Theme: Enduring Friendships
Grades: Grades 8-9
The Friends deals with three sets of complicated and painful
relationships. Phyllisia Cathy, a 14-year-old West Indian immigrant,
struggles to achieve a true friendship with Edith Jackson, an African-American
teenager from Harlem. Phyllisia also tries to cope with a domineering
and sometimes brutal father and a beautiful, sensitive mother who is
dying of cancer. Finally, Edith, whose mother has died and whose father
disappears, is forced into a parental relationship with her five younger
siblings. Edith does everything possible to maintain a household without
parents and without money.
Note:The harsh depiction of life's realities in this novel may
be disturbing to some readers.
- Word Web.
Have students write the word friendship and create a word web with
descriptive phrases they associate with this concept.
- Quickwrite: Names Can Hurt You.
Have students write in their journals about a personal experience
in which someone called them an offensive name. Examples might include
a religious, ethnic, or racial insult. Invite volunteers to share
their responses with the class. Encourage students to compare their
experiences with the name-calling incidents that are described in
Have students create sympathy cards offering words of consolation
to ease Phyllisia's sorrow over the loss of her mother. Encourage
students to illustrate their cards and to write poems that express
a heartfelt message. You may wish to display the sympathy cards
on the bulletin board.
- Research Poll.
Have students create a questionnaire and conduct a poll on the subject
of best friends. To help them get started, have the class brainstorm
a list of questions to ask respondents. Some examples: Do you have
a best friend? Is your best friend male or female? Is your best friend
the same age as you? How long have you been friends? What do you like
most about your friend? Encourage students to distribute their questionnaires
to at least five people they know and then have student volunteers
tally the results. Finally, have students discuss their findings with
the whole class.
- Research It!
Have your students write a research report on a topic inspired by
the novel. Possible topics include the Harlem riots of the 1960s,
police brutality, inner-city problems, sibling rivalry, stages of
the grieving process, abandoned children, high school dropouts, West
Indian immigrants, and so on.
- TV Talk Show.
In this project, students stage a TV talk show. The teacher and a
student volunteer will role-play the hosts of the talk show. The other
students in the class will role-play the members of the studio audience
and the guests-main characters from The Friends. The TV talk
show will explore family relationships and friends.
- Tell students that you are going to play the role of a co-host
on a TV talk show. Have students research the different jobs that
will be necessary to stage a TV talk showsuch as camera
operator, director, writer, actor, expert guest. Invite student
volunteers to play the roles of an additional co-host and the
following guests-Phyllisia, Ruby, Ramona, Calvin, and Edith. The
rest of the class will role-play the studio audience.
- To prepare for the talk show, instruct a group of students to
develop a list of questions that will prompt discussion and draw
out the guests. Students can research psychology and sociology
resources so that their questions focus on the major themes suggested
in The Friends, including the nature of friendship, the
difficulties of fitting in, the responsibilities of family members
to one another, and the way young people depend on their friends
in order to cope with tragedies in their lives.
- Start the TV talk show by introducing the guests and explaining
the focus of the program. Then you and your student co-host can
begin interviewing and questioning the "guests" from The Friends. Include
the studio audience in the discussion. At the conclusion of the
talk show, ask students to summarize the key points discussed.