The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Teacher Lesson Return to "The Man in the Glass"
The Man in the Glass
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Two Lessons You Can Use With “The Man in the Glass”

1) A Writing Lesson

Goal: 1) Make it easier for your students to start writing. 2) To have students write several paragraphs which include concrete details. 3) To help students see the value of using concrete details in their writing.


Everyone has trouble getting started sometimes, especially when it comes to writing. You may have a topic you enjoy or a story you want to tell but where and how do you start?

One way to start a story is to think about “things.” What objects are associated with the story you are trying to tell? What part of the story do they show up in? Who touches them or uses them? What feelings and thoughts do they evoke?

NYC writers sometimes use this strategy. Several years ago a student wrote a story about the disabled uncle. Her title? “My Uncle’s Chair.” She used the chair as a prop to tell the story of her invalid relative and how he quietly occupied his favorite chair every day.

The writer does something like this to start her story on her alcoholic father (“The Man in the Glass”). Her tale begins with one simple detail: a can of beer captured in a photo. Not just any can of beer but the one her father sported in seemingly all family photos. This simple reference to a common object draws the reader into the story. You can imagine her father downing drink after drink at family affairs. It is a far more effective opening than something like “My father is an alcoholic.”

Ask your students to write a short description of a family member. First they should make a list of objects they commonly associate with this relative or an object which was part of a dramatic episode in this relative’s life. They must use one or more of items on the list to help describe the relative. (Limit students to one page. And tell them to squeeze in as many of the objects as they can. They will be surprised how much more interesting their writing becomes when it is packed with proper nouns.)

Help them along by giving them suggestions, perhaps on the board. For example, a sibling might be associated with a radio, books, a piece of favorite clothing, the couch he or she sat on all day, a piece of athletic equipment. Objects linked to parents or other adults might include the same list plus some more adult items like a car, kitchen equipment, religious artifacts.

You may also suggest some opening lines. “Whenever I think of my sister I think of her tennis racket. She is a great athlete.” “My brother never leaves the house without his Atlanta Braves baseball cap.” “My father’s after shave lotion used to stink up the house. One time it made me sick.”

Collect and read the papers. Select several of the most interesting pieces and read them aloud in the next class. Ask the students to comment on what makes the pieces so interesting (to drive home the point that concrete details make for more vivid writing).

2) A Lesson About Alcoholism

Goal: Help students understand what alcoholism is and recognize it in their own families. Help students understand it’s not their fault. Help legitimize treatment.

Plot: The writer’s father is an alcoholic and neglects her. At times, she blames herself. She also tries to get her father to get into treatment, which he does. The treatment helps them open up to each other.


A. Warm up Discussion

Background on alcoholism: Ask the teens what they know about alcoholism. They’ll give lots of responses. Through questions and comments, let them know that it’s not just drinking an occasional beer. It’s drinking to the point that you put drinking before other things, like taking care of your kids, being safe in the car, treating people well in the family. (Note: some students will recognize family members with this description.)

Then, if no one has mentioned it, tell them that alcoholism is like a disease. And like diseases, it doesn’t just take willpower to conquer it. It usually takes treatment.

Getting help: Ask students: “When a man has a problem, should he: ask for help, such as counseling; solve it himself; or keep it secret.”? You’ll get various responses, ranging from “get help” to “a real man never admits he has a problem.” Let these answers just sit in the room. The students may disagree with each other, which is fine. But keep your comments neutral, or gently probing. Don’t reveal your own opinion on this, and don’t let the discussion go on too far. This is just to get the kids thinking about the courage and humility it may take to seek help. (In a few minutes, while reading the story, they’ll see a proud man seek and benefit from treatment.)

B. Read story

Questions you may want to ask as you go along: In the first few paragraphs: What does the father put first, his drinking or his daughter? Is that right? (Let kids vent a bit about how hurtful this is.)

Note: the father denies he has a problem. Ask the kids, “Does the father think or admit he has a problem?” Why or why not?

You may also want to ask the group, “What other kinds of problems do people deny having?” (e.g., drug problem, anger management problem, reading problem, etc.). “How can you help someone who denies they have the problem in the first place?” (This question mainly acknowledges that denial is common, and that it’s pretty tough to penetrate.)

Denial: Ask the students: “Even though the father denies he has a problem, what’s the evidence in the story that he does?” (skipping parent meetings, family history, becoming like his father, suspended from job, etc.)

Ask the students to point out where the father stops being in denial. Ask: Is this good? Might it lead to change? What kinds of changes might it lead to in the family? Between the father and daughter? (Let them speculate a bit, then say, “Let’s see what happens.”)

C. Role Play

Characters: The writer and her father.

Conflict: The writer and her father want to repair their relationship, but don’t know how. Tell the students: To begin the role play, the writer should tell her father that she has felt unloved. He should respond by telling her how he really feels about her, and explain why he hasn’t shown it.

Continue: They both talk about what they can do to repair their relationship.

Possible Prompts: For the father: I always saw my dad drinking; My dad never showed me the love I wanted; I’m proud of you for _____________. For the writer: I was scared to tell you how I felt; it hurt that you put your drinking first; I’m sorry I nagged at you, but I didn’t know what else to do….

End: Ask the students, do they think that the writer’s father will stay sober? Why or why not? If not, what should the writer do (e.g., give up on him? insist he get back in the program? etc.)

Alternative/additional activity—Writing Prompt & Discussion

Divide the group in half. Tell them that one group is the father, and one group is the writer. Remind them that they have to write as if they are the character. Tell students you are going to read the two prompts that were in the story:

“I never understood why you…” and
“It makes me angry when you…”

All of the “writers” should respond as she would respond (or as a son would respond, if they are a boy). All of the “fathers” should respond as they think a father would. There are already some responses in the story, of course, but they should expand on them.

Give students about 3-5 minutes to respond to each prompt. Then go around the room, asking students to read what they’ve written.

Wrap Up: Ask the students, “What do these answers tell us about how fathers and daughters could get along better?” Basically, students will say they should communicate more. Ask them what makes it hard to communicate. End by asking, “Is there anything that you think teens themselves could do to improve communication?” (Here’s where they will realize a few things they might try at home, and will see that other kids think taking a risk to improve communication is worth it.)

Note: This story may prompt teens to reveal that their parents have alcohol problems. It may prompt others to talk about missing their fathers. Using your judgment, you can talk with them to reassure them that the problem is not their fault, to assess the extent of the problem (“What does he do when he’s drunk that you don’t like?”), and the ask them what they think their options are, e.g., How can they make the best of the situation and feel safe; and Is there anything they think the might be able to do, such as encourage the parent to get into an employer or union treatment plan, as the writer did. (These should be private conversations, after class.)
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