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Teaching Guide

Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird

To Teach a Classic

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To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greats, plain and simple. Whether it's your first time teaching it or you've taught it so many times that you've run out of fresh ideas, we've got you covered. 

In this guide you will find

  • an activity connecting the fictional trial of Tom Robinson with the real-life tragedy of Emmett Till.
  • reading quizzes to be sure students don't think this is a book about bird hunting.
  • a repertoire of essential terms to mollify students who are sullen by the prospect of reading this auspicious novel.

We call this guide To Shmoop a Mockingbird...and it will make sure you do the book justice.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: In January 2009, high school teacher John Foley wrote an opinion piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer arguing that, now that President Obama is President-elect (at the time of Foley's publication), classic texts like To Kill a Mockingbird and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be dropped from the curriculum for using the "N-word."

What do you think? What do you think your students think? What do you say we find out? 

First, your students will evaluate Foley's editorial about dropping To Kill a Mockingbird and other literary classics that use the "N-word" from the high school curriculum. They'll answer critical questions about the article and evaluate the strength and logic of Foley's statements. Then, they'll participate in the debate about racial slurs in literature and book censorship by writing their own newspaper editorial on the subject. 

Length of Lesson: 1-2 class periods

Materials Needed: 

* NOTE: If your students won't have internet access, you may consider bringing hard copies of these books to class.) 

Step 1: After your students have finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird, have them read John Foley’s opinion piece, Time to update schools’ reading lists

Step 2: Students should answer the following questions once they're done reading the article:

  1. Summarize Foley's overall argument (his thesis statement) in one to two sentences.
  2. Create an outline or list of the evidence and/or assertions that Foley uses to support his main argument. Do you think Foley offers enough support for his overall argument? Why or why not?
  3. What does Foley mean when he says, "Barack Obama is president-elect of the United States, and novels that use the 'N-word' repeatedly need to go." What is implied in this statement? What does Barack Obama's presidency have to do the use of the "N-word" in literature? Do you think this is a reasonable argument? Why or why not?
  4. Why do you think Foley wants books like To Kill a Mockingbird removed from school curricula even though he "love[s]" them and thinks they should remain in school libraries?
  5. Why does Foley think that teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a "predominately black" classroom would be "difficult"? Do you agree?
  6. Why, according to Foley, is Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a "tough sell" to high school students? Do you think Foley's remarks about the novel's pace and language strengthen or weaken his overall argument about the "N-word" in literature?
  7. What does Foley say about Atticus Finch’s attitude toward the "N-word"? Do you agree with his opinion? (Is there textual evidence in Mockingbird that Atticus is as casual about the word as Foley suggests? What about Atticus' position on racism in general? Is Foley right when he says that Atticus' attitude is "hopelessly dated"?)
  8. As we know, the "N-word" is derogatory and racist. We also know that the word appears repeatedly in Harper Lee's novel. Does the novel's use of the term necessarily mean that the novel is racist? Why or why not? Check out Shmoop's discussion of Race in To Kill a Mockingbird if you want to think about this some more.

Step 3: Phew. That's a lot of thinking (and writing) your students just did. It's a good idea at this point to take some time to discuss these questions out loud. That doesn't mean you have to go through them all, one by one (although you can). You could just ask students which questions they found most interesting and encourage them to share any thoughts they wish to share. 

Alternately, you could take a poll and ask students whether they agree or disagree with Foley and then have them explain their reasoning. 

Whatever you decide, do take a few minutes to debrief and get students thinking about their thinking. That will help them with the next part. 

Step 4: The culminating assignment! They've read an editorial, they've discussed an editorial, and now they're going to write an editorial. Instruct your students to write an opinion piece in which they address the question of whether or not literature that contains the "N-word" belongs in any school's curriculum. In their editorials, they should also take a position on whether or not To Kill a Mockingbird, specifically, should be taught in public schools.

If you have a school paper, you can encourage your students to submit their editorials for publication. Alternately, they could submit them to your local paper, or you could create your own class paper (in hard copy or online in a blog or website) to publish their work. 

If any of these routes is possible, be sure to tell your students in advance. Knowing that their writing will be viewed by a larger audience may inspire them to greater literary heights. 

(Standards Met: CA English Language Arts 9th&10th Reading Comprehension 2.7, 2.8; Literary Response and Analysis 3.1, 3.3, 3.8, 3.12, Writing Strategies 1.1, 1.2, 1.4; Writing Applications 2.3, 2.4. CA English Language Arts 11th and 12th Reading Comprehension 2.1, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6; Writing Strategies 1.1, 1.3)

TEKS Standards: §110.31. English Language Arts and Reading, English I b: 6, 10A, 13B, 16A, 16B, 16C, 16D, 16E, 17C, 18A, 18B, 19, 24A, 25 §110.32. English Language Arts and Reading, English II b: 6, 10A, 13B, 16A, 16B, 16C, 16D, 16E, 17C, 18A, 18B, 19, 24A, 25

Instructions for Your Students

According to high school teacher John Foley, when Obama got in, To Kill a Mockingbird should have been put out. Along with Huck Finn and Lennie & George

No, he doesn't think any of these books should be burned. He doesn't even think they should be removed from the shelves. He just thinks it's time for books that use the "N-word" to be dropped from school curricula. But what do you think? 

That's what we aim to find out. And we want you to put it in writing.  

Step 1: First things first. Take a moment to read John Foley's opinion piece, "Time to update schools’ reading lists."

Step 2: When you're done reading, go ahead and answer the following questions:

  1. Summarize Foley's overall argument (his thesis statement) in one to two sentences.
  2. Create an outline or list of the evidence and/or assertions that Foley uses to support his main argument. Do you think Foley offers enough support for his overall argument? Why or why not?
  3. What does Foley mean when he says, "Barack Obama is president-elect of the United States, and novels that use the 'N-word' repeatedly need to go." What is implied in this statement? What does Barack Obama's presidency have to do the use of the "N-word" in literature? Do you think this is a reasonable argument? Why or why not?
  4. Why do you think Foley wants books like To Kill a Mockingbird removed from school curricula even though he "love[s]" them and thinks they should remain in school libraries?
  5. Why does Foley think that teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a "predominately black" classroom would be "difficult"? Do you agree?
  6. Why, according to Foley, is Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a "tough sell" to high school students? Do you think Foley's remarks about the novel's slow pace and difficult language strengthen or weaken his overall argument about the "N-word" in literature?
  7. What does Foley say about Atticus Finch's attitude toward the "N-word"? Do you agree with his opinion? (Is there textual evidence in Mockingbird that Atticus is as casual about the word as Foley suggests? What about Atticus' position on racism in general? Is Foley right when he says that Atticus' attitude is "hopelessly dated"?)
  8. As we know, the "N-word" is derogatory and racist. We also know that the word appears repeatedly in Harper Lee's novel. Does the novel's use of the term necessarily mean that the novel is racist? Why or why not? Check out Shmoop's discussion of "Race" in To Kill a Mockingbird if you want to think about this some more.

Step 3: Processing time. Discuss these questions with your classmates and see what they have to say. Let your teacher get in a word or two as well. 

Step 4: You've read an editorial, you've discussed an editorial, and now it's time for you to write an editorial. So, what do you think? Should To Kill a Mockingbird and other books that use the "N-word" be taught in public schools? Why or why not? 

In your opinion piece, be sure to:

  • introduce and clearly state your position
  • offer plenty of evidence to support your opinion
  • address whether or not To Kill a Mockingbird, specifically, should be taught
  • offer a conclusion that summarizes your main points

One more thing to keep in mind: editorials are typically published. In newspapers, on websites, on blogs—it doesn't matter where. The point is that they are meant to be read by a larger audience. So write yours with that in mind, because you never know. Your sneaky teacher may find a way to publish it. 

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.10
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.10
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.8
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.5
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.7
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.9
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.10
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.6
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.5
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5

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