Skip to main content

Full text of "Harper Lee's To kill a mockingbird : teacher's guide"

See other formats

National Endowment for the Arts 



•s\. MuseurriandLibrary 




* , 







To Kill a 



•>;: . .INSTITUTE „l 

:.\, MuseunriandLibrary 

.''.•' SERVICES 




The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting 
excellence in the arts — both new and established — -bringing the arts to all Americans, 
and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1 965 as an 
independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest 
annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner 
cities, and military bases. 

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for 
the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create 
strong libraries and museums mat connect people to information and ideas. The Institute 
works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain 
heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support 
professional development. 

Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts 
opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based 
in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state 
region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South 
Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United 
States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. 

The Boeing Company is the world's leading aerospace company. It is the largest 
manufacturer of satellites, commercial jetliners, and military aircraft. The company is 
also a global market leader in missile defense, human space flight, launch services, 
aerospace support services, and homeland security services. As a leading contractor to 
the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Boeing works together with its DoD customers 
to provide U.S. Armed Forces and U.S. allies around the world with fully integrated 
high-performing systems solutions and support. 

Additional support for the Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg 
Foundation in partnership with Community Foundations of America. 

Published by 

National Endowment for the Arts 
1 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 
Washington, D.C. 20506-0001 
(202) 682-5400 

Works Cited 

Excerpts from To Kill a Mockingbird Copyright © 1960, 1988 by Harper Lee, are reproduced by 
permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Production copyright HarperCollins Publishers. 


Cover portrait: John Sherffius 

Writers: Philip Burnham and Sarah Bainter Cunningham for the National Endowment 
tor the Arts. 

Graphic Design: Fletcher Design / Washington, D.C. 

Photo Credits 

Page iv: To Kill a Mockingbird book cover, photograph by John Montgomery, courtesy of 
HarperCollins; Mockingbird image, Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images; Page 1: Dana Gioia, 
photo by Vance Jacobs; Inside back cover: Harper Lee, Donald Uhrbrock/Time Life Pictures/ 
Getty Images 

Table of Contents 

Introduction 1 

Suggested Teaching Schedule 2 

Lesson One: Biography 4 

Lesson Two: Culture and History 5 

Lesson Three: Narrative and Point of View 6 

Lesson Four: Characters 7 

Lesson Five: Figurative Language 8 

Lesson Six: Symbols 9 

Lesson Seven: Character Development 10 

Lesson Eight: The Plot Unfolds 11 

Lesson Nine: Themes of die Novel 12 

Lesson Ten: A Great Novel 13 

Essay Topics 14 

Capstone Projects 15 

Handout One: Harper Lee 16 

Handout Two: The Great Depression 17 

Handout Three: The Civil Rights Movement 18 

Teaching Resources 19 

NCTE Standards 20 






Mockingbirds don't do one thing but 
make music for us to enjoy. They 
don't eat up other people's gardens, 
don't nest in corncribs, they don't do 
one thing but sing their hearts out 
for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a 

— from To Kill a Mockingbird 



National Endowment for the Arts 


Welcome to the Big Read, a major initiative from the National Endowment 
for the Arts. Designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American 
culture, the Big Read hopes to unite communities through great literature, 
as well as inspire students to become life-long readers. 

This Big Read Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to lead you through 
Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Each lesson has four 
sections: a thematic focus, discussion activities, writing exercises, and 
homework assignments. In addition, we have provided suggested essay 
topics and capstone projects, as well as handouts with more background 
information about the novel, the historical period, and the author. All 
lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards required in the 
fiction genre. 

The Big Read teaching materials also include a CD. Packed with interviews, 
commentaries, and excerpts from the novel, the Big Read CD presents 
first-hand accounts of why Lee's novel remains so compelling four decades 
after its initial publication. Some of America's most celebrated writers, 
scholars, and actors have volunteered their time to make these 
Big Read CDs exciting additions to the classroom. 

Finally, the Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with 
interviews, booklists, time lines, and historical information. We hope this 
guide and syllabus allow you to have fun with your students while 
introducing them to the work of a great American author. 

From the NEA, we wish you an exciting and productive school year. 

~^U\U HpAo^ 

Dana Gioia 

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts 

National Endowment for the Arts 




Day One 

FOCUS: Biography 

Activities: Listen to the Big Read CD, Track 
One ( 1 5:45). Read Readers Guide essays. 
Respond to the novel's epigraph by Charles 

Homework: Chapter I -3 (pp. 3-32). 


Day Two 

FOCUS: Arts and Culture 

Activities: Listen to the Big Read CD, Track 
Two (13:14). Read Handout Two. Read 
Reader's Guide essay, "Historical Context: 
The Jim Crow South" (pp. 8-9). Write about 
the relation between history and the novel. 

Homework: Chapters 4-7 (pp. 32-63). 


Day Three 

FOCUS: Narrative and Point ofView 

Activities: Explore Scout's narration. Imagine 
the novel narrated by Dill. Write the first 
pages of Dill's book. Write in first person 
from Boo Radley's point of view. 

Homework: Chapters 8- 1 I (pp. 63-99). 


Day Four 

FOCUS: Characters 

Activities: Explore the protagonist and 
antagonist. Examine minor characters that 
serve as foils. Write about the antagonist. 

Homework: Chapter 1 2 (pp. 99- 1 26). 


Day Five 

FOCUS: Figurative Language 

Activities: Review the novel identifying 
instances of figurative language. Write a 
personal story using techniques of image, 
simile, metaphor, and analogy. 

Homework: Chapters 13-15 (pp. 1 27- 1 55). 

* Page numbers refer to the Warner Books 1982 edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. 


National Hndowment for the Arts 



Day Six 

FOCUS: Symbols 

Activities: Discuss the mockingbird as a 
symbol in the novel. Write about how the 
names of characters serve as symbols. 

Homework: Chapters 16-18 (pp. 1 55- 1 89). 


Day Seven 

FOCUS: Character Development 

Activities: Explore how the characters change 
their beliefs within the story. Write about the 
hero of the novel. 

Homework: Chapters 1 9-24 (pp. 190-227). 


Day Eight 

FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds 

Activities: Chart a time line of the story. 
Develop a plot for the sequel. 

Homework: Chapters 25-27 (pp. 227-254). 

Day Nine 

FOCUS: Themes of the Novel 

Activities: Explore potential themes. Develop 
an interpretation based on one of the 

Homework: Chapters 28-3 1 (pp. 254-28 1 ). 
Begin essay. 


Day Ten 

FOCUS: A Great Novel 

Activities: Explore the qualities of a great 
novel and a voice of a generation. Examine 
qualities that make Lee's novel successful. 
Peer review of paper outlines or drafts. 

Homework: Essay due next class period. 

National Endowment for the Arts 




The authors life can inform and expand the readers understanding of a 
novel. Some events in the novel mirror circumstances in Harper Lee's life. 
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee infuses the adventure with her experience as a 
lawyers daughter and a tomboy growing up in the South. Although a work 
of fiction, the novel reflects a small Southern town during the Great 
Depression. And while we more fully understand the book as we learn 
about the author, the artistry of the novel does not succeed or fail based on 
the author s life. The novel — a work of art — has an internal structure 
independent of the authors personality. 

Discussion Activities 

Listen to the Big Read CD, Track One ( 1 5:45). Students should take notes as they 
listen. What do the students learn about Harper Lee from her biographer, Charles 
J. Shields and other contributors? What are the three most important points on 
the CD? 

Copy Reader's Guide essays, "Harper Lee" (pp. 4-5) (or Handout One in this 
Teacher's Guide), "The Friendship of Harper Lee and Truman Capote" (pp. 6-7) 
and "How To Kill A Mockingbird Came To Be Written" (pp. 10-11). Divide the class 
into groups. Assign one essay to each group. After reading and discussing the 
essays, each group will present what they learned from the essay. Ask students to 
add a creative twist to make their presentation memorable. 

Writing Exercise 

The novel begins with an epigraph by Charles Lamb: "Lawyers, I suppose, were 
children once." Based on what you've learned from the CD, why do you think 
Lee chose this quote to begin her novel? Write two paragraphs on how this 
statement relates to what students have learned about Lee's life. 

EJ Homework 

Read Chapters I -3 (pp. 3-32). Prepare your students to read approximately 30 
pages per night in order to complete this book in ten lessons. What happens to 
Scout on her first day of school? What kind of teacher is Miss Caroline, Scout's 
first grade teacher? 


National Endowment for the Arts 


Culture and 

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the mid- 1930s during the Great Depression. 
Throughout the decade, jobs were scarce, bread lines were long, and movies 
cost only a nickel — a time that left an indelible impression on the young 
Harper Lee. 

Culturally, the swing era, movies, and radio drama were the talk of the 
nation. Writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald chronicled the lives of the rich 
and famous, while writers such as John Steinbeck recounted the tale of 
Americas downtrodden. Women could vote, and the prohibition of alcohol 
was finally repealed. Government programs such as the Works Progress 
Administration and Social Security were established. But some things 
endured even the chaos of economic depression. Jim Crow laws continued 
to prevent African Americans from enjoying equal rights with other 
citizens, even if the Old South seemed to be slowly changing. 

Discussion Activities 

Listen to the Big Read CD, Track Two (13:14). Based on the CD, why does former 
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor say that Atticus "represents the best of the legal 
profession"? According to O'Connor, how might "the idea of justice pervade 
everything"? Have you seen any indicators of this in your first reading assignment? 

Go to NEA's Jazz in the Schools Web site at Click on 
"Listen" and scroll down to Billie Holiday's 1 939 "Strange Fruit," a description of 
the Southern practice of lynching. Play the music of Duke Ellington and Louis 
Armstrong. This music crossed the racial boundaries drawing audiences from all 
walks of life. If you have additional time, you can teach Lesson Two of the NEA 
Jazz in the Schools curriculum covering the decades before and after the Great 

Writing Exercise 

Copy Handout Two. Copy Reader's Guide essay, "Historical ContextThe Jim 
Crow South" (pp. 8-9). Have students read these brief essays and write a 
one-page, in-class essay on how the book reflects historical realities. 

K3 Homework 

Read Chapters 4-7 (pp. 32-63). What role does reading play in Maycomb? Why is 
Boo Radley such a mystery to Scout, Jem, and Dill? What is the significance of the 
hole in the tree? 

National Endowment for the Arts 



and Point of 

First-person narration draws the reader into the perspective of the main 
character, as this person tells us, first-hand, about their experiences. This 
person uses the first-person, "I", to draw us through her/his adventures. 
A first-person narrator is personally invested in how the drama unfolds. 

Third-person narration uses "he" or "she" to tell the story from another 
point of view. Third-person narration establishes a greater distance between 
narrator and audience, as an outside observer relates events. Since this 
outside observer does not appear to participate directly in or affect the 
events of the story, this narrator seems to relay the drama objectively. A 
third-person narrator may or may not be omniscient. An omniscient third- 
person narrator knows the thoughts and movements of every character. 

To Kill a Mockingbird \s told in first person by Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. 
The novel begins from the point of view of the adult Scout, as she looks 
back on her childhood. Through the filter of her adult experience, she 
revisits her memories that, though long ago passed, have a life of their own. 

Discussion Activities 

Why might Harper Lee tell the story from an adult perspective, narrated many 
years after the fact? In the first seven chapters, can you find statements that 
remind us of an adult point of view? Or does the adult narrator enter completely 
into the world of her childhood? 

How would this story be narrated, in the third-person, from the point of view of 
Dill s fabulous imagination? Have the class brainstorm the outline of a new version 
of the novel told from this perspective. 

Writing Exercise 

Based on the previous activity, write a few pages of Dill's version of the story 
based on the first seven chapters. 

Begin another version of the novel told in first-person from Boo Radley's 
perspective. How would Boo Radley describe Jem, Scout, and Dill? 

H Homework 

Read Chapters 8-1 I (pp. 63-99). Going through the first 99 pages, how many 
characters have been introduced? Which are primary? What motivates the 
primary characters? 


National Endowment for the Arts 



The main character in a work of literature is called the "protagonist." The 
protagonist usually overcomes a weakness to achieve a new understanding 
by the work's end. A protagonist who acts with great courage and strength 
may be called a "hero." The protagonists journey is made more dramatic by 
challenges presented by characters with different beliefs or perspectives. A 
"foil" provokes or challenges the protagonist in profound ways. The most 
important foil, the "antagonist," opposes the protagonist, barring or 
complicating his or her fulfillment. 

Discussion Activities 

Who is the protagonist in the novel? Who is the antagonist? How does their 
opposition to one another help develop the drama and the unfolding of the tale? 

Divide the class into groups to examine the role of "foils" in the novel. Assign 
each group two secondary characters: Calpurnia, Boo Radley.Tom Robinson, Miss 
Maudie, Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jack, Francis, or Miss Caroline. Ask students to 
review the first 99 pages of the novel. Have each group list key attributes of their 
character. Prepare a presentation that documents moments when these 
characters bring out reactions from Scout. How do their unique personalities 
help Scout learn about herself? 

Writing Exercise 

Write two pages on the character that you believe to be the antagonist. If Scout 
is our protagonist, why is this character opposed to her? How is this character 
forcing her to look at herself in profound ways? What passages from the text 
support your conclusions? 

HI Homework 

Read Chapter 12 (pp. 99-126). Find the three most vivid descriptions in Chapter 
1 2. Are they effective? Why or why not? What do Jem and Scout learn from Mrs. 
Dubose and going to church with Calpurnia in this section? 

National Endowment for the Arts 




Writers commonly use stylistic devices that require a leap of faith by the 
reader. Such tools allow readers to visualize events, whether through an 
unexpected image, an idea, or an observation. The most common literary 
devices are image, simile, and metaphor. Use these terms to identify the 
novels figurative language to expand the meaning of the novel. 

Image: a vivid representation or description. 

Simile: a comparison between two things using "like" or "as." 

Metaphor: a comparison in which one thing is figuratively transformed so 
as to reveal its essence. 

Discussion Activities 

Divide the class into groups. Assign each group a selection of chapters ( I -4, 5-8, 
or 9- 1 2), asking them to identify figurative language used in those chapters. They 
should specifically identify images, similes, and metaphors. In those chapters, how 
does the figurative language assist in telling the story? Have groups present their 
findings to the class. 

Once you have collected some evidence from the novel reflect on whether some 
of the figures should be taken literally. What clues help a reader know when the 
author uses words figuratively? Can you find these clues in the novel? 

Writing Exercise 

Find an image in the text. Expand the image by turning it into a simile. For 
example, Lee expands an ordinary image with a simile: "she did give Jem a hot 
biscuit-and-butter. tasted like cotton" (p. 103). 

Have students write a few paragraphs telling a story about an important 
childhood event. In their story, students should use image, simile, and metaphor at 
least twice. Can they see how developing figurative language in a story contributes 
to the artistry of the novel? 

F] Homework 

Read Chapters 13-15 (pp. 127-155). What might Mrs. Dubose symbolize? Aunt 
Alexandra believes the "Finch Family" captures or symbolizes certain values. 
What does she think this family symbolizes? How does Scout fit into this image? 


National Endowment for the Arts 



Harper Lee uses images and characters to stand for something above and 
beyond what they represent at first reading. These symbols have special 
importance — they are interpretive keys to the text. 

As a form of figurative language, symbols can maintain our fascination by 
hinting beyond the literal, drawing us into the story, and asking us to explore 
the authors intentions. Frequently, study of the specific characteristics of die 
symbol will shed light on the entire story. For example, Amicus is named for 
a leader from ancient Greece. Independent research on the original Atticus 
will open doors to a deeper understanding of Lee's Atticus. 

The very names of Maycomb s residents symbolize something about their 
nature. Mr. Underwood confines himself to a dark office, and Robert E. 
Lee Ewell may be the antithesis of his Civil War namesake. 

Discussion Activities 

The only time Atticus describes "sin" to his children, he advises Scout and Jem to 
avoid shooting mockingbirds. Why does the mockingbird (p. 90) become a central 
symbol of the novel? How does this warning relate to the other events of the 
story? How does exploration of the mockingbird shed light on other elements of 
the story? 

To further explore this topic, have students do extra research on mockingbirds. 
Do mockingbirds have other natural features that relate to the story? 

Writing Exercise 

In Chapter 1 5, the drama mounts as Atticus is surrounded by a group of men. 
How does Scout defuse the potentially violent confrontation? Would you have 
expected this? Was it convincing that Scout could defuse such tension? Why or 
why not? 

Choose a character whose name serves a symbolic function. Explain how the 
name as a symbol relates to the real person. Does the person reflect his or her 
namesake or contradict his or her namesake? Why has Lee depicted them 
this way? 

2] Homework 

Read Chapters 16-18 (pp. 155-189). Read Handout Three. In the first 18 chapters, 
how have Jem, Scout, and Dill changed? Are these profound changes or just a 
result of growing up? 

National Endowment for the Arts 


Lesson Seven 



The protagonist gradually undergoes a profound change of heart. The 
protagonists shortcomings fundamentally affect the manner in which s/he 
is able to respond to the challenge brought by outside forces. While some 
changes begin from outside forces, changes also brew within thoughts and 
emotions as our hero searches to overcome his/her deepest fears, realize 
his/her dreams, or discover his/her identity. 

This novel explores human nature, equality, and justice through the trial of 
Tom Robinson. A child's inexperience captures an innocent sense of justice, 
while an adults world-weariness leads to abandoning the fight for justice. 
As a result, this novel hinges on occasions in which adults act like children 
and children act like adults. In order to argue for racial equality, Lee must 
demonstrate situations in which narrow-minded prejudice can realistically 
yield to an expanded moral sensibility. 

Discussion Activities 

Which characters in the story are beginning to change their views? In what ways 
do they change their views? Choose one of the child characters and one of the 
adult characters to focus your discussion. 

Will Atticus still win the trial if he only succeeds in convincing a number of 
Maycomb citizens of Robinson's innocence? Does he fail if he cannot convince 
the whole jury? Will it be unrealistic if he is able to convince the jury? 

Do the main characters reflect the tensions of the Civil Rights movement? How? 

Writing Exercise 

On what occasions do you wish a character might have acted more maturely? Why 
or why not? On what occasions were you surprised that a character acted very 
maturely? Why or why not? Explain how you would define "mature." 

Early in the novel. Scout says,"Jem was a born hero" (p. 44). Have students write a 
paragraph explaining who is the most heroic character of To Kill a Mockingbird. Is it 
Jem? Is it Atticus? Scout? Tom Robinson? Or is it perhaps Boo Radley? Make sure 
you define "hero." 

H Homework 

Read Chapters 1 9-24 (pp. 1 90-227). Ask students to reflect on how Lee has 
constructed the plot to reach this dramatic conclusion. Come to class with the 
two most important turning points in the novel. 


National Endowment for the Arts 


The Plot 

A novels plot unfolds a series of events leading to a dramatic climax. The 
timing of such events can make a novel predictable or riveting. Lee makes 
deliberate choices about how to structure and pace events to tell a coming- 
of-age story that speaks to all generations. In this lesson, map the events of 
the story to assess the artistry of story-telling. 

To Kill a Mockingbird begins as a story about curiosity, sibling adventures, 
and the first school days. The novel evolves into a saga about criminal 
justice, legal representation, and deep-rooted Southern values. All the events 
lead to the final, tragic event: Tom Robinsons guilty verdict. At this tragic 
moment, Jem forsakes "background" in exchange for how long his family 
has "been readin and writin" (p. 227). He believes that literacy allows the 
Finches to rise above prejudice, while illiteracy sinks the Cunninghams into 
a moral quagmire. In the face of such injustice, Jem realizes that Boo 
Radley may want to stay inside to avoid the prejudice and injustice. 

Discussion Activities 

Have students identify the most important turning points in the novel. Ask 
students to reference the passages from the novel, explaining why these events are 
the most significant. Use this information for the next activity. 

As a class, map a time line that depicts the development of the dramatic build-up 
from the beginning. This map should include the most significant turning points, 
but also examine the lesser events that build tension. As students develop their 
maps, they should define the beginning, middle, and end of the novel. 

Writing Exercise 

Outline a sequel to Lee's novel. How would this plot unfold? How would students 
map the beginning, middle, and end? Have students write the opening paragraphs 
to the sequel. 

Rewrite the novel's ending as if Tom Robinson was acquitted. If he were acquitted, 
would the novel be as powerful? Would it be more powerful? 

^3 Homework 

Read Chapters 25-27 (pp. 227-254). Why did Lee choose this title? How is 
literacy a theme of the novel? 

National Endowment for the Arts 



Themes of 
the Novel 

Lesson One through Lesson Eight should assist the class in developing an 
interpretation of the novel. The development of characters, the implications 
of Lee's figurative language, and the unfolding plot contribute to the themes. 
The themes of a novel explore the meaning of human life. Themes are 
issues — love, war, freedom, and responsibility — that grab a reader's 
attention and don't let up. 

Use these themes as springboards. Themes should lend to a specific 
interpretation of the novel. Use the historical references provided to support 
your ideas. For example, try to decide if the novel is about justice, race, 
small towns, the South, or coming-of-age. 

Discussion Activities and Writing Exercise 

Students can come up with five themes in the novel. Here are some samples: 


At what points do different characters make remarks about race? At what points 
do other characters' actions speak louder than their words? Does the novel make 
a final statement about how race should affect our treatment of others? Does 
Dolphus Raymond provide us a clue to this question? 


Return to Sandra Day O'Connors statement that the "idea of justice pervades 
everything" in the novel. What evidence supports or rejects O'Connor's view? If 
Lee is using the novel to provide us with a definition of justice for the twentieth 
century, what is her definition? Remember, she published the novel in I960, during 
the Civil Rights era. 


Explore Jem's statement about literacy. Review the novel, noting occasions where 
reading plays an important role. How is the novel developing an argument about 
the value of reading? What is more important the activity of reading or the 
content within the text? 


A tomboy, Scout becomes more feminine as the novel closes. How does Scout 
battle with her gender role? Does she give a new definition to feminine? How 
does this relate to the rest of the story? In what ways do Jem and Dill face the 
same coming-of-age dilemma? Finally, does this reflect the 1 930s, 1 960s, or both? 

H Homework 

Read Chapters 28-3 1 (pp. 254-281). Begin essays, using "Essay Topics" at the end 
of this guide. Outlines due next class. 

2 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 


A Great 

The topics in this guide reflect the fundamental elements of the novel. The 
writers voice, rhythm, and sense of poetry enchant us, providing literary 
pleasures while making statements about our humanity. The pacing of the 
novel s plot allows us insight into the tempos of another life. As the 
protagonist navigates challenges, we are guided through our own adventures 
by the successes and failures of the central character. Finally, great stories 
articulate and explore the tensions and conflicts within our daily lives. 

Discussion Activities 

Ask students to make a list of the characteristics of a great book. Put these on 
the board. What elevates a novel to greatness? Then ask them to discuss, within 
groups, other books they know that include some of the same characteristics. Do 
any of these books remind them of To Kill a Mockingbird 7 . Is this a great novel? 

A great writer can be the voice of a generation. What kind of voice does Lee 
provide through Scout and the Finch family? What does this voice tell us about 
the concerns and dreams of her generation? How does this voice represent the 
era of the Great Depression and Jim Crow? 

In response to Ewell's death, what does Scouts concluding comment, "Well, it'd be 
sorta like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" (p. 276) mean? How might Lee's 
portrayal of Scout, in this scene, make this a great novel? 

Writing Exercise 

If you were the voice of your generation, what would be your most important 
message? Why might you choose to convey this in a novel rather than a speech 
or essay? What story would you tell to get your point across? 

Have students work on their essays in class. Be available to assist with outlines, 
drafts, and arguments. Have them partner with another student to edit outlines 
and/or rough drafts. For this editing, provide students with a list of things they 
should look for in a well-written essay. 

Ul Homework 

Finish essay. Students will present their paper topics and interpretations to the 
class. Celebrate by participating in a Big Read community event or show Horton 
Foote's film version of To Kill a Mockingbird. 

National Endowment for the Arts 


The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, 
as do the Discussion Questions in the Readers Guide. Advanced students can come up with their 
own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided 

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or 
thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting 
reasons should be backed by references to the text. 

1 . What are the different views of reading 
portrayed by Scout, Jem, and Atticus? How is 
reading linked to morality for each of these 
characters? Which view does the author 

2. Lee writes of the Ewell property that "against 5. 
the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel 

slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared 

for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss 

Maudie Atkinson" (p. 194). What do the 

flowers tell us about their keeper, Mayella 

Ewell? Are the geraniums a symbol? If so, why, 

and if not, why not? 6. 

3. A true gift is, in one sense, an unexpected 
blessing bestowed by a person — or even, 
perhaps, by fate. Some of them may be objects, 
while some may be things that cannot be seen 

but are no less important. Early in the novel, 7. 

the children find a mysterious shiny package in 
the knothole of a live oak tree (p. 53). What 
gifts are given in To Kill a Mockingbird? Why 
might they be important to the unfolding of 
the story? 

4. The Radley place undergoes a change in the 
course of the novel. At the beginning, we are 

told, "Inside the house lived a malevolent 
phantom" (p. 9). By the end, Scout fearlessly 
walks Boo up to his front porch. What change 
has taken place in Scout that allows her to walk 
with Boo? 

Maudie Atkinson says,"Atticus Finch was the 
deadest shot in Maycomb County in his time" 
(p. I 1 2). What lessons do the Finch children 
learn from the incident with the mad dog? 
Explain in detail, indicating how they change 
their understanding of their father. Is the 
mad-dog a symbol of some Maycomb citizens? 
What does the visit to the Negro church teach 
Scout and Jem about black people in Maycomb? 
How is their culture different from the culture 
of white people the children know? How are 
the two connected? 

At the novel s end, Scout says of Boo Radley, 
"...neighbors give in return. We never put back 
into the tree what we took out of it we had 
given him nothing, and it made me sad" (p. 320). 
Is Scout right, that they gave nothing in return? 
Does this comment come from the adult-Scout 
narrator or the child-Scout narrator? 

I 4 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 

Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read 
community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, 
or a bookstore. 

1 . Invite your visual arts specialist to assist 
students. Draw a portrait of a favorite 
character in To Kill a Mockingbird. Other 
students can draw maps of Maycomb or 
illustrations of prominent buildings. Still 
others can draw something that we are 
never allowed to see in the novel: the inside 
of Boo Radley's house. Team with a local 
bookstore to display the visual art. 

2. Parents' Night: Have students choose a 
dramatic scene from the novel and draft a 
script using Harper Lee's dialogue. Memorize 
the lines. Before each presentation, have a 
narrator explain the context of the scene. 
Then, have students act out the scene. After 
each scene, have a commentator explain why 
the students chose that particular scene. 

3. Ask students to prepare a speech by Boo 
Radley. They should imagine what Boo might 
want to say about the town where he was 
raised — a subject on which he has been 
completely silent. They should use their 
imaginations, but also references to the novel. 
Have students give their speeches at a local 
bookstore or library. 

4. Ask students to produce a scene in which 
they put one of the characters of To Kill a 
Mockingbird on trial. They can choose anyone 
they like whom they think is guilty. They should 
write the dialogue including characters who 
testify. The scene can be produced at a student 
assembly and include a discussion session 

5. Explore the historical period of the 1 930s 
by creating posters that provide in-depth 
information on what is happening in the 
following artistic communities: music and jazz, 
theater, visual arts, photography, and dance. 
Display these posters in the school or 

National Endowment for the Arts 



Biography: Harper Lee 

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in 
Monroeville, Alabama. Her father, Amasa 
Coleman Lee, was a lawyer, newspaper editor, and 
state senator during her formative years. Harper 
Lee's childhood in a small Southern town decades 
before the triumph of the Civil Rights movement 
provided all the material she needed for her 
celebrated, and only, novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Though narrated by a child, Mockingbird was not a 
story Lee could have written without experience in 
the larger adult world. She studied at Huntingdon 
College, the University of Alabama (where she 
never finished a law degree), and at Oxford 
University in England. In 1950, she moved to 
New York City, where she worked as an airline 
reservation clerk. Convinced she had a story to tell 
about her own magical childhood, she moved to a 
cold-water apartment and, in earnest, took up the 
life of a struggling writer. 

In 1957, her attempt to publish the novel failed. 
On the advice of an editor, she decided to turn 
what was a manuscript of short stories into a 
longer, more coherent narrative about the 
Depression-era South. She gained valuable 
inspiration when, in 1959, she traveled to Kansas 
with childhood friend Truman Capote (the 
inspiration for Dill in Mockingbird). There she 
helped Capote research In Cold Blood, a novel 
published to wide acclaim in 1 966. 

To Kill a Mockingbird, finally published in 1960, 
was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1 96 1 . The 
following year the book was adapted as a movie 
with an Academy Award-winning screenplay by 
Horton Foote. Virtually overnight Lee became a 
literary sensation. A resolution was passed in her 
honor by the Alabama legislature in 1961, and in 
1 966 she was named to the National Council of 
the Arts by President Lyndon Johnson. 

In the last 40 years, Lee has received numerous 
honors, including several honorary university 
degrees. Most recently she was awarded the Los 
Angeles Public Library Literary Award in 2005. 

Expectations notwithstanding, Lee has never 
published another book. Her entire published 
oeuvre consists of a brilliant novel and 
miscellaneous articles, mostly from the 1 960s. 


National Endowment for the Arts 


The Great Depression 

The 1 929 stock market crash set into motion a 
series of events, plunging America into its greatest 
economic depression. By 1933, the country's gross 
national product had been nearly cut in half, and 
16 million Americans were unemployed. Not until 
1 937 did the New Deal policies of President 
Franklin Roosevelt temper the catastrophe. This 
economic down-turn did not end until massive 
investment in national defense demanded by 
World War II. 

The causes of the Depression were many, and still 
debated. High-spending in the 1 920s created a gap 
preventing working class people from increasing 
their incomes. The trade policies of earlier 
administrations increased the cost of American 
goods abroad. Lines of credit were overextended, 
which fueled speculation on Wall Street. The crash 
that occurred on October 24, 1929 ("Black 
Thursday"), soon spread across the world, ruining 
European economies not fully recovered from 
World War I. 

American writers and artists depicted the 
devastation in prose and pictures. John Steinbeck 
immortalized the plight of Oklahoma tenant 
farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl in The Grapes of 
Wrath (1939). James Agee's Let Us Now Praise 
Famous Men ( 1 94 1 ) used the grim but dignified 
photographs of Walker Evans to illustrate the 
catastrophe in rural areas. Photographer Dorothea 
Lange, employed by the Farm Security 
Administration, documented in magazines and 
newspapers nationwide the reality that confronted 
American farmers. 

Harper Lee experienced the Great Depression as a 
child in Monroeville, Alabama, and used her 
memory of it in To Kill a Mockingbird. "Maycomb 
county," she writes, "had recently been told that it 
had nothing to fear but fear itself" (p. 6), a 
reference to a famous speech by President 
Roosevelt. Walter Cunninghams father refused a 
WPA (Works Progress Administration) job, fearing 
what would come of his independence if he went 
on relief. And Bob Ewell, as Scout tells us, was "the 
only man I ever heard of who was fired from the 
WPA for laziness" (p. 284). 

National Endowment for the Arts 



The Civil Rights Movement 

Civil rights are something most Americans take for 
granted today. But millions of Americans were long 
denied fundamental democratic rights: voting, 
freedom of movement, due process, and equal 
protection under the law. At the end of the 
Civil War, the U.S. government began passing 
constitutional amendments and civil rights 
legislation on everything from voting rights to the 
right to own property and appear in court. The civil 
rights movement in America really began as 
a newly freed African-American population 
demanded rights. 

Well-intentioned federal law was obscured by the 
failure of Reconstruction in the 1870s. Southern 
states passed a variety of "Jim Crow" laws 
enforcing racial segregation in education, housing, 
transportation, and public facilities. Marriage 
between blacks and whites was forbidden. For 
almost 90 years following Reconstruction, poll taxes 
and literacy tests made voting all but impossible for 
African Americans. 

A forceful, non-violent movement opposed Jim 
Crow. In 1909, W.E.B. Dubois co-founded the 
National Association for the Advancement of 
Colored People (NAACP), leading the 20th- 
century civil rights struggle. With opposition from 
the Ku Klux Klan, the civil rights movement 
struggled through the 1 920s and 1 930s, marred by 
race riots and lynching. Between 1 882 and 1 968, 
some 300 blacks were lynched in Alabama alone. 

Slowly, the federal government and the courts 
endorsed the lead of the NAACP and other 
organizations. In 1954 the Supreme Court, in 
Brown v. Board of Education, ruled that "separate 
but equal" school facilities were unconstitutional, 
ordering integration in public schools. The next 
year Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a 
white person, leading to the Montgomery Bus 
Boycott. In the decade that followed, under the 
spiritual and political leadership of Martin Luther 
King, Jr., the movement for civil rights expanded, 
even if the path was hard and bloody. With the 
Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 
1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the civil 
rights of ^//Americans were established by law. 


National Endowment for the Arts 

Printed Resources 

Bloom, Harold, editor. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird 
Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations. (New York: Chelsea 
House, 1996). 

Childress, Mark. "Looking for Harper Lee." Southern Living 
(May 1 997). pp. 148-50. 

Erisman, Fred. "The Romantic Regionalism of Harper Lee." 
Alabama Review, No. 26, (April, 1 973). pp. 1 22- 1 36. 

Going, William T. "Truman Capote: Harper Lee's Fictional 
Portrait of the Artist as an Alabama Child." Alabama Review, 
Vol. 42, No. 2. pp. 136-149. 

Johnson, Claudia Durst. UnderstandingTo Kill a Mockingbird: 
A Student Casebook. (New York: Greenwood, 1994). 

Johnson, Claudia Durst. To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening 
Boundaries. (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994). 

Shields, Charles J. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. (New 
York: Henry Holt, 2006). 

Web sites 
A site that deals with every facet of Lee and her novel, 
including a biography, bibliography, and little known facts 
about her life and career. 

http://www.lausd.k 1 
A very detailed guide for student and teacher on idioms, 
vocabulary, and allusions in the novel. It was assembled by 
a high school teacher in Los Angeles. I 1/ 

A compendium of exercises, study tools, and links for both 
the novel and the film, the site is very useful but somewhat 
out of date. 

National Endowment for the Arts 


National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards* 

1 . Students read a wide range of print and non- 
print texts to build an understanding of texts, 
of themselves, and of the cultures of the United 
States and the world; to acquire new 
information; to respond to the needs and 
demands of society and the workplace; and for 
personal fulfillment.Among these texts are 
fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary 

2. Students read a wide range of literature from 
many periods in many genres to build an 
understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., 
philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human 

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to 
comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate 
texts.They draw on their prior experience, 
their interactions with other readers and 
writers, their knowledge of word meaning and 
of other texts, their word identification 
strategies, and their understanding of textual 
features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, 
sentence structure, context, graphics). 

4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, 
and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, 
vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a 
variety of audiences and for different purposes. 

5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as 
they write and use different writing process 
elements appropriately to communicate with 
different audiences for a variety of purposes. 

6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, 
language conventions (e.g., spelling and 
punctuation), media techniques, figurative 
language, and genre to create, critique, and 
discuss print and non-print texts. 

7. Students conduct research on issues and 
interests by generating ideas and questions, and 
by posing problems.They gather, evaluate, and 
synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., 
print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to 
communicate their discoveries in ways that suit 
their purpose and audience. 

8. Students use a variety of technological and 
information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, 
computer networks, video) to gather and 
synthesize information and to create and 
communicate knowledge. 

9. Students develop an understanding of and 
respect for diversity in language use, patterns, 
and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, 
geographic regions, and social roles. 

1 0. Students whose first language is not English 
make use of their first language to develop 
competency in the English language arts and to 
develop understanding of content across the 

I 1 . Students participate as knowledgeable, 

reflective, creative, and critical members of a 
variety of literacy communities. 

1 2. Students use spoken, written, and visual 
language to accomplish their own purposes 
(e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and 
the exchange of information). 

*This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and develop 
your application of the curriculum. 


National Endowment for the Arts 



"There is one way in this country in which all 
men are created equal — there is one human 
institution that makes a pauper the equal of 

a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of 
an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal 

of any college president. That institution, 

gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme 

Court of the United States or the humblest 

J. P. court in the land, or this honorable court 

which you serve. Our courts have their faults, 

as does any human institution, but in this 

country our courts are great levelers, and in 

our courts all men are created equal." 

— from To Kill a Mockingbird 

The one thing that 
doesn't abide by 
majority rule is a 
person's conscience 

— from To Kill a Mockingbird 

m I 

i ■ 


« ■ ™ 

77^ 5/g- /fo&/ if #« initiative of the National Endowment 
for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of 
American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in 
partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library 
Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big 
Read brings together partners across the country to 
encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment. 

■rt* ..INSTITUTE of , .. 

•—.•••.. Museum,, library 

• -••• SERVICES 

A great nation deserves great art. 

The Big Read for military communities is made possible by