From Novelinks

Novels: SmallSteps

Small Steps
Louis Sachar

More Information About Small Steps

Cover Image



Reading Activities

Reading Strategies

To view the details of an annotation, use the '+' sign to expand an entry. If an entry is in boldface, this indicates it is also a link; clicking on those words will open the associated link for your view.

Then, click on the first link.
Work on having students make inferences about characters. Use the introduction to X-Ray to find out what the author is implying about him even before we really meet him. Have students consider his introductory paragraphs (the following) when he drives up to Armpit’s work:

A rusted Honda Civic drove noisily down the street and parked across from the mayor’s house. Armpit had finished digging his trench and was attaching PVC pipe. The mayor had gone inside. The driver-side door had been bashed in, and it would cost more to fix than the car was worth. The driver had to work his way over the stick shift and then exit on the passenger side. The personalized license plate read: X RAY “Armpit!” X-Ray shouted as he crossed the street. “Armpit!”

	Have students make educational guesses about X-Ray.  Inferences may include that he is a reckless driver from the bashed in door, he is cheap or poor due to the fact that his car remains unfixed, and that his car is old and broken down.  Students can do a similar activity when they are first introduced to Kaira.  For example, her love of her pillow and stuffed animals as well as her desire to eat ice cream after every concert is perhaps an indication that she is childish.

The actual song will need to be bought from Itunes or provided from an alternate source.

“He breathed. The whole city was cool. In Texas, it was always really hot.”

Ask students to comment on this and see if they think this is a very interesting or descriptive sentence (they shouldn’t think so). Then, show them the original sentence:

	He took a deep breath of fresh ocean air.  It was like the whole city was air-conditioned.  There was also a freshness in the air that he didn’t get in Texas, where it seemed that the same hot and humid air stayed in one place all summer long, becoming more stale and stagnant by the minute.  

Do this activity a few more times with other sentences to have the students really see how much detail and descriptive vocabulary make a difference. Have students get into their set groups. Give them worksheets with very simple, non-descript sentences. An example might be:

    The girl was sad.  She was crying.  She wanted to go home.

	Have them work as classmates to revise these sentences to make them better anyway they see fit.  They can combine sentences, change vocabulary, and add detail.  An example of a possible revision of the last sentence would be:
	The girl was distraught.  Her eyes were puffy and red from crying, and she was desperate for home.

Have students share their sentences. Talk as a class about how much better the revised sentences are. Let them know that just like Louis Sachar uses these great details, they too can use strong details, particularly in their writing their personal narratives about either a very pleasant or a very unpleasant memory. Emphasize that it is much more interesting for the reader when the author is descriptive instead of just telling it simply. For next time, have students bring back their personal narratives with revisions. Instruct them to use more sensory detail and descriptive vocabulary to make their writing more interesting. Have them revise at least 5-7 sentences to make them better.

Armpit clearly states his goals at the very beginning and the very end of the novel. They are as follows: 1) Graduate from high school 2) Attend 2 years of Austin Community College 3) Do well enough to transfer to the University of Texas 4) Don’t do anything stupid 5) Lose the name Armpit

As the students are now finished reading the book, have a class discussion about Armpit’s achievement, or lack of achievement, of these goals. (Hint-he hasn’t yet achieved any of these!) Point out that although he has yet to reach these specific goals, Armpit has grown up and improved throughout the course of the novel. Have your students brainstorm about a time they failed to reach a goal, but didn’t actually fail because they learned so much and grew. Then have then write a timed-writing mini-essay on it.

Small steps “Cause I don’t know where I’m going Small steps, I just take it day by day. Small steps Somehow, get myself together, Then maybe I’ll discover Who I am along the way

Talk about the implications these lines have for characters in the book, specifically Armpit, Kaira, and X-Ray. What small steps have they taken to change? How have they discovered who they are? Then, have your students write their own stanza or two either to express how they as students have changed and grown up in their own lives. Have a set time for students to share if they desire. Have students hand in their stanzas for participation points for the day.

She didn’t say she would see him again, just if…Anyway, he couldn’t let his life revolve around Kaira DeLeon. Ask your students how they feel about this ending? Do they wish that Kaira and Armpit got to stay together in the end, or would that be too unrealistic and contrived? Have your students write an alternative ending describing what happens between the two of them. Maybe Armpit will profess his love to Kaira and promise to marry her when they are old enough, maybe he will be angry with her for leaving, or maybe he will end up with Tatiana after all.

	An officer grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back, spinning him around.

Discuss how these ideas grouped together in one sentence is a lot more effective than, say, the following:

The officer grabbed his arm. He twisted it behind his back. He spun him around.

It is a lot clearer, it flows, and it makes it more dramatic to have it structured the original way. Point out that the “spinning him around” is a participial phrase, and briefly discuss participial phrases, but don’t focus so much on terminology as on what using them can do for your writing. Then, have your students practice a sentence imitation activity. Have them write it with the structure of the original sentence, but with the subject of Armpit reacting to being assaulted by the police officer. An example might be:

	Armpit gasped and went numb, breaking out into a cold sweat.  

	Assign your students to go home and revise their personal narrative essays by combining some of their sentences using appositives.  Specify that they should include at least 3-4 appositives in their revision.

Retrieved from
Page last modified on February 16, 2009, at 10:47 PM