Alternate Unit 5: Learning Differently: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
Students read, discuss and write about the novel Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, focusing on how the author develops characters and relationships, and giving them a glimpse into the life of a child with ADHD.
Alternate Unit 5
In this unit, students meet Joey Pigza, a loving boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in the core text Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. The novel, written from Joey's point of view, gives readers a glimpse into Joey’s mind and shows what the life of a child with ADHD can be like. The novel is heartbreaking at times and vividly shows how much of a struggle it is for someone with ADHD to behave and do the right thing when they cannot get their body to listen. Over the course of the novel, students see firsthand how having ADHD not only influences the way Joey feels about himself, but also the way that others interact with him, both positively and negatively. It is our hope that this unit will begin to raise awareness and understanding of ADHD and how to cope with it, both in and out of the classroom.
Additionally, this unit will begin to humanize things that are hurtful and help in continuing to strengthen students’ understanding of empathy and the importance of being empathetic towards others. It is important to note that this book is fictional and told by an often-unreliable narrator. Therefore, to ensure that students get the correct impression and understanding of ADHD, special education, and the role of medication, discussions will need to be included throughout the entire unit that challenge and elaborate on what Joey shares in the text. Without these conversations, students could leave the unit with misunderstandings that could potentially reinforce the stereotypes and stigma assigned to people with ADHD and other disorders.
This novel allows students to genuinely connect with a character and fully immerse themselves in the mind of a character. Therefore, the main focus of this unit is on deeply understanding character, character relationships, and how relationships can both positively and negatively impact the way a character views himself or herself. The author, Jack Gantos, includes a lot of incredibly powerful descriptive and figurative language to help readers connect with Joey. Therefore, another focus of this unit is on analyzing the author’s use of figurative language and description, and noticing how it deepens a reader’s understanding of the characters and plot.
When discussing the text, students focus on critiquing and analyzing the reasoning of others, using what they learned from previous units on how to clarify and share their own thoughts and how to engage with the thinking of others to push the discussion to a deeper level.
Students have multiple opportunities to write literary analysis/opinion paragraphs, using what they learned from previous units about topic sentences, supporting details, and elaboration. The unit culminates with students solidifying what they learned about narrative writing in previous units and by analyzing the unit's core text to write a continuation of the novel.
Please Note: Updated enhanced lesson plans for this unit, including answers to key questions and related student supports will be released in February 2024.
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Book: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos (Square Fish, 2014)
Website: “About ADHD” (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD))
Rubric: Grade 4 Narrative Writing Rubric
These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.
Download Cold Read Assessment
Download Cold Read Assessment Answer Key
Download Content Assessment
Download Content Assessment Answer Key
Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit. Essential Tasks can be found in the following lessons:
Suggestions for how to prepare to teach this unit
Prepare to teach this unit by immersing yourself in the texts, themes, and core standards. Unit Launches include a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning.
The central thematic questions addressed in the unit or across units
The point of view from which a story is told influences what a reader “sees” or “hears” in a story.
Authors vary the language they use to help readers connect with and understand characters in depth.
Analyzing character relationships helps a reader better understand a character and how they change and grow.
Group related ideas together to support the topic sentence or opinion.
Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.
Provide a concluding statement or section.
Use relevant text details or background knowledge from the text to develop characters, ideas, or situations.
Brainstorm and draft a story with a logical sequence of events that unfolds naturally.
Use dialogue, concrete words and phrases, and sensory details to develop experiences.
Provide a sense of closure.
Question and clarify to build understanding. Seek to clarify a particular point a peer makes by asking follow-up questions.
Build on and challenge partner’s ideas.
Synthesize to build deeper meaning. Synthesize everything from the discussion into a coherent statement at the end of the discussion.
Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text
press my buttons
"blow a fuse"
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 10, view our 4th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.
In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.
Fishtank ELA units related to the content in this unit.
Notes to help teachers prepare for this specific unit
Explain what ADHD is and how having ADHD can influence a person’s life.
Describe how the author characterizes Joey and how the author develops the characterization.
Describe how Joey’s mom and grandma deal with his condition and how their actions affect Joey’s behavior.
Describe how Mrs. Maxy deals with Joey’s condition and how her actions affect Joey’s behavior.
Describe how Joey’s visit to the special education class affects his attitude about himself and if that was the school’s intention.
Write a multiple paragraph essay to answer a unit essential question.
Explain what Joey thinks is “normal” and if there really is such a thing as “normal.”
Explain if Joey and Mrs. Maxy have the same perspective about what happened on the field trip and why.
Analyze and compare Joey and Mrs. Maxy’s perspectives and what they both need in order to change their perspectives.
Write a multiple paragraph essay to show understanding of a text.
Explain what Joey’s response to the scissors incident reveals about him as a character.
Explain how Joey’s mom deals with his suspension and how her actions affect Joey’s behavior and thoughts.
Predict if Joey will be able to follow Mom’s advice at his new school and if his luck has really changed.
Explain how Mr. Ed deals with Joey’s condition and how his actions affect Joey’s behavior and views about himself.
Explain how all the advice Joey gets makes him feel about himself.
Explain how Joey’s mom earned her forgiveness and proved she can be a good parent.
Explain why Joey’s mom doesn’t think that Joey should meet his dad and if she is right.
Explain how Joey changed and what he learned about himself and life.
Discussion & Writing
Analyze what the author is trying to teach and the themes of the story by stating a claim and writing a well-structured essay to support the claim.
Analyze and debate unit-essential questions by stating a claim and then using evidence from the entire text and unit to support the claim.
Narrative Writing – 4 days
Write the next chapter of the book by using dialogue, description, concrete words and phrases, and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely.
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The content standards covered in this unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
— Form and use prepositional phrases.
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
— Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
— Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).
— Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations.
— Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
— Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker provides to support particular points.
— Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information
— Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer's purpose.
— Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.
— Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
— Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
— Orient the reader by establishing a situationand introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
— Use dialogue and description to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
— Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Choose punctuation for effect.
— Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 4 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
— Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., telegraph, photograph, autograph).
— Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
— Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal precise actions, emotions, or states of being (e.g., quizzed, whined, stammered) and that are basic to a particular topic (e.g., wildlife, conservation, and endangered when discussing animal preservation).
— Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
— Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
— Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
— Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
— By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4—5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
— Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
(Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1—3 above.)
— With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
— With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.
— Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
— Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
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