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A Teacher’s Guide for Grades 9-12:

Punching the Air

Meet Amal, a sixteen-year-old artist and poet convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, and follow along as this insightful young man uses his creativity to explore and unpack his emotions and experiences growing up in an unjust world, and maintaining resilience in the face of oppression. We chose this book for its nuanced exploration of some timely social and emotional themes: choices and consequences, systemic racism, criminal justice, artistic expression, family, and liberation. Students will find themselves making connections between Amal’s story and the contemporary movement for racial justice taking place across their nation.


Punching the Air uses free verse to tell the story of Amal Shahid as he navigates the racial injustices of the schooling and the criminal justice systems faced by young Black males. Amal is growing up in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood; one night, he and a group of his friends get into a conflict with a group of White boys hanging out on their basketball courts. After being accused of putting one of the White boys into a coma, Amal is arrested, taken to trial, found guilty, and sent to a juvenile detention facility. While incarcerated, Amal struggles to keep his spirit and dignity intact. In a system that seems bent on forcing him into submission and obedience, Amal uses his artistic voice as an outlet and resource for navigating the racism and violence he encounters, finding salvation and hope in his friends, family, and his irrepressible artistic expression.

Authors:  Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Our Reading with Relevance teacher’s guide breaks the novel into a series of thoughtful lesson plans. Each lesson is designed to support you to meaningfully explore the social and emotional themes of the day’s reading with your students, inspiring them to read deeply, think critically, talk openly, and write reflectively about topics that matter.

This teacher’s guide includes:

  • A facilitator’s guide with tips and resources for implementing the curriculum.
  • A map of Common Core Standards addressed through this program.
  • Twelve individual lesson plans, including vocabulary, discussion questions, journal prompts, extension activities, and all handouts.
  • Two assessments to monitor student progress throughout the program.
  • Regular checkpoints to help teachers assess their students’ progress on ELA standards.
  • A culminating essay-writing unit.

Pages: 90
Dimensions: 8.5″ x 11″



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