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.

Unit Summary

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 in 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. It is also our hope that this unit will begin to humanize things that are hurtful and help in continuing to strengthen our 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, in order 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 characters and plot. 

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

Assessment

These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills. Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • How does the way others view us impact the way we view ourselves?
  • What is empathy? Why is it important to be empathetic towards others?
  • What is ADHD? How does having ADHD influence a person’s life?

Vocabulary

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Text-based

abandoned adhd desperate dreadful eerie fixed mindset forbidden frightful gag growth mindset hitch hyperactive intentionally inattentive infamous jittery mandatory mock neurological perilous press my buttons regulated sarcastically temporary

Idiom/Cultural Reference

"blow a fuse"

Root/Affix

-ful in-

To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 4th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Content Knowledge and Connections

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Notes for Teachers

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  • Prepare for conversations around the role of special education and how the goal of special education is to help enable students to reach their fullest potential. These conversations are incredibly important because Joey’s perception of special education is unreliable and not an accurate representation of special education. Special education is NOT a punishment, and students need to be guided in realizing that over the course of the novel while also unpacking why Joey may perceive it as a punishment.
  • Prepare for conversations around the use of medicine in treating ADHD and other conditions. It is important for students to understand that medicine alone was not the solution for Joey. Medicine worked in combination with a lot of other lifestyle and mindset shifts. To learn more about the stigmas associated with ADHD and ADHD treatment, read Peeling Back the Labels from Teaching Tolerance. 
  • There are other topics or actions in this text that could be considered hurtful. The goal is to humanize things that are hurtful and help students develop the self-awareness and understanding of why they should not treat others the way that Joey or others in the text sometimes do. When planning lessons, notice spots that could be perceived as hurtful and plan teaching points to support students’ development.

Lesson Map

1

  • “About ADHD”

    RL.4.3

Explain what ADHD is and how having ADHD can influence a person’s life.

6

Writing

    W.4.1

    W.4.1.a

    W.4.1.d

Write a multiple paragraph essay to answer a unit essential question.

15

  • Joey Pigza — Ch. 11

    RL.4.3

Explain how all the advice Joey gets makes him feel about himself.

22

Assessment

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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L.4.1

L.4.1.e

L.4.2

L.4.3

RL.4.2

RL.4.3

RL.4.6

SL.4.1

SL.4.3

W.4.1

W.4.1.a

W.4.1.d

W.4.2.d

W.4.3

W.4.3.a

W.4.3.b

W.4.3.e

Spiral Standards

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L.4.3.b

L.4.4

L.4.4.b

L.4.5

L.4.6

RF.4.3

RF.4.4

RL.4.1

RL.4.10

RL.4.4

W.4.10

W.4.4

W.4.5

W.4.6

W.4.9