for compare and contrast exercises for the two books, discussion questions, and an excellent rationale for connecting young adult novels to the classics.

Speak Out! Reach Out!, A Thematic Unit Using Laurie Halse Anderson’s Novel Speak and the Arizona English Language Arts Standards, by Dr. Lee Brown, Assistant Professor of Secondary Education, Arizona State University West College of Teacher Education and Leadership, and Amanda Loga — Fifteen different activities aimed at achieving objectives in Word Attack, Theme, Study Skills, and Comprehension, along with Assessment Rubric and Rationale for Students. First published in Arizona English Bulletin, Journal of the Arizona English Teacher Association.

Classroom Guides – offsite

Grant T. Smith, Ph.D., of Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin, developed this lesson plan.

Three quick booktalks about SPEAK.

SPEAK Webquest for middle school students.

“Freedom of Speech and Automatic Language: Examining the Pledge of Allegiance” — From the site’s Overview: “…This lesson plan asks students to explore this rote learning and their own right to freedom of speech by examining the Pledge of Allegiance from a historical and personal perspective and in relationship to fictional situations in novels they have read. Using a novel such as Speak by Laurie Halse Andersen or Nothing But the Truth by Avi, students learn how the novel’s protagonist and other characters in the story deal with free speech issues in varying ways and are invited to think about pledges that they are willing to make and how they express their freedom of speech.” This plan is found on the ReadWriteThink site maintained by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the International Reading Association (IRA) and Marcopolo. This lesson meets NCTE/IRA Standards 1, 3, 8, and 12.

Sexual Assault Survivor Resources

You are not alone.

  • 1 in 6 American women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape. In the U.S., a rape is reported every five minutes. Experts estimate that only 16% of all rapes are ever reported to police.
  • Nearly half of rape and sexual assault victims are girls under the age of 18.
  • Girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • Most teenagers who are raped or sexually assaulted are attacked by someone they know.
  • 17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.

Men and boys can be sexually assaulted, too.

  • 1 out of every 33 American men will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape.
  • In 2003, ten percent of rape victims were male.

Victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Statistics from studies by the Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

[more statistics here]

You deserve compassion, understanding and help

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Listen – A Poem by Laurie

—With the exception of the first and last stanzas, all the words in this poem come from letters or emails from Laurie’s readers—


You write to us
from Houston, Brooklyn, Peoria,
Rye, NY,
LA, DC, Everyanywhere USA to
my mailbox, My
Space Face
A livejournal of bffs whispering
Onehundredthousand whispers to
Melinda and

I was raped, too
sexually assaulted in seventh
tenth grade, the summer after
at a party
i was 16
i was 14
i was 5 and he did it for three
i loved him
i didn’t even know him.
He was my best friend’s brother,
my grandfather, father, mommy’s
my date
my cousin
my coach
i met him for the first time that
night and —
four guys took turns, and —
i’m a boy and this happened to
me, and —

… I got pregnant I gave up my
daughter for adoption …
did it happen to you, too?
U 2?

i wasn’t raped, but
my dad drinks, but
i hate talking, but
my brother was shot, but
i am outcast, but
my parents split up, but
i am clanless, but
we lost our house, but
i have secrets – seven years of secrets
and i cut
myself my friends cut
we all cut cut cut
to let out the pain

… my 5-year-old cousin was
raped –
he’s beginning to act out now …
do you have suicidal thoughts?
do you want to kill him?

Melinda is a lot like this girl I
No she’s a lot like
i am MelindaSarah
i am MelindaRogelio i am MelindaMegan, MelindaAmberMelindaStephenTori
it keeps hurting, but
this book cracked my shell
it keeps hurting I hurt, but
but your book cracked my shell.

I cried when I read it.
I laughed when I read it
is that dumb?
I sat with the girl —
you know, that girl —
I sat with her because nobody sits with
her at lunch
and I’m a cheerleader, so there.

speak changed my life
cracked my shell
made me think
about parties
gave me
wings this book
opened my mouth
i whispered, cried
rolled up my sleeves i
hate talking but
I am trying.

You made me remember who I

P.S. Our class is gonna analyze this thing to death.

Me: weeping

Here’s the thing – Speak Sequel?

In late 1996, I woke up from a nightmare, thinking about the character who would become Melinda Sordino in Speak. I never thought the book would be published, but it was. More than a million people have read it. Go figure.

A couple of times a week for the last ten years, readers have asked me when I’ll be writing a sequel to Speak.

No. That’s not entirely correct.

A couple of times a day, nearly every day for the last ten years, readers have asked me when I’ll be writing a sequel to Speak. Many of them have given helpful plot ideas. I could write about the trial, when Andy Evans is convicted of Melinda’s rape and sent to jail. I could write about Melinda’s therapy sessions, in which she confronts her parents for their emotional neglect. Or I could have her face a new trauma: she could start smoking meth, or develop amnesia after a car accident, or be kidnapped by a cult of perverts, or, or, or….

My favorite suggestion came from a ninth-grade boy in Southern California who told me I should write about how she got through the rest of high school without killing anyone. And I should call the sequel Spoke.

Actually, that’s not such a bad idea.

Here’s the thing: most sequels suck. Take a look (if you dare) at Jurassic Park 2, Jaws: The Revenge, or Rambo 15. Sequels are too often a crass attempt to make money off something that worked the first time, but without the care and attention that made the first movie or book so special.

Book sequels seem to work best when the author had planned a follow-up from the beginning and left a few story lines dangling that could be picked up and woven into a new plot. Yes, I know I didn’t wrap up everything at the end of Speak. I rarely do in my books. I like my last pages to be somewhat open-ended because that’s the way things are in real life.

But despite all of that, here’s another thing: I’m seriously thinking about writing a sequel. I’ve been thinking about it for a very long time. I loved writing about Melinda and it would be wonderful to hang out with her again. We caught a glimpse of her in Catalyst, but we saw her through the eyes of another character, Kate Malone. She couldn’t tell us what was going on inside Melinda’s heart.

I sometimes feel like Melinda is hiding in another closet, this time in my mind. She’s waiting for me to find the right path to her door. The questions swirl. How serious is her relationship with David Petrakis? Will she ever have a girlfriend she can trust? Is art her only salvation, or will she join the basketball team? Are her parents going to split up? Would she be happier if they did, or would that shatter her? What does she want to do after high school?

So here’s the last thing: I can’t write the sequel until I stumble on the right story and Melinda wakes me up again in the middle of the night. So it might never happen. Or it could happen next year. Or more likely, somewhere in between those two possibilities.

I’ll speak up when Melinda is ready.

Hands-on Activities and Social Action Projects

Create a postsecret project (or club).

Watch the film version of SPEAK and debate the eternal question – which is better, the movie or the book? If you really want to make your classroom interesting, debate the relative merits of Kristin Stewart’s two projects – SPEAK and TWILIGHT.

Research the sexual assault laws in your state and the states around yours. How are they different? What information do teenagers in your state not have about things like informed consent and age of consent? Use the resources here to prepare a presentation about sexual assault on college campuses.

Start a Clothesline Project in your school or community.

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