How Bad Could It Be?

A prank doesn't really hurt anyone. Right?

By Nora Raleigh Baskin
From the September 2015 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will understand how a character changes from the beginning to the end of a story.

Lexile: 620L
Guided Reading Level: S
DRA Level : 40
Audio ()
Activities (2)
Quizzes (2)
Quizzes (2)

More About the Story


vocabulary, close reading, inference, problem and solution, character’s motivation, predicting, narrative writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning

“How Bad Could It Be?” can be enjoyed as a simple narrative, but it’s also a striking study in character motivation. To fully understand and appreciate the text, students will need to make numerous inferences.


The story is chronological.


This story has a few challenging vocabulary words (such as muffled and accompany), as well as personification and rhetorical questions.

Knowledge Demands 

The context of the story will be familiar to most students.

Content-Area Connections

social issues, character education

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

  • Write the word prank on the board and ask students what it means. Discuss: Are pranks funny or mean? What makes them funny? What makes them mean?
  • Project the story as students look at it in their magazines. Ask a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box on page 17.
  • Point out the questions in the margins and make sure students see how the questions are connected by arrows to boldface text in the story. Preview the questions as a class.
  • Tell students they will answer the questions during a second read of the story.

Vocabulary (5 minutes)

  • As students read, direct them to circle any words they find challenging. After the first read, have them work in small groups to figure out or look up the meanings of the words they circled.

2. Close Reading

First Read: Get to Know the Text (20 minutes)

  • Read “How Bad Could It Be?” as a class so students gain a general understanding of what happens.

Second Read: Unpack the Text (30 minutes)

  • Have small groups read the story again, pausing to discuss the close-reading questions in the margins and respond on their own paper.

Answers are below. 

  • Discuss the critical-thinking questions as a class.

Answers to Close-Reading Questions

  • Inference (p. 17) This line suggests that Ben doesn’t necessarily like Kevin that much, but he’s scared of how Kevin might treat him if they weren’t friends. Kevin has power over Ben.
  • Problem and solution (p. 17) Kevin’s plan creates a problem, because Ben has to decide between hurting Truman, which he doesn’t want to do, and possibly facing Kevin’s meanness himself. Ben decides to ignore Kevin’s plan and hope for the best.
  • Inference (p. 18) Ben likely lets Kevin get away with treating him badly because he’s afraid that if he stands up to Kevin, Kevin will do something even worse to him—possibly hitting or teasing him in front of other kids.
  • Character (p. 18) This line tells you that Kevin is cruel and doesn’t care about the feelings of others.
  • Inference (p. 19) Kevin probably wants to control Ben, getting Ben to do what he tells him. Also, Ben will likely be the one to get in worse trouble if they get caught.
  • Character (p. 20) Ben probably feels worried that Truman is hurt badly; scared that he’s going to get in trouble; guilty for doing something mean and hurtful; and afraid that Mr. Caleb, a beloved teacher, will be disappointed in him.
  • Character’s motivation (p. 20) Ben wants to have a chance to apologize to Truman. He also wants to let Mr. Caleb see him caring about Truman.
  • Inference (p. 21) The pumpkins stand for Ben’s guilty conscience. He feels them looking at him as a bad person, the way he’s looking at himself at that moment.
  • Character (p. 21) Ben has realized that Kevin is a bad influence on him and that he no longer wants to be friends with Kevin. He wants to be free to be a nice person.

Critical-Thinking Questions (activity sheet online)

  • Why is it challenging for Ben to resist doing what Kevin wants him to do? What character traits does he show when he decides to change? (character) It is challenging because Kevin turns his meanness against Ben when Ben resists. For example, when Ben doesn’t sit next to Truman on the school bus, Kevin presses his weight into Ben, hurting him. Ben shows determination and strength when he decides to change.
  • What do you predict Ben’s relationship with Kevin will be like in the future? (predicting) Ben will probably stop being friends with Kevin and try to avoid hanging out with him.
  • Why do you think Mr. Caleb agrees to let Ben walk Truman to the nurse? Do you think Mr. Caleb knows what happened? (character’s motivation) Answers will vary. Students might suggest that Mr. Caleb knows, but he can see that Ben feels bad and wants to give him a chance to apologize to Truman.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Character

  • Distribute our character activity sheet, which will help students determine how Ben changes from the beginning of the story to the end. It will prepare them to respond to the writing prompt on page 21.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

For a first read, play our audio version of the story as students follow along in their magazines. Then have students read it again in small groups, pausing to discuss the questions in the margins.

For Advanced Readers

Invite students to rewrite the story from Truman’s point of view.