5 Long Way Down Discussion Questions to Transform Your Classroom Conversations

Long Way Down Discussion Questions for your classroom when teaching Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.

Long Way Down Discussion Questions

Looking for engaging Long Way Down Discussion Questions? Are your students missing the deeper meaning of Long Way Down like mine were?


These are the 5 Essential Questions that transformed how I teach Jason Reynolds’s novel Long Way Down in my classroom.


Initially, I pitched the book up as part of an independent reading option. 


I didn’t make any lesson plans or essential questions.

After conferencing with students, I realized many had missed the story’s deeper meaning. 


Although enthralled by the words and provocative content, students did not read between the lines, missing out on Reynolds’ messages to youth today.


Discussion Question #1

How does a person's community influence their choices?

In interviews, Jason Reynolds has emphasized the connectedness of black communities and neighborhoods.

As a young person, Reynolds was influenced by the music Queen Latifah specifically her 1993 album Black Reign.

No time to lesson plan?

Check out zero prep resources from my classroom on TPT

One song in particular, “Just Another Day” recounts a seemingly average day in Latifah’s neighborhood, which she refers to as the “hood”.

The lyrics of “Just Another Day” acknowledges the dangers of “the hood” while at the same time celebrating with a sense of pride the people and community who call it home.

I have a Long Way Down Setting Analysis activity that includes a graphic organizer to gather text evidence to understand the setting & socio-cultural context of Will’s neighbourhood. My goal is that my students will begin to pick up on some of the setting details such as gang activity, police conflict, violence, crime, low socioeconomic status neighbourhoods, single-parent households etc.

Jason Reynold's was inspired by rap music when he wrote Long Way Down

Reynolds was able to relate to rap music because it related to his lived experiences. To a community with gun violence and police presence that is still called home.

Both Latifah and Reynolds remind us that we need to discuss neighborhoods and communities without the labels of “good” or “bad”.

And actually, there is research to support this too – Check out the research of David Weisburd in his article The Law of Crime Concentration And The Criminology of Place, 2015

The discussion needs to begin with how communities influence people, their choices, logic, and perspective.

Discussion Question #2:

Why is it difficult to break cycles of violence?

Cycles and patterns of violence are thematic motifs that comes up throughout Long Way Down and I knew I needed an essential question about it.

Students quickly understand that “The Rules” create cycles of generational violence in Will’s neighborhood. 

The Rules are short and simple: 

    • no crying
    • no snitching
    • always get revenge. 

But more importantly, students need to consider why fathers and sons, friends, and brothers continue to teach each other these “rules”. 

The ghosts that Will encounters in the elevator reveal the different reasons for following the rules and continuing the cycles of violence and trauma. Lack of community support programs and systems, poverty, toxic masculinity, denying men the space to release emotions are just some of the systemic inequalities that make the cycles of violence and trauma challenging to break.

Discussion Question #3:

How toxic masculinity harmful to individuals and society?

Toxic masculinity is a fascinating buzzword that works great as an essential question. 

My students loved discussing this term and made many real-life connections.

This essential question allows you to facilitate and direct the classroom conversation around toxic masculinity, moving it beyond a catch-all phrase for negative male behaviors.

I use this definition in my classroom:

“Toxic masculinity refers to traditional cultural masculine norms that limit the emotions that men can express while encouraging them to be dominant, violent, and self-reliant, while also avoiding any appearance of femininity or weakness.”

With this definition in mind, students can make these connections:

  • Rival gang Rival gangs in Will’s neighborhood are fighting for turf dominance.
  • Will suppresses his grief and emotions over the death of Shawn.
  • Will is pressured to be self-reliant and not depend on anyone.
  • Buck and Will’s father glorify violence.
  • Will is told to be more masculine and “tough”

Discussion Question #4

How do emotions affect decision making ?

The first time I taught Long Way Down, I focused a lot on the theme of revenge. But I felt like the word ‘revenge’ was too flat and did not speak to the emotional passion and fury that drives Will in his thirst for revenge.

This essential question can be discussed in the context of Will’s dilemma:

To shoot Riggs or not to shoot Riggs.

      • Why do people fantasize about revenge?
      • Why does it sometimes feel so good to even just think about getting revenge on someone?
      • Do people ever regent instances where they sought out revenge?

Discussion Question #5

What are the benefits and limitations of revenge?

I found a fascinating article that discusses revenge from an evolutionary perspective.

Some key questions I prompt students with when discussing this question:

    • On the other hand, what are the limitations of revenge?
    • How would Will continue along the cycle of violence?
    • How would revenge make his situation worse?
    • How would it devastate his mother?

It’s Lit Teaching does an in-depth review of Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and focuses on the Question: Revenge is it worth it?

No time to lesson plan?

Check out all my zero prep teaching resources on TPT

Try these Discussion Questions for Long Way Down in your classroom and let me know how it goes

These Long Way Down discussion questions generated some FACINATING conversations in my classroom.

I encourage you to modify and adapt them in always to suite the needs of your students.

Comment below to let me know about the Long Way Down discussion questions you have used in your own classroom. I would love to hear how it went.

Picture of Carley 📚 Teacher Author @ Visual Thinking Classroom

Carley 📚 Teacher Author @ Visual Thinking Classroom

B.A., B.Ed., Graduate Certificate in Teacher Librarianship // carley@visualthinkingclassroom.com

Check out the these Fresh Posts