Full of fear, suffering, and hope for redemption, Beah's memoir will introduce students to the life of a child soldier during a civil war in Sierra Leone. This story of survival will leave readers wondering what they would do in Beah's situation, and allow understanding for the actions of Beah and his friends as they travel from village to village, both as wanderers and as soldiers.

A lesson should be dedicated to Sierra Leone, its culture, and its history of political unrest, as well as the Revolutionary United Front and UNICEF so students have complete understanding of their roles. A lesson on the psychology of child soldiers—how they are intimidated and brainwashed into taking up arms, they trauma they endure, and their difficult transition to civilian life—will help students understand Beah's actions and resilience.

1. Summarize A Long Way Gone

While Ishmael Beah performs in a rap group with friends in a neighboring village, rebel forces attack his home. With nowhere to go, Beah and his friends travel from place to place in search of food, shelter, and allies. As each day passes, the boys become increasingly hostile, and they find themselves in situations that force them to forgo their morals in order to survive. Although they are able to avoid capture and execution multiple times, the boys are eventually conscripted into the army. The other soldiers become their family, and the boys adopt their violent way of life as they train and carry out orders to attack villages just like Beah's. After the boys have fought, killed, and become addicted to drugs, they are brought to UNICEF. During Beah's rehabilitation, he realizes that redemption is possible, and he is invited to tell his story to the United Nations in order to raise awareness of the turmoil in his country.

Content Warning: This memoir contains graphic violence, drug use, and some profanity.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching A Long Way Gone:

  • Understand how the need for survival might drive people to act in ways that would otherwise be uncharacteristic of their nature.
  • Compare and contrast Beah's role as a refugee and as a soldier.
  • Discuss redemption and whether it is easier to achieve forgiveness from others or oneself.
  • Trace Beah's character development as he becomes a model child soldier to an advocate for survivors.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Length: 229 pages
  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Lexile Measure: 920
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9–10
  • This memoir was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work as a Debut Author.

Literary Elements

  • Foreshadowing
  • Historical Present
  • Memoir
  • Symbolism

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Displacement/Feelings of Disassociation — Once Beah loses his village to violence, he is a refugee. He is able to feel some sense of belonging in the army but is otherwise without a home until the end of memoir, and even then his stability is constantly threatened.
  • Identity and Oppression — Beah assumes many roles: friend, brother, rapper, refugee, soldier, advocate, and survivor. When the soldiers attack, they send the message that you are either with them or against them, and their brainwashing tactics remove individuality.
  • Overcoming Hardships — Beah is able to survive wandering among villages looking for shelter as well as the training and combat his superiors put him through. Not only that, he is able to turn his life around from suffering to advocacy.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Displacement/Feelings of Disassociation

Theme of Identity and Oppression

Theme of Overcoming Hardships

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • Learning about the current events in Sierre Leone.
  • Beah's uplifting story of courage and redemption.

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • The numerous instances of graphic violence.
  • Relating to unsympathetic characters.

9. Order A Long Way Gone Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
A Long Way Gone Paperback Student Edition

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