The Freedom Writer's Diary is a moving account from students in a high school class in California. The book is made up entirely of their journals, which were written with encouragement from their teacher Erin Gruwell. The format of anonymous journal entries will probably be unfamiliar to your students, and you should have a class discussion on how the anonymity contributes to or detracts from the book's message. The entries contain difficult subject matter, but are about the actual experiences of high schoolers and can be used to discuss these controversial topics in a healthy manner.

While reading this book, your class can create its own freedom writers diary by your having students keep journals or anonymously post entries into a group computer file. This activity will allow students to hone their creative writing skills and gain a better understanding of their fellow classmates' lives. Your class can also read the same books that Gruwell's students did, which will help your class see how The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata's Diary could have such a profound effect. Reading those books alongside The Freedom Writers Diary can also prompt class discussion on violence and race in America.

Summary

Erin Gruwell is a first-year English teacher at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California when she intercepts a note containing a racist caricature, which she compares to Nazi propaganda. When she is met with uncomprehending stares because few of her "unteachable" at-risk students know about the Holocaust, Gruwell uses Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo to teach her students about intolerance. Her students see parallels between the books and their own lives. The Freedom Writers Diary is a nonfiction compilation of the students' anonymous diary entries that reveal the teenagers' hardships and how they overcome difficulties during their four years in high school.

Content Warning

The Freedom Writers Diary contains strong language, racial epithets, violence, abuse, abortion, and drug use.

Objectives for Teaching
The Freedom Writers Diary

  • Discuss what makes a good teacher and how school systems can foster or inhibit excellence in teaching.
  • Discuss the dangers students of Wilson High School face on a daily basis and how different students react to those dangers.
  • Gain an understanding of racial tensions existing in America today and develop comments on overcoming these tensions.
  • Discuss the role of anonymity in this book, including whether using numbered entries instead of names makes the experiences seem more universal or takes away from the forward momentum that tracing a given student's history might have offered.
  • Cite and discuss the qualities that allow these students to defy the expectations that they would fail.
  • Comment on the double standard on behavior by males and females as cited in this book, and evaluate ways the double standard is perpetuated.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Autobiography
  • Dialect
  • Foreshadowing
  • Hyperbole
  • Irony
  • Memoir
  • Personification

Themes and Motifs

  • Education — Many of the students in Gruwell's class were unmotivated and had no desire to learn, but she helped them discover the power of reading and writing.
  • Individual and Society — While many students felt like it was them versus the world, Gruwell showed them that there were people that were on their side and rooting for them.
  • Success —  Many students in Gruwell's class were seen as lost causes, but she saw the potential in them and helped them succeed in their academics.

Related Works

Theme of Education

 

Theme of Individual and Society

 

Theme of Success

Key Facts

  • Length: 304 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 900
  • Publication Date: 1999
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Awards

  • New York Times Bestseller

Movies

A film adaptation titled Freedom Writers was released in 2007, starring Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell. The movie is similar in plotline to the book, but offers a personal look into Erin Gruwell's life and makes some students more central to the storyline.

Your students will love:

  • Reading stories from the point of view of other students
  • Being inspired to start their own journals about their life experiences

Students may have problems with:

  • The similar-sounding voices of the journal entries
  • The violence in some of the student journals; their stories are true, and some students may find that hard to deal with.

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.