Wonder by R.J Palacio – Planning Overview

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Dan

Welcome to a comprehensive planning overview for an innovative book study experience! If you’re looking for an engaging way to introduce classroom diversity and spark meaningful conversations about empathy, then Wonder by R.J. Palacio is the perfect novel for your students.

This compelling story follows protagonist August Pullman as he transitions from homeschooling to attending public school with both typical and atypical features – leaving readers inspired, challenged, and eager to engage in meaningful dialogue about issues of identity, acceptance, and compassion.

Whether you are setting up a complete unit or rolling out just one discussion activity connected to this book – we have you covered with lesson-planning tips and resources that will guide your instruction every step of the way!

Related: For more, check out our planning overview of The Taming Of The Shrew by Shakespeare  here.

The Storyline of Wonder by R.J Palacio

Wonder by R.J Palacio tells the story of August Pullman, a young boy with a facial difference who is entering fifth grade and mainstream schooling for the first time.

His family, made up of his parents, older sister Via and their dog Daisy, have done everything they can to protect Auggie from the stares and cruelty of others, but soon he must face attending school along with other children.

At first, many students are apprehensive and judgmental towards Auggie—his mere presence has them questioning their insecurities about being different.

However, as the story progresses, some kids start to let go of their preconceived notions about him and accept him as another student—though there is still animosity from some students and adults alike. At the same time, Auggie’s family walks a tightrope in dealing with the bullying while protecting his fragile spirit.

Ultimately, Auggie’s journey teaches those around him—as well as readers—the power of acceptance, resilience and kindness that lies within each person. By facing life head-on despite all its challenges and engaging with others without fear, anger, or judgement, Auggie discovers strength he never knew he had within himself.

Critical Themes in Wonder by R.J Palacio

Acceptance

Acceptance is an overarching theme throughout the story of “Wonder”, both in terms of individuals accepting Auggie and Auggie himself accepting his differences.

At first, many students are apprehensive or judgmental towards Auggie because of his appearance—but gradually take him as another student. Auggie also learns to accept himself for who he is and appreciate all the good that comes with it.

Resilience

Auggie must learn to remain resilient when faced with difficult circumstances throughout the story, whether dealing with stinging insults from others due to his facial differences or enduring painful surgeries.

In addition, he doesn’t allow bullying and prejudice to define him but instead grows from the experience and uses it as a tool for strength.

Kindness

Various characters show kindness throughout the story towards Auggie and those around them. As Auggie has difficulty fitting in at school, some classmates rise against societal pressures and show compassion toward him instead of judgment or hate.

Characters like Summer and Jack recognise Auggie’s struggles, while teachers like Mr Tushman support them.

Characters in Wonder

August (Auggie) Pullman

August is the story’s protagonist, a young boy with a facial difference attending a mainstream school for the first time. Despite facing teasing and bullying at school, he remains resilient and optimistic in his journey to acceptance.

Via Pullman

August’s older sister, Via, has always protected her brother until she starts high school and struggles to figure out how she can relate to her brother’s experiences.

Jack Will

Jack is one of August’s classmates who initially intimidates Auggie but eventually works to become one of his closest friends. He ultimately sticks up for Auggie when other students are mean or unkind.

Summer Dawson

Summer is another classmate who goes out of her way to be kind to Auggie, even when it means going against societal pressures or the judgements of others.

She shares lunch with him and invites him over for sleepovers—actions which pave the way for August’s acceptance among his peers at school.

Teaching Opportunities from Wonder

Empathy

The story of “Wonder” offers an excellent opportunity for teaching empathy and understanding—not only towards those with physical or mental differences but anyone different. As the characters learn to accept Auggie’s differences, teachers can use this opportunity to discuss how we must respect everyone’s differences.

Resilience

Auggie’s resilience in the face of bullying and prejudice serves as an example for students on how to handle difficult situations with strength. Through his character, teachers can emphasise the importance of staying strong in difficult times and not letting negative words define us.

Kindness

One of the key themes throughout the story is kindness—both towards Auggie and others around him. Teachers can use this aspect to start discussions on why we should always be kind and compassionate, even when faced with challenging circumstances.

Lesson Plan 1 – Teaching Empathy

Objectives

  • Students will be able to define empathy and understand why it is essential.
  • Students will be able to identify situations that may require heart.
  • Students will have a deeper understanding of differences in people.

Introduction

Introduce the concept of empathy through a brief discussion about what it means to show empathy towards others and why it is essential. Ask students to provide examples of how they can show empathy or how someone has shown them empathy in the past.

Explain that we will talk about Auggie’s experiences in Wonder and explore how others treated him differently because of his facial difference.

Main Teaching Points

  • Consider scenarios from the book where characters showed kindness/empathy towards Auggie or were unkind towards him due to his facial difference.
  • Ask students open-ended questions like “How do you think Auggie felt in this situation?” or “What do you think would have been more appropriate behaviour?” This should spark further discussions on the importance of showing empathy towards those different from ourselves.
  • Ask students for scenarios outside of Wonder that require us to empathise with another person. Have them develop their own stories or examples to elaborate on showing kindness despite differences between people.

Key Questions

  • What does the phrase “show respect for everyone’s journey” mean?
  • How would you feel if someone was being unkind because you looked different from them?

Reflection

Have time dedicated at the end of your lesson plan for reflection—students can write down their thoughts on what they learned during this lesson and discuss one thing that stood out that they can remember when confronted with a similar situation themselves in the future.

Plenary

As a plenary activity, ask each student to give one example of when they could have shown more empathy towards someone in their life, whether it be a family member, classmate, friend etc. but didn’t due to not recognising the situation as needing an empathetic approach at first glance.

Discuss how understanding others from different walks of life is essential for creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels respected and safe regardless of our differences—this is something that all students can learn from Auggie’s story in Wonder!

Lesson Plan 2 – Kindness

Objectives

  • Students will be able to understand why displays of kindness are important and how they can foster positive relationships.
  • Students will be able to identify challenges we face when being kind and recognise strategies to overcome them.

Introduction

Discuss the concept of kindness and the importance of actively demonstrating it daily. Ask the students to provide examples from the book (Wonder) which show acts of kindness or unkindness and explore the implications these may have on relationships.

Explain how Auggie’s experiences spoke to his classmates about physical differences and how respecting each other’s unique qualities is essential for understanding these differences.

Main Teaching Points

  • Ask questions about Wonder, such as “What do you think Jack would need to do differently for Auggie not to feel so left out?” or “How did Summer show kindness towards Auggie?” These questions should facilitate conversations on demonstrating proper etiquette when exploring someone else’s differences.
  • Introduce strategies that can cultivate positive relationships, emphasising the importance of using active listening skills, empathy, politeness and compassion when engaging with those who are different from us in any way. Furthermore, discuss situations where it becomes particularly challenging for us to maintain a kind demeanour—for instance, when giving constructive criticism or disagreeing with someone over a particular viewpoint—and suggest ways to remain respectful while conveying our opinion.

Key Questions

  • Why can it be difficult for some people to show kindness at times?
  • What do you think was Julian’s motivation behind bullying Auggie?

Reflection                     

Have time dedicated at the end of your lesson plan for reflection—students should critically assess their behaviour during this discussion topic and ensure that they follow what they have learned, i.e. being kind even when faced with disagreements or difficulty forming relationships due to differences between individuals.

This should serve as a reminder from now on in their lives!

Check out the following websites for a beautiful selection of resources to help guide your teaching of R.J. Palacio’s ‘Wonder’:

Website Resources

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