CommonLit Secondary Classrooms Decipher Code Talker in Your Classroom with CommonLit’s Book Pairing

Use historic texts and literary resources to engage students and deepen their understanding as they read Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac.

The CommonLit digital literacy program offers over one hundred Book Pairings that help students build reading comprehension. Book Pairings allow a class to do a deep dive into a particular novel. Pairings include information about the new text, where in the book to introduce the text to students, and discussion questions to bring the novel and the supplemental passage together. Our online reading program boosts students' engagement, and our high-quality lessons and reading assessments align with ELA standards.

Code Talker is a historical fiction novel by Joseph Bruchac. Bruchac is an Indigenous author known for his poetry and prose on the indigenous experience. He is a recipient of the American Indian Youth Literature Award and a Life Time Achievement from the Native Writer’s Circle of the Americas.

Code Talker follows the life of Ned Begay, a 16-year-old Navajo boy who becomes a code talker for World War II. When Ned hears that Navajos are being recruited, he jumps at the chance to join the Marine Corps and finds himself brought into a secret program that uses Navajo language to send unbreakable codes. This historical fiction story is based on a real program established during World War II where Navajo code talkers played a crucial role in encrypting vital wartime communications.  

Supplementary Information about World War II

In order for students to comprehend the complexities of war, CommonLit offers four informational texts about the world wars. The selection of texts spans unique events and perspectives surrounding World War II. In the classroom, emphasize the different perspectives on war seen in both Code Breaker and these texts.

Cracking Code Purple” by Anna Ouchchy (7th grade)

This informational text explains the code-breaking process during World War II. Specifically, it highlights the discovery made by pioneer female cryptanalyst Genevieve Grotjan, who deciphered a complex message from Japanese diplomats.

Have students read this informational text after they finish Chapter 12 when Ned attends code school. Ask students to discuss why developing codes and being able to crack them was essential to the war.  

Screenshot of the lesson page for "Cracking Code Purple"

A Flag that Honors War Veterans” by Shawn E. Hanscom (6th grade)

In this informational text, Shawn E. Hanscom discusses the creation of the first Service Flag and what it represents. Created during World War I, the flag represents the support of family members for their loved ones currently enlisted and loved ones that have died at war.

Introduce this text about honoring soldiers in war after Chapter 21, when Ned sees firsthand the casualties of war. Ask students to discuss the costs of war. Some questions to prompt classroom discussion include, what are Ned’s experiences while he’s in Guam? How do Service Flags help acknowledge all that soldiers do when they go to war? How do students think Ned and the other Marines would feel about Americans putting up Service Flags for them back home?

The Bombing of Hiroshima” by Jessica McBirney (6th grade)

In this informational text, Jessica McBirney describes the United States' use of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. She focuses on the casualties and mentions the moral quandaries behind the use of atomic bombs.

Have students read this text after Chapter 28, when Ned describes the bombing of Hiroshima. In the novel, Ned states how many people were killed by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. What were some of the other consequences of the atomic bombs? How does Ned feel about the bombing of Hiroshima? Giving students the opportunity to talk about what they’ve read is a great way to build reading comprehension skills!

Army Code Talkers” by The United States Government (6th grade)

In the informational text "Army Code Talkers," the author discusses how Native American soldiers developed codes based on their native languages to be used in WWI and WWII. The article explains that Native American code talkers were not acknowledged for the vital role they played in the world wars until 2002.

Have students read this text after they finish the book to provide them with supplementary details about Native American code talkers. In the novel, the author focuses on code talkers in the Pacific during World War II. How do the novel and the informational text portray Native Americans’ experiences upon coming home from war? How has the treatment and acknowledgment of Native American veterans changed over time?

Literature on the Native American Experience in the United States

The Indigenous experience in the United States is a diverse and complex one. The following paired texts expand on the history of strife and the traditions that have persisted despite that.

Screenshot of the Book Pairing page for Code Talker

Excerpt from Trail of Tears Diary” by Jobe Alexander & Mary Hill (8th grade)

This document shares two interviews that reveal the extraordinary resilience and terrible heartache of the Native American Nations during the Trail of Tears. Many Native Americans suffered from disease during this time, and somewhere between 2,000-6,000 Cherokee died on the trail.

Use this informational text as additional historical context before students begin the novel. While the informational text is not specifically about the Navajo, Ned’s tribe, the text can help students better understand how the United States government has treated Native American tribes historically. Using this text and the novel, ask the class how the forced relocation of Native people continues to affect their families and their people as a whole.

The Medicine Bag” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (7th grade)

In Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve's short story "The Medicine Bag," Martin's grandpa visits him and passes down a medicine bag to him, an important object in their family.  

After Chapter 9, introduce this short story about a boy who receives a medicine bag from his grandfather, and ask students to discuss the importance of tradition to Native American tribes. What does it mean to Martin’s grandfather to pass down his medicine bag to Martin? What do Ned and Martin’s experiences show about how Native American traditions have persisted?

Next Steps

Introduce more stories by and about indigenous people using our Native American History and Authors text set.

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