Whirligig Essay

Whirligig Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Whirligig by Paul Fleischman.

In Whirligig by Paul Fleishman, 17-year-old Brent Bishop learns to accept himself, take responsibility for his actions, and to understand how the repercussions from both good and bad choices reverberate through his life, and every life his life touches. A traditional coming-of-age novel, or bildungsroman, Whirligig also expresses a quest motif: as Brent moves through the world and engages with the new people he meets, he comes to understand himself and his interconnectedness with the world.

Privileged, but self-centered and angry, Brent wants nothing more than to impress the popular crowd at his new private Chicago-area high school, Monfort. A succession of moves, as his father has climbed the corporate ladder, have left Brent perpetually starting over, insecure, isolated, and with something to prove. He believes that his life will be prefect, if only he wears the right clothes, drives the most fashionable car, or dates the coolest girl. He attends a party, where he gets drunk and is rejected by the girl he likes. Then, he humiliates himself further by punching the boy who hosted the party. Full of self-pity and rage, Brent gets into his car and decides to kill himself.

However, Brent kills someone else when he takes his hands off the wheel of his car—18-year-old Lea Zamora, a star-student and athlete, a lovely, giving, and mature young woman. Brent’s driver’s license is taken away, and he is given probation rather than a sentence in a detention center by the judge of his case, but he is disappointed. He wanted a more severe punishment. Filled with remorse and guilt, he meets with Lea’s mother during a court-appointed restitution meeting to try to atone for his mistake.

Lea’s mother does not believe in retribution. Instead, she tells Brent about Lea: her zest for life, her beautiful smile, and her love for whirligigs. She asks Brent to build four whirligigs with her daughter’s name and face on them and to place one at each corner of the United States—in Washington, California, Florida, and Maine—in honor of her daughter’s memory and to keep her spirit alive. Brent agrees, against his parents’ wishes, and accepts Mrs. Zamora’s 45-day Greyhound bus pass. Filling his backpack with a book on building whirligigs, plywood, tools, camping equipment, and his guilt, he heads for Washington.

Brent travels to each corner of the United States, constructing whirligigs, each one more elaborate than the last. As Brent travels, he begins to understand himself. He learns to appreciate the simple pleasures of life, such as reading a book. He begins to feel a connection to the rest of the world and becomes less self-centered and immature. He shares his terrible secret with a painter he meets, releasing some of his burden of shame. He begins to grow up.

In alternating chapters, Fleishman flashes forward in time in the reverse order of Brent’s journey, telling the stories of the lives of the people deeply moved and affected by seeing the whirligigs. The people who need the whirligigs encounter them.

When Brent places the last whirligig at an artist’s home in Maine, he feels that he can face his future in Chicago; though his guilt is still there, it no longer cripples him. He understands that by taking responsibility for his past that he can take control of his future. The theme of restitution and punishment enacted in this novel creates redemption in the form of maturity and independence. Without knowing it at first, Brent’s actions in accepting Mrs. Zamora’s request for restitution speak to the maturity that he yearned for and his desire to be a better person than he was. Nothing can make up for the loss of Lea’s life, but Brent can atone by living his own life the best he can and by appreciating the value of his life.

Teaching Whirligig

The Whirligig lesson plan contains a variety of teaching materials that cater to all learning styles. Inside you'll find 30 Daily Lessons, 20 Fun Activities, 180 Multiple Choice Questions, 60 Short Essay Questions, 20 Essay Questions, Quizzes/Homework Assignments, Tests, and more. The lessons and activities will help students gain an intimate understanding of the text, while the tests and quizzes will help you evaluate how well the students have grasped the material. View a free sample

Target Grade: 7th-12th (Middle School and High School)

Length of Lesson Plan: Approximately 116 pages. Page count is estimated at 300 words per page. Length will vary depending on format viewed.

Browse The Whirligig Lesson Plan:

Full Lesson Plan Overview

Completely Customizable!

The Whirligig lesson plan is downloadable in PDF and Word. The Word file is viewable with any PC or Mac and can be further adjusted if you want to mix questions around and/or add your own headers for things like "Name," "Period," and "Date." The Word file offers unlimited customizing options so that you can teach in the most efficient manner possible. Once you download the file, it is yours to keep and print for your classroom. View a FREE sample

Lesson Plan Calendars

The Lesson Plan Calendars provide daily suggestions about what to teach. They include detailed descriptions of when to assign reading, homework, in-class work, fun activities, quizzes, tests and more. Use the entire Whirligig calendar, or supplement it with your own curriculum ideas. Calendars cover one, two, four, and eight week units. Determine how long your Whirligig unit will be, then use one of the calendars provided to plan out your entire lesson.

Chapter Abstracts

Chapter abstracts are short descriptions of events that occur in each chapter of Whirligig. They highlight major plot events and detail the important relationships and characteristics of important characters. The Chapter Abstracts can be used to review what the students have read, or to prepare the students for what they will read. Hand the abstracts out in class as a study guide, or use them as a "key" for a class discussion. They are relatively brief, but can serve to be an excellent refresher of Whirligig for either a student or teacher.

Character and Object Descriptions

Character and Object Descriptions provide descriptions of the significant characters as well as objects and places in Whirligig. These can be printed out and used as an individual study guide for students, a "key" for leading a class discussion, a summary review prior to exams, or a refresher for an educator. The character and object descriptions are also used in some of the quizzes and tests in this lesson plan. The longest descriptions run about 200 words. They become shorter as the importance of the character or object declines.

Daily Lessons

This section of the lesson plan contains 30 Daily Lessons. Daily Lessons each have a specific objective and offer at least three (often more) ways to teach that objective. Lessons include classroom discussions, group and partner activities, in-class handouts, individual writing assignments, at least one homework assignment, class participation exercises and other ways to teach students about Whirligig in a classroom setting. You can combine daily lessons or use the ideas within them to create your own unique curriculum. They vary greatly from day to day and offer an array of creative ideas that provide many options for an educator.

Fun Classroom Activities

Fun Classroom Activities differ from Daily Lessons because they make "fun" a priority. The 20 enjoyable, interactive classroom activities that are included will help students understand Whirligig in fun and entertaining ways. Fun Classroom Activities include group projects, games, critical thinking activities, brainstorming sessions, writing poems, drawing or sketching, and countless other creative exercises. Many of the activities encourage students to interact with each other, be creative and think "outside of the box," and ultimately grasp key concepts from the text by "doing" rather than simply studying. Fun activities are a great way to keep students interested and engaged while still providing a deeper understanding of Whirligig and its themes.

Essay Questions/Writing Assignments

These 20 Essay Questions/Writing Assignments can be used as essay questions on a test, or as stand-alone essay topics for a take-home or in-class writing assignment on Whirligig. Students should have a full understanding of the unit material in order to answer these questions. They often include multiple parts of the work and ask for a thorough analysis of the overall text. They nearly always require a substantial response. Essay responses are typically expected to be one (or more) page(s) and consist of multiple paragraphs, although it is possible to write answers more briefly. These essays are designed to challenge a student's understanding of the broad points in a work, interactions among the characters, and main points and themes of the text. But, they also cover many of the other issues specific to the work and to the world today.

Short Essay Questions

The 60 Short Essay Questions listed in this section require a one to two sentence answer. They ask students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of Whirligig by describing what they've read, rather than just recalling it. The short essay questions evaluate not only whether students have read the material, but also how well they understand and can apply it. They require more thought than multiple choice questions, but are shorter than the essay questions.

Multiple Choice Questions

The 180 Multiple Choice Questions in this lesson plan will test a student's recall and understanding of Whirligig. Use these questions for quizzes, homework assignments or tests. The questions are broken out into sections, so they focus on specific chapters within Whirligig. This allows you to test and review the book as you proceed through the unit. Typically, there are 5-15 questions per chapter, act or section.

Evaluation Forms

Use the Oral Reading Evaluation Form when students are reading aloud in class. Pass the forms out before you assign reading, so students will know what to expect. You can use the forms to provide general feedback on audibility, pronunciation, articulation, expression and rate of speech. You can use this form to grade students, or simply comment on their progress.

Use the Writing Evaluation Form when you're grading student essays. This will help you establish uniform criteria for grading essays even though students may be writing about different aspects of the material. By following this form you will be able to evaluate the thesis, organization, supporting arguments, paragraph transitions, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. of each student's essay.

Quizzes/Homework Assignments

The Quizzes/Homework Assignments are worksheets that can be used in a variety of ways. They pull questions from the multiple choice and short essay sections, the character and object descriptions, and the chapter abstracts to create worksheets that can be used for pop quizzes, in-class assignments and homework. Periodic homework assignments and quizzes are a great way to encourage students to stay on top of their assigned reading. They can also help you determine which concepts and ideas your class grasps and which they need more guidance on. By pulling from the different sections of the lesson plan, quizzes and homework assignments offer a comprehensive review of Whirligig in manageable increments that are less substantial than a full blown test.


Use the Test Summary page to determine which pre-made test is most relevant to your students' learning styles. This lesson plan provides both full unit tests and mid-unit tests. You can choose from several tests that include differing combinations of multiple choice questions, short answer questions, short essay questions, full essay questions, character and object matching, etc. Some of the tests are designed to be more difficult than others. Some have essay questions, while others are limited to short-response questions, like multiple choice, matching and short answer questions. If you don't find the combination of questions that best suits your class, you can also create your own test on Whirligig.

Create Your Own Quiz or Test

You have the option to Create Your Own Quiz or Test. If you want to integrate questions you've developed for your curriculum with the questions in this lesson plan, or you simply want to create a unique test or quiz from the questions this lesson plan offers, it's easy to do. Cut and paste the information from the Create Your Own Quiz or Test page into a Word document to get started. Scroll through the sections of the lesson plan that most interest you and cut and paste the exact questions you want to use into your new, personalized Whirligig lesson plan.

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