Least Tern > English Class > MS Fiction


Nothing But the Truth
a Documentary Novel by Avi

A Study Guide to the Novel and Related Readings

Text (novel and short pieces): Literature Connections series, McDougal Littell, 1997

Extensions | For the Teacher (includes Resources)


A Nice Old-Fashioned Romance, with Love Lyrics and Everything
from Journey to Washington
Nothing But the Truth
The Catbird Seat

Extensions: To be completed before, during or after reading the novel and related stories.

1. Using a Google search, your encyclopedia, or resources found in the library, collect three interesting thoughts/facts about one of the following to present to the class (your teacher will assign you a topic). You will present over the next 2 weeks.

Avi Armenia
nisei Japan in 1939 - political and military news
Daniel Inouye Hawaii's relationship to the USA in 1939
William Saroyan James Thurber
the 1st Amendment The Call of the Wild - a novel by Jack London
Shintoism Locate and read 2 reviews of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

2. What is the Truth? -  Your teacher will structure this activity.

3. As a class, visit Cagle's Editorial Cartoon Site. Your teacher will guide you through one or two activities.

4.. Patriotism - What is it?  Discuss this with your parents, grandparents, and other adults. In your reading journal, take notes on their points of view. Quote them if possible. Ask them if you may post their words on the bulletin board. In class, you will write a paragraph expressing your own opinion.

5. Create your own editorial cartoon which presents any one of the themes or problems in Nothing But the Truth or in your class What is theTruth? activity.



I. Read A Nice Old-Fashioned Romance, with Love Lyrics and Everything by William Saroyan. In your writing journal, respond to the story.  Discuss the title. Try to ask at least 2 questions that can be discussed in class.

  1. HW: If you were the narrator, what would you tell your classmates after leaving Mr. Derringer's office the 2nd time?
  2. In class: read aloud the conversations on p. 204-206 (top) between Mr. Derringer and the narrator.
    • This is a dialogue. What punctuation marks are missing? How does the author make it possible for you to follow the dialogue without the usual punctuation?  
    • What do you learn about the character traits of the narrator?  Of Mr. Derringer?
    • How would the narrator's punishment be handled today, at your school? Is the narrator's punishment fair?
  3. In-class:
    • Answer either the odd or even-numbered questions on the Romance Story worksheet (.doc). (.pdf version)
    • Discuss your answers in the assigned group - all group members should agree on the best reply to each question. Your group will be called upon to lead a discussion of 2 or 3 questions.


  4. HW: Define "impertinent" - quote at least 3 specific examples from the story which suggest that this word applies to the narrator.  Bring these to class tomorrow.  We will make them into a paragraph.

II. Read the selection from Journey to Washington and respond to the story in your writing journal. Try to ask two questions which can be answered in class. Focus your comments on the people in the story - how they act, why they act this way. Compare this narrator to the narrator in Romance.

  1. In-class: Clarify the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Define autobiography, 1st person narration and motive. How does the author make this autobiographical story interesting to the reader? Identify the 3 main characters in the story who do something which affects the narrator in some way.. Working with your group, make a chart which identifies the important action of each which affects the author/narrator, the motive for this action and how it affects the narrator.
  2. HW: Study the punctuation of the dialogue on p.215. Study where the quotation marks (" ") are placed, where words are capitalized and not capitalized, and where the punctuation ( ,  .  ! ) is placed. In the blank space on p. 210, write 3 rules for the punctuation of dialogue.   Try out your rules by putting quotation marks around the dialogue on the top half of p. 205.  Use pencil.
  3. HW: Select one of the following topics and prepare hand-written notes or a writing plan to bring to class. Include main characters, notes about the narrator's personality, a timeline of what happens. Limit your story to no more than 3 days!  We will turn your notes into a fiction or non-fiction story. You will be writing in the 1st person.
    • A time that I told the truth and no one believed me.

    • A time that I stood up for something which I believed in.

III. Nothing But the Truth -

As you read this book, you are to keep a journal. You must pretend that you are a student in Harrison High, in 11th or 12th grade, and also an ace reporter for the school newspaper. Some of your journal entries will be diary entries and some will be news articles. I will collect and read your journals every 3 days. After we have finished the novel, 4 of your entries will be rewritten and posted on the board for all to admire.

  1. Pages 4-9: Respond in your diary:
      What type of school administrator would organize the beginning of the day this way? How would you organize it? Comment on a memory you have about Dr. Palleni (you have to make this up).Write about Philip Malloy - what would you put it a news story about this new freshman? Comment on your old teacher, Miss Narwin - looking back on her, what was she really like (draw your information from her letter, do not make it up). What do you think of when you say her name? Comment on what is important to you - what are your goals for this year? For your life? Be truthful.
  2. Chapters 2-4: An editorial for the school newspaper: Respectful Silence?
    Write about respect as it is found in your school. Comment on Mr. Lunser's behavior during the Anouncements, on the general attitude of 9th grade boys toward girls, on the attitude of students toward their exams and their teachers. You should mention events from the reading assignment, but you should also express your own opinion.
  3. Chapters 5-8: Respond in your diary:
       Write about "the money crunch" - the need for money (yours, your family's, your school's), what it is needed for, and respond to the idea that there may not be enough of it. Imagine something that you (as an 11th or 12th grader) want which costs money - imagine how you will feel if the money is not available.
       Then respond to a poor grade which you have gotten on a major test.
  4. Chapter 9: An article for the school newspaper: Rules Trip Malloy
    In the article, give the facts and interview the Coach, Miss Narwin and Philip. Be careful not to give your own opinion.

       Be prepared to discuss this question in class tomorrow: Why does Philip not tell his father the truth about the track team? Is he telling himself the truth? What are some strategies you can think of to help him get along better with Miss Narwin?
  5. Chapter 10 to page 55 (we will read the rest aloud in class): Respond in your diary:
       You have heard about Narwin vs. Philip Malloy and about the humming. What do you think?
       Also - in play form, record a conversation you had at the dinner table with one or both of your parents.
  6. Chapter 11-12 to p.83: Respond in your diary:
       Pressure - what are the pressures on you? Talk about pressures you teachers and/or parents and/or friends might be feeling. How do these pressures affect the way you act and react?
      Rewards - what has someone said or done to make you feel good about yourself, to make you feel your efforts are worthwhile?

       Be prepared in class to discuss Mr. Malloy's problems and what "sticking up for yourself" means in these chapters.  Be prepared to discuss the relationship Mr. Malloy has with his son.
  7. p. 84-99: Write an article for the newspaper:  Student Suspended for Humming
    Include in your article the facts and statements from Philip, Miss Narwin, Dr. Palleni, Ken Barchet, and one of Philip's parents.  The point of the article is to try to uncover and express the truth.

       Be prepared to discuss in class: Why does Philip try to stop his father from calling Ted Griffin? What happens to the "truth" on p.96-99? How could this have been prevented?
  8. Chapter 13: Write a humorous article for the newspaper: 10 Rules We Should Have (but don't)
  9. Chapter 14: You must also either listen to 10 minutes of a 6:30 news report or read any front page newspaper article & bring it to class. Respond in your diary:
       In English class you discussed the topic: Does the News Media Control Our Opinions?  Write your further thoughts about the topic. Refer to the news article on p.113. Are any of your opinions controlled by the news media - about President Clinton, about fashion, about sports or TV shows or movies, about anything? 
       Also answer this question: How do the adults in your life influence your opinions.  Give at least one good example.
  10. We will take a pause from reading to read the Bill of Rights in class. And we will have a test on chapters 1-14. 
  11. Chapter 15: Respond in your laptop journal/diary:  Imagine that...
       You have heard the Jack Barlow Talk Show. What do you think of Jake and his callers? Do you agree with their points of view? What would you write to Miss Narwin & to Philip? (we will write those postcards and telegrams at the very beginning of class tomorrow)
  12. Chapter 16: Respond in your diary to Philip Malory's motives and actions.

       In class, be prepared to respond to Dr. Seymour's actions.
  13. Chapter 17-18:
       Respond in your diary to what Miss Narwin tells the reporter, Mr. Duval, on p.191-2. Do you agree that people like to hear the worst and rarely seek out or talk about the best? Give some examples of this.
       Write a short newspaper article:  Students Support Narwin, which reports on what might have happened if a student petition had been circulated.
  14. Chapter 19: Respond in your diary: 
       What do you make of the ending of the book? What is fair, what is not fair? You need to pretend that you, the student, know "the whole story." It is time to present your opinion.

For the Teacher -

This book is often recommended for a grade level significantly above its reading level (5ish). The events of the last two years have significantly increased its popularity in the classroom. Applications to current events and to "life" abound on the Internet. This book can be read very quickly by a 7th, 8th or 9th grade student. Internet resources, in addition to lesson plans, make it important to consider completing at least one of the Extension or Pre-Reading Activities (see above and the resources below). I suggest purchasing the McDougall Littell edition, with stories and nonfiction readings, if possible.

I suggest (and have used in 6th grade) a 4-part study of the novel: Extensions, a reading of two short works (A Nice Old-Fashioned Romance, with Love Lyrics and Everything , a short story by William Saroyan and Journey to Washington, a nonfiction memoir by Daniel Inouye), the novel, and a final reading of The Catbird Seat by James Thurber. Other short fiction and non-fiction works can, of course, be substituted. I have selected works that place a protagonist in "the horns of a dilemna not of his/her making," that reflect cultural preconception and/or that require the reader to make much of little prose. I would love to extend this list - please send ideas to Least Tern.

It is, I think, appropriate to the reading of this novel that students keep a diary or journal. This can be digital or hand-written, but it should be strictly: private, used daily, reflective.

Notes on the Extensions -

        1. #1 covers the topics that are addressed if you cover all 4 parts of the lesson as I have presented it. The topics relate to the stories as well as to the novel.
        2. #2 - this would be a wonderful use of iMovie and digital imaging or digital recording. The What is the Truth? activity is my own. It is designed as a simulation activity. Teacher Notes and Background Materials are provided.
        3. #3 is a powerful activity. At the Cagle site you will find a link to Teacher Activities. The Middle School and High School activities are appropriate to this novel. I would recommend either of the first two activities, followed by the Bingo Game (time allowing). The cartoons in the site change frequently. However, under the Best Cartoons of the Year xxxx, you will find a subdivision of cartoons categorized as "Dissent and Civil Liberties" (in 2001 cartoons, it was #3). Search for and have your students focus upon these cartoons. I have included questions which might be used in class or for HW in conjunction with a cartoon that you photocopy from a local resource. You may capture this page and use it as it, but you will need FrontPage extensions installed on your web server. If you wish to post to the Least Tern site, please contact us well ahead of time.
        4. #4 - Another powerful use of digital recording hardware, if it is available to you.
        5. #5 - this requires that you spend some time with the Cagle site or with the newspaper. Copying and distributing cartoons to students on paper is allowed under fair use for education, provided you do not publish them on the Internet (or elsewhere), cite them correctly and fully, and limit the use to a 1-time activity. This will keep your cartoon selections current!

        Two other good Extensions are available online. Find them in the Resources.

    Online Resources (selective list)

    • Avi Web Site - biography, some comment by him, his works
    • Nothing But the Truth Publisher's page - commercial, but good ideas for "openers" and theme discussions
    • Value discussion guides - uses the text to focus discussions on topics such as "value-laden words" and "fact vs. opinion" - good Extension activities
    • Pre-reading WebQuest-like activity - focused upon developing Persuasive Reading skills using a selected use of primary and secondary sources - uses frames
    • Novels for 6th - 7th graders that can work well with this one:
      • Alice in Wonderland
      • The Giver
      • Haroun
      • A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
      • Slake's Limbo

    Least Tern