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No Carnations for Ray Fink

This heartwarming, offbeat tale about a lonely kid will inspire empathy in your students, just in time for Valentine’s Day. 

By Lauren Tarshis
From the February 2017 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will identify the climax of the plot in a story about a lonely boy who makes an unexpected connection.

Lexile: 630L
Guided Reading Level: U
DRA Level: 50
Topic: Social Issues,
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Activities (7)
Quizzes (2)
Quizzes (2)
Answer Key (2)
Answer Key (2)
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Activities (7) Download All Activities
Quizzes (2)
Quizzes (2)
Answer Key (2)
Answer Key (2)

More About the Story


plot, close reading, supporting details, character, figurative language, inference, mood, theme, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning/Purpose

In this story, a lonely boy takes action to help another lonely person, and realizes he has the power to make a difference.


The story is chronological with several references to previous episodes and musings of the main character.


The story contains a few challenging words (e.g. bashful, equations). It also includes similes and quotes a line of poetry from Emily Dickinson.

Knowledge Demands 

No specific prior knowledge is necessary.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • Distribute our vocabulary activity to preview five words. Students will also be able to add other words from the story that are unfamiliar to them. 
  • Words in the activity are measly, clutching, peered, equations, and rifled

Set a Purpose for Reading (10 minutes)

  • Ask a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box on page 10. 
  • Preview the questions in the margins. 

2. Close Reading

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

  • Have students read the story independently to understand what happens in it. As an alternative, they can listen to our audio version as they follow along in their magazines. 

Second Read: Unpack the Text (30 minutes)

  • Have small groups read the story again, pausing to discuss the close-reading questions in the margins. They can then respond on their own paper. Answers follow. 
  • Discuss the critical-thinking question as a class

Answers to Close-Reading Questions

  • Plot (p. 11) Ray’s problem is that he is alone. He doesn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch. This suggests that perhaps he doesn’t have friends and he’s lonely. 
  • Supporting Details (p. 12) Ray is sitting alone because his best friend moved to Pittsburgh, and his other friend made the travel basketball team and hangs out with his basketball friends. Ray also thinks his short name might be a problem, that perhaps good things don’t happen to people with two syllable names. 
  • Character (p. 12) Students might suggest that Ray is feeling unfortunate, lonely, awkward, embarrassed, or self-conscious. He feels bad that he’s sitting alone, plus he doesn’t want his classmates to see that he’s by himself. 
  • Character (p. 12) This tells you that Ray’s dad likes to make people feel good. He remembers details about his customers’ lives and asks about them, so his customers feel like they matter. 
  • Figurative Language (p. 13) Students will probably say that the image of a brook and flowers gives them a happy, cheerful feeling. Having a brook in your heart might mean having something inside you that makes you feel glad. 
  • Inference (p. 13) Ray probably feels nostalgic or sad that Reese moved away. 
  • Inference (p. 14) Ray is thinking that he and Beth Till have something in common; perhaps they could be friends. He also seems to have a crush on Beth. 
  • Figurative Language (p. 14) A message in a bottle is special because it’s mysterious. It shows up unexpectedly and might connect the finder with someone from far away or long ago. Ray feels this excitement about finding Mr. Ross’s note. 
  • Inference (p. 14) The note is weighing on Ray because he knows that Mr. Ross is sick and reached out to Ray’s dad. He doesn’t want Mr. Ross to feel lonely or ignored. 
  • Plot (p. 15) You know that the climax of the story is coming because excitement is building up: Ray’s heart is beating faster and faster. It’s clear that Ray is about to do something about the terrible feeling he has. 
  • Character (p. 15) Ray is becoming more confident; realizing his name has seven syllables rather than two shows that he sees himself as more valuable than he did before. Perhaps something good will happen to him after all. 
  • Mood (p. 15) The story ends with a hopeful mood. Ray doesn’t feel so bad about not getting any carnations; he likes thinking about Mr. Ross receiving his note; and he is looking forward to giving his drawing to Beth. This is the opposite of the hopeless mood at the beginning, when Ray felt as if nothing good would happen to him.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • What is one theme, or big idea, you think this story has? (theme) Students might suggest one theme is that small acts of kindness, like Ray writing the note to Mr. Ross, can improve the lives of both the person who receives the kindness and the person who performs it. Another theme could be that we have the power to solve our own problems. Ray found the motivation within himself to write to Mr. Ross, which made him feel happy and confident. He also decided to give his drawing to Beth. 

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Plot

  • Put students in groups to complete the plot activity
  • Discuss the writing prompt on page 15 as a class. Then ask students to write their responses.
Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

 As an alternative writing prompt, ask students to write a note to Ray Fink that they could leave inside a piece of clothing for him to find as he does his job. Based on what they read, what would they like to say to Ray?

For Advanced Readers

Invite students to retell this story from another character’s point of view. For example, what story would Beth Till or Len Ross tell about what happened?

For ELL Students

Point out that some parts of this story tell about events that happened before the story started. Use these as an opportunity to look at the past perfect construction together; for example, Ray had found, He had shown, Ray had asked, His dad had put on his glasses, etc. (p. 13) 

For Book Talks

Invite students to choose this story to do a “book talk,” a presentation to the class with just enough details, plus their own opinion, to try to convince others to read it.