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A Teacher’s Guide for Grades 4-6:


Meet 11-year-old Ellie–a big, beautiful girl with a big, beautiful heart–and witness her powerful self-growth journey to take up space, find her voice, stand up for herself, and claim her power over the bullies who torment her–both at school and at home. We chose this book for its thoughtful attention to some heartfelt social and emotional themes: bullying and shaming, anti-fat bias, therapy and self-growth, family and complexity, and support systems. Students will find themselves inspired and moved by Ellie’s evolution toward radical self-love; this book will help young people make connections between Ellie’s experiences with bullying and their own.


Starfish is an important, award-winning novel in verse about Ellie, a sixth-grade girl navigating persistent exposure to anti-fat shaming and bullying–both at school and at home. Ellie is a talented writer and poet, an avid swimmer, and a caring friend, but she is deeply affected by the ongoing hostility toward her body that she encounters at every turn. This includes persistent shaming and hurtful comments from her mom, constant teasing by her older siblings, daily bullying from her classmates at school, and even random cruelty from strangers when she’s out in the world. In order to cope, Ellie creates a set of “Fat Girls Rules”—ways she’s learned to minimize herself, become invisible, and take up less space. She hopes these rules will save her from the soul-crushing bullying she receives, but she never seems to escape torment, despite her efforts. When Ellie’s father sees how deeply Ellie has been affected by bullying, he sends her to a therapist; while Ellie is initially resistant to the idea, the book chronicles her journey of growing self-awareness, including changing the way she speaks to herself internally, learning to take up space, using her voice to stand up for herself, and ultimately, claiming her power through radical self-love.

Author:  Lisa Fipps

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.
  • 9 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-building unit.
  • An appendix with additional teaching resources and activities to continue exploring this novel.

Pages: 74
Dimensions: 8.5″ x 11″


Companion Student Workbook:


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