English Units


Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

Prefatory statement

The main focus of this unit is on Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War and its question “do we dare disturb the universe?”  Although The Chocolate War is set in a private all-boys school, the issues it calls attention to are relevant in all students’ lives.  Just a few of the topics to be explored in this book are: abuse of power, what makes a hero, loneliness, intimidation (peer pressure), relationships, rules, control, bullying, and courage. These issues loom especially large in our lives during adolescence.  During our teenage years we are worried about our self-image and about fitting in.  The choices we make are influenced as much as by those we see as enemies as by those we see as friends.  Perhaps more than any other time of life, adolescence is a time of worrying about what others think rather than worrying about doing what is right.   

It is important that adolescents are allowed to explore these issues in the relative safety of the classroom.  By focusing on characters’ problems in The Chocolate War, students can think of solutions and analyze consequences without exposing their own personal lives.  All adolescents will be able to think of situations in their own schools, lives, and families that parallel those of the characters in The Chocolate War.  We will also be exploring other types of literature about people who have “dared to disturb the universe,” including other short fiction works, poetry, and multicultural non-fiction about courageous people who were defiant in the face of the powers that be.  In order for students to take what we have discussed in The Chocolate War and apply it to their real lives, this unit also incorporates a panel discussion including parents and community members which will give students an opportunity to talk about issues of power, danger, intimidation, and rules in their neighborhoods and school.  Another way in which students will be able to use this information in their real lives in order to help others is through a class publishing project in which students create a handbook of guidelines for dealing with peer pressure and bullies that will be shared with the school and local libraries.  Students also have the choice of writing a play about bullying as an alternative to the handbook.

It is extremely important that adolescents explore what it means to stand up for themselves.  Not only is it important for students’ immediate lives, it is also important for their futures because these issues never completely go away.  As adults, we are often confronted with them and are called upon to make important decisions: who will we support, what will we do, what will our decisions cost us, what are we willing to do to make our world a safer place?  If students learn to take a stand during their high school years, they will be able to call on that knowledge and utilize it as adults. 

Class Specification

This unit is appropriate for ninth through twelfth grade; however, for those students in the upper grades who have already read The Chocolate War, a different book on the same subject matter can be substituted.  Some suggestions are: Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Jumping the Nail by Eve Bunting, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, or The Fog by Caroline Cooney.  This unit is appropriate for all groups and students of any socio-economic background because all students experience or witness bullying and/or peer pressure.  Students who are interested in finding a way to combat these issues and who like working in small groups will especially enjoy this unit.  Because of the topics discussed in this unit and found in The Chocolate War, it might be a good idea to send a letter home to parents about the unit’s content.

Significant Assumptions  For this unit, I am assuming that:

Desired Outcomes/Standards/Objectives to be met:

1.  To write about their feelings and thoughts about a work of literature

2.  To select important information out of reading

3.  To study multicultural works and generate presentations about them

4.  To examine an artwork in order to write about it

5.  To create an artistic representation of an important issue in a work of literature

6.  To appraise their own work and that of others and compile chosen works to create one large work

Possible Whole-Class Activities

Possible Small-Group Activities

*Adapted from: http://www.classzone.com/novelguides/litcons/chocolat/guide.cfm

*Adapted from: http://www.classzone.com/novelguides/litcons/chocolat/guide.cfm

Possible Individual Activities

*Adapted from: http://www.classzone.com/novelguides/litcons/chocolat/guide.cfm

Ongoing Activities

Student Resources

Organization of the Unit


Lesson Plan 1: Unit Launch/Anticipatory Set/Set Induction

An “Assignment,” Vigil Style

Objective/Standard:  By the end of this lesson, students will have learned:

1.  To scrutinize the types of feelings bullies cause in their victims

2.  To examine and write about their own experiences with bullies/peer pressure

Materials needed:  The teacher will need a marble for each student in class.  They should all be the same color except for one (remember in The Chocolate War, five are white and one is black).  These should be put in a box or other container. 


Homework:  Students will write a letter to their past or present selves about worries they had/have about an enemy/bully/intimidator at school.  What would they have said or say to themselves?  How would they encourage themselves?



For the rest of WEEK ONE:

might be considered offensive.  Although The Chocolate War is used often in classrooms, the teacher might want to send permission slips home to parents.  They should also be notified that this unit is about bullying and peer pressure.

Sample permission slip:

Dear Parent/Guardian,

      This week in English 9 we will be starting a unit on bullying and peer pressure called “Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?”  The main focus of this unit will be on Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War.  Issues we will be exploring include the definition of a bully and the bullying mindset, peer pressure, the effects of peer pressure, nonconformity, courage, and our experiences and feelings about all of these things.  I know these are emotional subjects for some students, but our classroom is a safe place for examination of those emotions.  Please call or email me if you have any questions or concerns.  Thank you.


                                                                                                                  Your signature


I give my permission for _______________________________ to read The Chocolate War

                                          Student’s name

for the English 9 unit called “Do I Dare Disturb the Universe.”


Signature of Parent/Guardian                                                                                                                        

Quotes to start the courage bulletin board:

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
                                                                                      --Ambrose Redmoon

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle.  The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.”
Ayn Rand

*Quotes from: http://www.inspirationpeak.com/courage.html

Discussion questions chapters 1-10

  1. What affect did the first sentence have on you?  Why did the author use it? (ask this question again after reading the whole book)
  2. Do you feel you have to stay on the good side of anyone in your life?  Why?
  3. What would you do/how would you feel if you found out someone was keeping private information about you? (like Obie’s notebook)
  4. Why is the man at the bus stop contemptuous of Jerry?  What does he mean when he tells him he’s “missing a lot in the world?”
  5. Who is Brother Leon?
  6. Why does everyone in the school ignore the Vigils?
  7. Why does Goober have to comply with the assignment?  What would you do?
  8. What kind of a teacher is Brother Leon?  Have you ever seen a teacher pick on a student?  Have you ever been picked on by a teacher?  What did the rest of the class do?
  9. Do you know anyone with any of Emile’s characteristics?
  10. Why do they choose to pick on Brother Eugene?
  11. Jerry feels like he can’t talk to his father.  How could he remedy the situation?  Do you ever feel that way?  How could you remedy the situation?
  12. What have you had to sell for school fundraisers?  Have you felt any pressure to sell?

Lesson Plan 2: Bullies Big and Small

Objective/Standard:  By the end of this lesson, students will have learned:

  1. To explain the different types of bullying—not only small children are bullied
  2. To examine why bullies torment others
  3. To describe how bullies choose their victims

Materials needed:

An excellent website about bullying is found at http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/bully.htm.

The teacher should run off copies of “The Twelve Types of Bullying,” “How Bullies Select Their Targets,” and “Why Do People Bully.”  Also needed: a clip of “Nelson,” the bully from The Simpsons.


Example of sheets:  1.   Name and describe 5 types of bullying




Discussion questions chapters 10-20

  1. Were you aware of the fact that bullying can have a horrible affect on adults just as it does on kids? 
  2. Should Jerry have said no to selling the chocolates? 
  3. How much school spirit should we have?  Where should we draw the line? 
  4. Should you make sacrifices for your school?
  5. Paul and “Tubs” have humiliating experiences selling chocolates.  What have been your experiences with fundraisers?
  6. What makes Brother Leon a bully?
  7. Do you think the world is made up of either victims or victimizers?  Explain.
  8. How does Brother Leon bribe David Caroni?  Would someone be able to bribe you with a grade?
  9. Why does Jerry refuse to sell the chocolates after the assignment is over?
  10. Does Jerry really have a choice whether or not he sells the chocolates?
  11. Jerry feels sick every morning because he has to face Leon.  What physical symptoms of the stress of speaking up for yourself have you suffered?
  12. Should the teachers do something about the Vigils?  If they were in your school, would you want them to?

Lesson Plan 3: Photographs for Inspiring Writing

Taken from English Journal, Volume 89, Number 5, May 2000

“Teaching Empathy through Ecphrastic Poetry: Entering a Curriculum of Peace” by Nancy Gorrell

Objective/Standard:  By the end of this lesson, students will have learned:

  1. To examine a compelling photograph and formulate a response to it in the form of poetry
  2. To examine a photograph or piece of artwork of their own choosing and creating a poem in response to it.

Materials needed:  The teacher will need a copy of the famous picture of the little Polish boy with his hands raised, with a Nazi soldier holding a gun standing behind him, from Warsaw, 1943.  The teacher will also need a copy of the poem by Peter L. Fischl about the picture.

Note:   This lesson would also work with another photograph/artwork that causes strong emotion in the viewer.


  1. Show students the picture of the Polish boy.
  2. Discuss the history behind the photograph.
  3. Discussion questions (adapted from Gorrell’s article):  If you could speak to the boy, what would you say?  If you could speak to someone else in the picture, what would you say?  What do you think any one of the people in the photograph were saying at the time? 
  4. Give students time to write a poem about the photograph—either addressed to one of the people in the picture, or from the viewpoint of someone in the picture.
  5. Ask if anyone wants to share their poem.
  6. Read Peter Fischl’s poem out loud.
  7. Ask if students have questions.  If there is time, discuss Jan Karski, a part of the Polish underground resistance to the Nazis and what he told Pres. Roosevelt.  Explain what Roosevelt said to him in response. 

Homework:  Students will find a photograph/artwork/memorial that strongly affects them, and write a poem about it, from the point-of-view of a person in the photograph, etc., or to someone in the artwork.  Give students a couple of days to complete this assignment.  Give time for sharing and revision in small groups.




Discussion questions chapters 20-30

  1. Why is it cool to be in the Vigils?
  2. Obie obviously does not like Archie or being in the Vigils.  Why does he stay?
  3. Brother Leon says sales are down because of apathy.  Is that true?
  4. Is trying to get the students to sell chocolates just a game?  Why or why not?
  5. Did Jerry become a symbol to other students?
  6. Who or what in your life encourages you to stand up for yourself?  Who do you wish encouraged you?
  7. Who or what gives the Vigils such power?
  8. Do you think Jerry should begin selling the chocolates?
  9. Carter punches Rollo when he talks back to Archie.  What can we do when faced with the threat of physical violence?
  10. Is the quote “All schools [have] animals” true?
  11. What would you do if someone sabotaged your work?
  12. How would the dynamics of Trinity change if it was a co-ed school?


Discussion questions for last nine chapters:

1. Why do people get caught up in a herd mentality?

2.“Funny—someone does violence to you but you’re the one who has to hide, as if you’re the criminal.”  Is this true?  What are some real life examples?

  1. Should Jerry tell his dad what’s going on?
  2. What’s the difference between a spirit of brotherhood and what the boys of Trinity have?
  3. Have you ever been in a fight?  Did it solve the problem?
  4. Did Jerry have to go to the field for the fight?   
  5. What would you have done in Jerry’s situation? 
  6. Has Jerry really given up? 
  7. To what lengths would you go to stand up for something? 
  8. How do you feel after the ending?
  9. Does this story leave us with any hope at all? 
  10. What would Gandhi have said about Jerry?  Nelson Mandela? Others from presentations?  What would you say to Jerry?  Will Jerry change his mind after he heals?


Assessment  for unit

  1. Peer response journals
  2. Bullying information sheets
  3. Webquest—independent research and presentation
  4. In-class poem/Poem on artwork
  5. Concrete representation of Chocolate War issue
  6. Handbook or play

Point distribution:  300 points total                                                   90-100% A

Peer response journals 25 pts.                                                              80-89%   B

Letter to past self 10 pts.                                                                      70-79%   C

Bullying info. sheets 10 pts.                                                                   60-69%   D

Webquest independent research 50 pts.

Webquest presentation 25 pts.

In-class poem 10 pts.

Poem on artwork 25 pts.

Concrete rep. of Chocolate War issue 30 pts.

Handbook or play: individual contributions (each student contributes 2 pieces) 75 pts.

Handbook or play finished product 40 pts.

Criteria for bullying handbook:

  1. The first piece:  This can be something the student has already worked on for an assignment, but it must meet the group’s approval before it will be added to the handbook.  If it does not, the student can work on it until it does.  A good idea would be to include some info. from the Webquest projects, but it is up to the students whether or not they will use it.

       2.  The second piece: This must be a piece created outside class or during independent group         time.  Students must use at least 2 reference sources (only one website, journal articles,        

books, etc.) in order to complete this assignment.  Students will need to decide together what they should be working on for this assignment.

Criteria for bullying/peer pressure play:

  1. A clear introduction to the situation/conflict that will take place.
  2. A logical body section.
  3. A conclusion or resolution for the conflict or situation.
  4. It must somehow incorporate the class anti-bullying motto.
  5. Students should aim for a half-hour play, or more time if needed.
  1. The first piece: Everyone MUST contribute a portion of writing to the play.  The most logical way for this to be done is that each student writes his or her lines to be spoken in the play.  Students must decide on who gets what role.
  2. The second piece: Students should decide which of their in-class assignments could be incorporated into the play, and how.  Everyone must incorporate at least one of their assignments.  For example, a student could use his multicultural information to create a portion of the play.  Students could use a story board format, with each person describing a piece.

Supporting Materials for teachers who teach the unit:

Gorrell, Nancy. English Journal, Volume 89, Number 5, May 2000. “Teaching Empathy through Ecphrastic Poetry: Entering a Curriculum of Peace.”

Websites on bullying:



Websites on Columbine:



Brown, Brooks and Rob Merritt. No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine. 2002.  Chapters 5 and 7 contain information about bullying at Columbine from a former student’s point-of-view.

“Courage” by Anne Sexton

It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.

Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo. (1)

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

. . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,   
I am no prophet--and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

. . . . .

No! I am not Prince Hamlet,nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . .I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

*Taken directly from (has good explanations of allusions in poem and Italian quote at beginning) http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/eliot.html