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Putting Books to Work: WANT TO GO PRIVATE?

by Judith A. Hayn, Karina R. Clemmons & Heather Olvey
 | Dec 03, 2013

WANT TO GO PRIVATE? (Scholastic, 2011)
By Sarah Darer Littman
Grades 7 through 12

Putting Books to Work: Want to Go Private?Abby is a seemingly typical 14-year-old girl whose story begins as she discusses her fears about starting high school the next day with her best friend, Faith. Faith, however, is excited about this next step in their lives and she embraces high school and new friends with enthusiasm, leaving Abby to feel more and more isolated. Add to the mix parents who don’t understand and an annoying popular little sister, and you have the perfect set-up for an insecure teen to look elsewhere for validation. And look elsewhere she does. She innocently runs into an avatar in a teen chat room who tells her his name is Luke.

Despite Faith’s warnings and her own apprehension about breaking basic Internet safety rules, she quickly reveals more and more about herself to this stranger. As Luke continually agrees with and compliments Abby, she feels closer to him, which enables her to justify doing things that she knows she shouldn’t. Thanks to Luke’s careful grooming Abby convinces herself that Luke is the only person who cares about her, and before long she is head-over-heals in love with him. Abby decides to meet Luke, thus changing her first-person narrative of the story to the points of view of other characters desperately searching for Abby when she disappears.

In the second part of the book the readers see how those around Abby judge her actions as they come to realize that Abby is not just missing, but she voluntarily left with an Internet stranger. Since Abby is a smart girl no one can understand why she would break every common sense safety rule. Will Abby be found, and if so, will she ever feel normal again? This is a gritty and disturbing book that leaves the reader wondering why so many of Abby’s behavior changes did not cause more reaction from her parents, teachers, and friends before it got to the point of no return. Reading this book will educate teens about how critically important online privacy is. The book’s vital message also begs parents and teachers to take a more active role in teaching Internet safety to their children/students, as well as making adults aware of their roles in noticing the children around them and paying attention to dramatic changes in behavior. 

Note: There are some scenes that are sexually explicit and may be emotionally difficult to read, so we would like to offer a word of caution for younger readers.  

Cross-curricular Connections: English Language Arts, Health, Technology

Ideas for Classroom Use:

Creating Tables Outlining Abby’s Safety Risks

Assign students to small groups of two to three. In their groups, students should discuss their individual reading notes and compile a two-column data table (template provided below). On one side of the table, students should list at least three of Abby’s safety risks in her online chats with Luke, the acquaintance she has befriended online. For each corresponding risk listed on the left side of the table, students should list possible ways Abby could avoid those risks on the right side of the table. If the computer lab has been scheduled, students can use presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Prezi (available at to create their charts to present to the class. After students have finished their charts in their groups, display all the tables for the class to see. Discuss student contributions as a class. After the class discussion, each group should add at least one more row to their charts.

Abby’s health and safety risks in online chats with Luke Possible ways Abby could avoid the stated risk
Abby tells Luke her real name.
Use a non-identifying screen name only and don’t tell online contacts your real name.



Rewriting Chat Transcripts

Assign students to a pair. Have each pair of students choose three of the chat transcripts from Chapters 1-5 of the novel and write an alternate script in which Abby’s character would refuse Luke’s requests or negotiate a different outcome. If time in the school media center has been scheduled, students can compose and publish their alternate chat scripts to an online class wiki program such as PBWorks available at to leave an online reference for students to refer to in the future.
Students should share with the class by role-playing the safer chat transcripts they have created.

Designing Bulletin Boards

As a pre-reading activity, guide students to think about who they were as elementary students. Have them design a bulletin board depicting their prior interests using poster board.  They can use photographs, images from magazines, or their own illustrations. The pre-reading bulletin boards can be displayed in the classroom; however, wait until the post-reading activity to have students discuss and share with one another.

After students have finished reading the book, ask them to think about who they are now. Point out that Abby changed throughout the novel, and that Abby’s bulletin board described on page 230 in WANT TO GO PRIVATE? is probably not the same as one she would create at the end of the book. Direct students to design a new bulletin board that shows who they are now. If technology is available, students can use online software such as to create their bulletin boards. When students present to the class, have them show their “elementary bulletin boards” as well as their “present day bulletin boards.” Students should compare and contrast the before and after bulletin boards and share specific events in their lives that have been transformative.

Additional Resources and Activities:

Littman has created a website based on the name of the teen chat room where Abby meets Luke in the book. Chezteen  is not only full of information on Internet safety, it also has teaching and discussion guides for educators to engage students with the content of the novel. The teaching guide has questions for discussion and vocabulary lists for each chapter of WANT TO GO PRIVATE?

Guide to Safe Surfing
Once adolescents become more aware of the potential dangers online after reading the book, the next step is to educate them in Internet safety. Purdue University’s Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security has developed this “Guide to Safe Surfing.” It is geared toward middle school students to help them navigate the Internet. Using the theme of surfing, it is divided into three sections, “Treading Water,” “Standing Up,” and “Surfing.” The first section deals mainly with a background on the Internet and related vocabulary words. The second segment teaches students how to use the Web and email effectively, and the third section exposes students to an understanding of Internet safety issues and ethical behavior online.

Scope and Sequence
Common Sense Media has a program on their website called Scope and Sequence. The program is a series of lesson plans for grades K-12 that covers a myriad of topics related to Internet interaction, including cyberbullying, privacy, reputation, and safety. There are several units containing multiple lessons for grades 6-8 and 9-12.

C3 Matrix
The handout discusses the difference between cybersafety, cybersecurity, and cyberethics, and serves as a useful resource for teaching adolescents about being responsible citizens online.

Additional Texts Containing Themes of Internet Interaction:

Kilbourne, Christina (2007). DEAR JO: THE STORY OF LOSING LEAH...AND SEARCHING FOR HOPE. Lobster Press.
Lange, Erin Jade. (2012). BUTTER. Bloomsbury.
Myracle, Lauren (2005). TTYL (Internet Girls Series #1). Amulet Books.
Myracle, Lauren (2007). TTFN : TA-TA FOR NOW (Internet Girls Series #2). Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Myracle, Lauren (2008). L8R, G8R(Internet Girls Series #3). Amulet Books.
Peters, Julie Anne (2010). BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I’LL BE DEAD. Hyperion / DBG.

© 2013 Judith A. Hayn, Karina R. Clemmons & Heather Olvey. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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