• Nickel and Dimed

    by Barbara Ehrenreich Year Published: 2001

    Our sharpest and most original social critic goes "undercover" as an unskilled worker to reveal the dark side of American prosperity.

    Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you int to live indoors.

    Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich's perspective and for a rare view of how "prosperity" looks from the bottom. You will never see anything -- from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal -- in quite the same way again.

    Taken from : Amazon.com
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    1. Read Nickel and Dimed

     2. Be on the look-out for events and quotes related to these major THEMES:





    The importance of education 

     3. Complete the Required Assignment from the center square of the Choice Board. (Directions for this activity can be found below).

     4. Choose TWO additional projects to complete from the five other choices on the Choice Board.

    • Each project is numbered to correspond with the directions.

     5. Complete a total of three assignments prior to the first day of school. Use the criteria and grading rubric to guide you! 



    • Complete the Required Assignment in the center square. Directions are below.
    • Choose TWO additional projects to complete from the other choices on the board.
    • Each project is numbered to correspond with the directions.
    • Complete a total of three assignments prior to the first day of school. Use the criteria and grading rubric to guide you.




    You have your own copy of the book so do what active readers do: Mark it up!

    Objective: Actively read Nickel and Dimed and show evidence of your thinking by highlighting passages, lines or words. Make you thinking visible by including notations that explain why you chose each of your selections.

    Note: All of your work will be completed in the pages of your copy of the book!

    Criteria for Success

    Highlight at least two significant passages, lines or words per chapter.

    Record your notes in the book’s margins, or on post-it notes. (If you use post-it notes, be sure to keep them on the appropriate pages in the book.)

    Consider, but do not limit yourself to ideas related to these major THEMES: choices, opportunities, support, fate and the importance of education.



    Highlight a Passage: Highlight quotes, lines, words that you feel are powerful or important. Take notes explaining why you chose these lines.

    Important or confusing words: Highlight words that you feel are powerful or confusing and jot down a side note explaining why you highlighted it and possible meanings.

    Questions: Highlight areas that may be confusing or you want to know more about. Record questions in the side notes that you have about author’s intentions, things that are confusing; things that you want to know more about, motives, intentions of people in the book…

    Connect: Highlight areas that you can make a connection with. Make a connection to the text. (Book to book, book to society, book to life, book to music, book to movie, book to history…) Take side notes on why or how you made this connection

    Predict: Make a prediction and record it in the side notes. Highlight areas that support your prediction.

    Summarize: Summarize sections of the book that relate to a theme or are confusing. Highlight the area that you are summarizing. 



    Wes Moore allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about why people fail and succeed in life. By interviewing others and learning about their successes and or failures you can develop a clearer understanding of Wes’s messages and learn from others in your community.

    Objective: To interview three- five people and analyze data from your interviews in order to draw your own conclusions about why people succeed and/ or fail in life.

    Criteria for Success

    Select three- five people who have diverse experiences, ages, backgrounds, cultures.

    Use the interview questions/worksheet found on the following page. You will need to make copies of the worksheet, or record the responses on a separate sheet of paper.

    Responses for each interview should be submitted on the worksheet, as a typed or written transcript, or as a video or audio recording.

    In addition to the interview questions, write a well -developed one paragraph (typed) reflection, explaining the conclusions you can draw about what is necessary to overcome adversity and achieve success in life. Use relevant examples from your interviews and from the text to support your findings.





    Complete the following about the person you are interviewing:

    Name: _________________________________________________________ Age: ______ Gender: ________

    How do you know this person? ___________________________________________________________________

    Highest Education Level: High School Diploma College Degree Graduate Degree Other: ________

    Occupation:____________________ Marital Status:___________________ Number of Children: _________

    Race/ethnicity: _______________________ Religion: ___________________ Country of birth:______________

    Ancestors' Country of Birth: ___________________________ Languages Spoken: _________________________

    1.What is your definition of the American Dream?

    2. What is one major goal you have set for yourself to help you get closer to your dreams for the future?

    3. How has it been difficult for you to achieve this goal? Why?

    4. In what ways does our system (political/economic/educational) help make your goals easy to achieve?

    5. What are/ were the expectations set for you by others growing up?

    6. What expectations do you have for yourself?

    7. How do you think your environment has helped or hindered you in achieving your goals?

    8. How much do the characteristics you inherit play a role in achieving your goals?

    9. Have you always held yourself accountable for your own choices and decisions? How does holding yourself

    accountable impact your actions/ choices differently than if you do not take responsibility for your actions/ choices?

    10. If you knew then what you know now, what is one thing that you would have done differently in life?




    Reflect on the themes in the book (choice, opportunity, support, fate, education) and how they relate to you. Imagine that you are writing a book about your own life. If someone flipped through your book and read a page out of it, what would it say?

    Objective: Write a well- written page (both sides of one page written or one page single-spaced typed) out of your own book depicting a moment in your life that connects with a major theme in the book using appropriate elements of writing.

    Criteria for Success

    You are required to use relevant details about a time in your life that connects with one of the major themes in the book.

    Explain the lesson you learned looking back on that moment. Be sure that your voice and personality can be heard in your writing.

    Use relevant language, dialogue, and point of view to make the page out of your book as realistic as possible. (Use Wes Moore’s writing style as a model)

    Minimum of one full page typed-single spaced (or two pages double spaced).

    Last but not least… Create a thoughtful title for your book and place it at the top of the page.


    The more creative the better!



    What’s in a song…?

    Choose one of the following options

    Option 1: Create a CD

    Objective: To analyze and identify the main themes in a novel and connect it to songs that share the same theme embedded in its lyrics.

    Criteria for Success

    Select a minimum of two songs that speak to the themes of the book The Other Wes Moore. The theme or topic should be different for each.

    Submit the songs on CD or other digital media

    Design a cover for the CD case, which depicts your chosen theme.

    Create a CD insert which includes the song lyrics and a one page well-written or typed analysis explaining how each song conveys the themes you identified in The Other Wes Moore. Use specific and relevant details from the text to support your connections about what these songs might be saying about the lives of both Wes Moore’s.


    Option 2: Compose a song

    Objective: To analyze and identify the main themes in a novel and compose a song that shares the same themes embedded in its lyrics.


    The lyrics must represent a major theme(s) or message(s) in Nickel and Dimed

    Submit the song lyrics and a written or typed reflection explaining what themes/messages this song conveys in connection to the text. Use specific and relevant details from the text to support your connections about what these songs might be saying about the messages in the book.

    Extra Credit: Perform the song in class or create a video or audio recording to share.


    The more creative the better!


    Taking on the persona of the other Wes Moore

    Objective: Take on the persona of Barbara Ehrenreich, and write a well- written letter to her children explaining to them what she hopes they can learn from his experiences.

    Criteria for Success

    Proper letter format ( Your address, date, greeting, body, salutation, see sample set-up below)

    Your audience is Barbara's children

    When taking on the persona of someone you are in many ways becoming that person for that moment.

    Include specific details and examples from the Barbara's experiences that will support your ideas and explanations.


    222 Name Street

    City, MA 01850


    August 15, 2012


    Dear Name,


    Introduction Paragraph


    Body Paragraph(s)


    Conclusion Paragraph




    The more creative the better!




    Works of literature often have many themes embedded in the text.

    Objective: Analyze and identify the major themes in the book and select an artistic medium to express your ideas regarding this theme.

    Criteria for Success

    Select an artistic medium to express your ideas and creative interpretation of at least one major theme in the book. Some possibilities to consider: Sculpture/3D model, poem, painting, collage, video creation, drawing, scrapbook…

    Pay close attention to the messages Wes Moore is trying to relay to the reader.


    (Consider his use of language, word choice and imagery in order to draw inspiration from his words)

    Include one well –written or typed paragraph explaining the theme that you are depicting in your art and how it connects to The Other Wes Moore. Use specific and relevant details from the text to show the connection between the book and your project.





Last Modified on May 5, 2016