CommonLit’s digital library is home to thousands of rigorous reading lessons. We also offer “Book Pairings,” sets of texts to support high-quality novel instruction, for more than 100 novels. Teachers can utilize these text sets to increase rigor, background knowledge, and engagement during their novel study units. Students will build their reading comprehension skills as well as their ability to make cross-textual connections. For each recommended text, we provide a synopsis along with tips for introducing it to students to supplement the reading curriculum of their novel study.
In this post, check out the Book Pairings and resources offered to teach The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. In the novel, Ponyboy Curtis is a member of the Greasers, a group in a strong gang rivalry with the Socs. Ponyboy comes of age through the trials and tribulations of this rivalry, ultimately learning the value of family and friendship.
Investigate Character’s Behavior through Real-World Connections
These texts provide insight and background knowledge into real-world examples of behavior and events discussed in the novel.
“Herd Behavior” by CommonLit Staff
This informational psychology text describes how individuals change and act when they are part of a crowd. The author dissects the dangerous influence of group behavior on individual behavior in both overt and subtle ways.
Have students read this article after reading Chapter 2 of The Outsiders, to provide sociological insight into the group behavior in the moment when Johnny is beat up. The text mentions how groups, like gangs, can become violent when confronted by an opposing or rival group. To build students’ reading comprehension, ask them to identify the main ideas and then the central idea of the text as they read. Later on, discuss how the actions of both the Greasers and Socs are influenced by herd behavior, and ask, “How does this article help to explain how and why Ponyboy might have become a Greaser?”
“Self-Concept” by Saul McLeod
In this informational text, psychologist Saul McLeod explains how self-perception can shape a person’s identity. Throughout the text, several psychological concepts are introduced to describe how people think about themselves.
Assign this informational text after reading Chapter 3 to provide psychological insight to help students analyze the novel’s characters. At this point in the text, Ponyboy describes his family and friends to Cherry. Cherry then reveals her thoughts about her own personality, evidently exposing conflicts between self-image and ideal self. Ask students to analyze the characters’ self-concepts, then ask, “How does the character’s ideal self conflict with their outward portrayal? Which characters possess a strong self-image?”
If you have struggling readers or English Language Learners in your class, encourage them to use CommonLit’s text-to-speech tool. It’s a great way to support reading comprehension.
“Healing ‘Brick City’: A Newark Doctor Returns Home” by NPR Staff
This non-fiction piece expresses the thoughts of physician, Dr. Sampson Davis, who overcame a difficult upbringing. Davis meditates on the nature of his career and the relationship between medicine and public service. This is a great resource for teaching literacy through compelling nonfiction texts.
After reading Chapter 7, provide students with this article to explore the themes of heroism and overcoming adversity. In the novel, Ponyboy and Johnny both become heroes, mirroring Sampson Davis’ unlikely rise to success in this article. Ask students, “Consider how Ponyboy and Johnny’s heroic act can possibly change the community? How does this contrast with Sampson Davis’ views and experience?”
If you’re working with students on identifying the main ideas of a text, you may want to consider turning on CommonLit’s Guided Reading Mode. These scaffolded questions help students track the main ideas as they read.
Modern Texts About Developing Relationships
Each of these texts dives into complex and often tumultuous aspects of young relationships that mirror those in The Outsiders. Covering group and gang dynamics, loss in friendships or groups, and romantic relationships, these texts will add varied perspectives to students’ ELA instruction, welcoming cross-textual and text-to-self connections.
“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks
This well-known poem describes a group of men that the author, Brooks, saw in a pool hall. The speaker in the poem characterizes the group of men as not caring about responsibilities, living freely and recklessly.
Read this poem with students before starting The Outsiders to familiarize them with the persona of gang members and the tension between gang culture and mortality. Ask students to analyze the tone and figurative language of the poem and the characters Brooks presents. Ask students, “What does it mean to be part of a gang? What does it mean to have a carefree attitude towards death?”
“Funeral” by Ralph Fletcher
This text is an excerpt from Fletcher’s memoir, in which the author describes taking a trip into the forest with his friends. In the forest, the group of boys holds a funeral for Fletcher, who is moving away, sharing memories that show why he was a good friend.
Pair this excerpt with Chapter 10 of The Outsiders, after students have learned about Johnny’s death to help them think about themes of loss. Similar to Ponyboy’s loss of Johnny, Ralph experiences a separation from his friends. Ralph is resolved in his parting, while Ponyboy is left with a lot of confusion. Ask students how Ponyboy compares to Ralph in their experiences of loss and moving on. What results for the two characters after the loss of friends?
To help students’ build skills as they read, have them analyze the character change that Ralph undergoes from the beginning of the text to the end.
“what love isn’t” by Yrsa Daley-Ward
In this poem, Daley-Ward explores characteristics of love that are not often discussed.These characteristics include its weight, its irregularity, and its difficulty.
Assign this poem after Chapter 6 to help students explore the complexity and unique nature of Ponyboy and Darry’s relationship following the fire. Ask students to use this poem - and the speaker’s idea that love isn’t uniform - to define what love is and is not within Ponyboy’s family. Then, analyze how Darry and Ponyboy’s relationship change after the church fire.
Creating Thematic Connections Across Genres
The following texts engage in essential analysis of key themes present in The Outsiders such as growing up, and seeking revenge. Use these texts to spark discussion about characters’ motivation in the book, and to deepen students' understanding of themes across literary genres.
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost
In this short poem, a speaker describes the fleeting nature of youth and beauty. Ponyboy recites this poem in the book, providing a great opportunity to incorporate poetry into your novel study.
Introduce it to your students after reading Chapter 5, to contrast the value of gold in the poem with friendship in the novel. Additionally, prompt students to consider the symbolism of youth as something new and fleeting. Ask students to explain the meaning of the poem and its significance in the novel. What is meant by “hardest hue to hold?” What may be difficult for Ponyboy to hold onto now that he has been involved with Johnny?
This poem includes several examples of figurative language, including personification. After students have developed a basic understanding of the poem, it may be helpful for students to analyze the impact of the figurative language on the text.
“Of Revenge” by Sir Francis Bacon
Sir Francis Bacon was an English philosopher and author during the Renaissance. In this piece, Bacon discusses the notion of revenge, why some seek it, and the consequences of being fixated on revenge. This rigorous text provides a great opportunity for students to practice their reading comprehension skills.
Introduce this text after reading Chapter 9, when the Greasers are seeking revenge on the Socs. According to Bacon, this revenge would be an action not worth carrying out because of the possible consequences of dwelling on old rivalries. Ask students to evaluate the motivations and possible consequences of revenge for the characters in The Outsiders. Ask students to consider Bacon’s reference to “profit, pleasure, and honour,” and what they think would make the rumble worthwhile?
“If” by Rudyard Kipling
This poem sets out a list of rules by which the speaker thinks his son should live. The poem uses a paternal tone to express the ideal qualities of a proper Englishman during the Victorian era.
After finishing The Outsiders, introduce this poem to students in order to facilitate a class discussion about Darry’s goals for Ponyboy and the poem’s main idea about maturing into a grown man. The speaker in this poem and Dary both share this paternal, supportive tone surrounding the subject of manhood. Ask students to compare the poem’s main idea to the key virtues presented in the novel.
CommonLit also offers five text-dependent questions that come with this lesson. These questions assess the theme, finding evidence, analyzing the author’s tone, and more!
Looking to teach another novel? Check out more of our Book Pairings for additional stories, poems and informational texts to supplement your ELA curriculum.
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