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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Students grapple with themes of race, culture and class in the immigrant experience. Through deep analysis of texts, seventh graders explore a variety of perspectives as they wrestle with the authenticity of the American Dream.

This unit has been archived. To view our updated curriculum, visit our 7th Grade English course.

Unit Summary

In the first unit of the year, seventh graders will read an autobiographical account of Sherman Alexie’s upbringing on a poor Native American reservation. The book is beloved by teens and adults alike for its uplifting story of triumph by a boy with few advantages, as well as its candid and fresh voice. It is selected by teachers across the country for its appeal to reluctant readers and because it introduces vital issues such as the struggles of young adulthood, the search for personal identity, bullying, and poverty.

It is important to note that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been banned from several school districts across the country. Teachers should make sure to send a letter to parents explaining that there are adult themes, cursing, and sexual references in this book, but that the novel will serve as a vehicle to introduce themes that will be addressed throughout the seventh grade course such as the disillusionment of the American Dream and the search for personal identity. Please visit the Supporting Materials section of this Unit for a Sample Parent Letter.

In this unit, students will also develop the fundamental skills and habits around several key practices in class: vocabulary building, annotating text, literary conversation, independent reading, and evidence-based writing. As students read, discuss, and write about the text, they will examine how an author makes deliberate decisions around tone, theme, mood, conflict, and point of view to convey a deeper meaning to the reader.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 7 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep


  1. Read and annotate the "Unit Summary” and “Essential Questions” portions of the unit plan prior to reading the novel.
  2. Read and annotate the text with the essential thematic questions in mind.
  3. Take the unit test and write your mastery response to the essay portion of the exam.
  4. Optional: Read all Supporting Materials.

Essential Questions


  • What factors shape our identities?
    • Is it possible to be yourself and part of a group—even if you don’t identify with parts of that group?
  • What are the expectations placed on us by our communities?
    • How do we rise above others’ expectations in order to live the lives we want to live?
  • What challenges do Native American people face in trying to attain hope and the American Dream?
  • What role does education play in the American Dream?

Writing Focus Areas


In this first unit of the year, students will focus on reading and dissecting the prompt to ensure they fully understand the task at hand. Then they will also zoom in on the writing process of brainstorming, outlining, and drafting for on demand prompts (test-taking style prompts). Students will not be given graphic organizers, but instructed on creating their own outlines from a blank piece of paper. They will ultimately be assessed on whether they addressed the prompt itself, made a structured and accurate claim, previewed strong reasons in their leads, and grouped information into meaningful paragraphs.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

FCA #1 – Overall:

  • Addressed the prompt.
  • Made a structured and accurate claim
  • Provided 1-2 pieces of evidence for each reason (can be paraphrased or a direct quote)
  • Each part of the text built their argument, and led to a conclusion without redundancies

FCA #2 – Lead:

  • Stated their claim and previewed reasons that accurately support the claim
  • Got their readers to care by including a cool fact or jazzy question about topic
  • Introduction matches the organization of the body paragraphs
  • Interested readers in their argument and helped them to understand the backstory through purposeful word choice

FCA #3 – Organization:

  • Grouped information and related ideas into paragraphs
  • Put the parts of their writing in the order that most suited their purpose and helped  prove their reasons and claim
  • The order of the sections and the internal structure of each section made sense
  • Used topic sentences, transitions, formatting (where appropriate) to clarify the structure of the piece and to highlight their main points



Literary Terms

tone, theme, internal conflict, point of view (first person), word meaning in context, mood, suspense, text features, compare and contrast, figurative language, juxtaposition

Roots and Affixes

im, in, il = not, in = inside,re = again


poverty (11), orbit (3), realize (13), powwow (17), brawling (17), decrepit (31), reservation (3), burden (43), contemplate (33), ambitious (47), naive (79), arrogant (107), shallow (127), lust (127), sacred (165)

Idioms and Cultural References

"cut to the chase" (94)

Content Knowledge and Connections


  • American Indian Reservations
  • Alcoholism
  • Sports mascots that depict Native Americans in a stereotypical or negative manner

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

3rd grade: Iroquois, Sioux, and other indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest

Lesson Map


  • “Cutbacks on 'the Rez'”

  • “Indian Country Diaries”


Explain how alcoholism and poverty affect the Native American community according to a nonfiction article.


  • ATDPTI pp. 1 – 15



Identify the humorous, matter-of-fact tone in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and what it reveals about Junior’s identity.

Annotate a narrative text looking for character, setting and tension while also using abbreviations and summaries in the margins.


  • ATDPTI pp. 15 – 31


Identify and analyze Junior’s tone when he finds his mother’s name in his textbook.


  • ATDPTI pp. 31 – 46

  • “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”



Identify and analyze the theme of hope.

Identify the meaning of text features (italics and dashes).


  • ATDPTI pp. 44 – 53




Analyze how the author contrasts Rowdy’s and Junior’s perspectives to develop the theme of hope in the text.

Practice the habits of discussion in class.



  • ATDPTI pp. 51 – 53


Compare and contrast how Rowdy and Junior cope with the theme of hopelessness.


  • ATDPTI pp. 54 – 66


Explain how the author uses internal conflict to reveal Junior’s emotions.

Explain how Sherman Alexie uses juxtaposition to characterize Junior.


2 days


  • Indian Mascots...

  • “Fighting...”

  • Ending the Era


Write a persuasive essay on the debate over Indian mascots by focusing on the American Indian community’s objections to their use and the defense of mascot use within the world of sports.


  • ATDPTI pp. 67 – 81



Analyze how other characters influence Junior’s perception of himself.


  • ATDPTI pp. 82 – 98


Analyze Gordy’s influence on Junior’s perspective.


  • ATDPTI pp. 99 – 113


Analyze how Junior’s point of view changes in this passage.

Explain why first person point of view is an effective storytelling device.


  • ATDPTI pp. 114 – 129


Explain how the author develops Junior’s character when he pretends to be middle class.


  • “Does Class Still Matter?”


Determine the central idea of the article, “Does Class Still Matter?”


  • ATDPTI pp. 130 – 141



Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text.

Explain the tension that Gordy describes between being an individual and being a part of a community.


  • ATDPTI pp. 142 – 149



Determine how the author builds the mood.

Analyze how the game shows Junior's negotiation between his old and new identity.



  • “Will Jeremy Lin...”


Compare and contrast the challenges Junior faces as a Native American with those of Jeremy Lin as an Asian American.


  • ATDPTI pp. 150 – 161


Analyze Junior’s tone as he remembers his grandmother.


  • ATDPTI pp. 162 – 178


Analyze how the author develops the mood through sentence structure and diction (word choice).


  • ATDPTI pp. 179 – 187


Explain how the author captures the rising tension at the basketball game.


  • ATDPTI pp. 187 – 198


Analyze how the author builds suspense at the basketball game.


  • ATDPTI pp. 199 – 214



Identify and analyze hyperboles.

Debate whether it is possible to be yourself and part of a group—even if you don’t identify with parts of that group. 


  • ATDPTI pp. 215 – 230



Explain why Junior’s reconciliation with Rowdy is the resolution of the novel and what this reveals about the text’s theme.



Review literary devices and vocabulary from the unit.



Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.7.3 — Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.

  • L.7.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 7 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.7.1 — Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RI.7.2 — Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RI.7.3 — Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.7.1 — Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.7.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.7.3 — Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).

  • RL.7.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.

  • RL.7.5 — Analyze how a drama's or poem's form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning.

  • RL.7.6 — Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.

  • RL.7.10 — By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.7.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.7.1.a — Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.

Writing Standards
  • W.7.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • W.7.1.a — Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

  • W.7.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content

  • W.7.2.a — Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

  • W.7.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.