STRANDED AT LUIGI'S - a vocabulary development story for struggling readers

The nascent hot weather announced news already known to the town's teenagers--summer vacation was imminent. Grant and his trio of friends filed out of school as soon as the dismissal bell rang and headed for their favorite pizzeria, Luigi's, where they each bought a copious serving of garlic knots.  Their snack’s scent permeated the air as the boys stepped outside and sat down on the curb to discuss a problem that was paramount to all seventeen-year-olds getting their driver's licenses that year. The recent, prodigious rise in gasoline prices threatened to make car ownership impossible for any teen working for minimum wages.

Meeting at Luigi's had become a common activity for the four boys, who had met each other when they were all assigned to the earliest lunch period of the school day. Aside from this common factor, the boys were quite different from each other. Grant, a sandy-haired, thin boy, was pragmatic. Almost everything he did was designed to bring him closer to his goal of becoming the next Bill Gates. Dwight was a budding Pablo Picasso; his intense blue eyes were usually focused on a sketchpad where he brought fantastic images to life. Jason, the third member of the group, was too busy thinking about girls to think about his future. The final boy was Angelo, the only senior. He was a certifiable bookworm who always got A's in his honors English class, and the teachers and administrators of the school venerated him.

Grant began the discussion with candor. "Listen guys! We have to figure out a way to afford a car! We can't turn seventeen without one. It's a rite of passage. Does anyone have an idea?"

Jason wasn’t listening; he was too busy staring at a girl who was getting into her car in the parking lot. "Oh man! Did you guys see that new girl from Florida? She's in my gym class. She's hot!"

Grant rolled his eyes and looked toward Dwight. "What about you?"

Dwight, who was busy creating a meticulous drawing of dragons in his notebook, looked up. "Did you say something?"

"Forget it! Keep--"

"The girl from Florida is gorgeous, but Kimberly is even better!"

"So what Jason! How do you plan to take her out on a date if you don't have a car?" Grant questioned, trying to inspire some critical thinking skills in his friend.

"The solution is facile. I'll get a loan to buy gasoline."

"Oh really? If you take a moment to compare your expenses and your income, you'll see that your expenses will soon be too much to handle. You won't be solvent for very long."

"You're right Grant!" Angelo added. "Jason will end up just like the farmers in The Grapes of Wrath!"

"What happened to them?" asked Dwight, looking up for a moment from his drawing.

"They went broke, lost everything, and had to move to California!"

"Ah! California! Beaches filled with suntanned surfer girls in bikinis!"

"Yes Jason. But you won't be able to afford the gasoline to get there!" Grant added sarcastically. "We need a new money-making paradigm so we can all have ample income. A McDonald's paycheck isn't good enough anymore."

"Hey! Didn't Ms. McNeill look awesome today?"

"Jason! That's it!" Grant shouted as he jumped to his feet?


Grant finally had everyone's attention. "Ms. McNeill can help us figure out a plan. She's a business teacher. We need a business plan!"

"What kind of business?" questioned Dwight.

As Grant thought of an idea, he glanced at the sketchpad on the sidewalk. "Hey Dwight, that dragon's good! We can design t-shirts for teenagers."

Grant's plan received a laudatory response from all the boys. The next day they delayed their after-school snack an hour so that they could meet with Ms. McNeill. One week later, Angelo had a business plan written. Grant used the persuasive skills he learned in his English class to convince the boy's parents to act as their venture capitalists. With cash in hand, they went to the Cash Converters store and found the apparatus they needed to produce silk-screened t-shirts.

Within a year boys' t-shirts were pervasive at the high school and their pockets were replete with money to fill the gas tanks of the shiny cars they bought at the used car lots on Route 88. Their business success was a phenomenon that all their classmates wanted to copy.

Supplemental materials for this story are available.

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A pizzeria is a great place to make a plan.
Reading teachers are familiar with "high interest low level" stories designed for use with middle school and high school students who are struggling readers. Stranded at Luigi's belongs to a new genre of short stories known as "short stories with big words." Stories within this genre are flash fiction composed of approximately 1000 words. Students with attention deficit  disorder should have no trouble reading these stories as they can often be read within ten minutes. Despite the short length, these stories are beneficial for building vocabulary because they contain a high concentration of advanced vocabulary words. When used with the supplemental materials, students should be able to build their vocabulary quickly, which in turn will help improve their reading comprehension. Additionally, the downloadable version of the story, which is available on the website. The free version of Adobe Acrobat reader is all that is needed to use the downloadable stories, which are affordably priced. Check them out!