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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Witch hunts have never been less exciting.

GO TO STUDENT LEARNING GUIDE

Instead of witch burning and pitchforks, The Witch of Blackbird Pond gives us corn husking and wool carding. But just as you don't want your students judging people without knowing them (the moral of the story!), you don't want them judging this book by its cover…or its first few pages.

In this guide you will find

  • reading quizzes to be sure students thoroughly explore Blackbird pond.
  • resources including a guide to British punishments (ouch) and the history of popcorn (yum).
  • an activity considering modern-day witch hunts.

And much more.

It doesn't take black magic to teach about this Witch, just our teaching guide.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 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: Let's get started by jumping right in (we'll survive this water test!) and doing exactly what Kit got fired for doing: putting on a show to bring our story to life.

Witchcraft, whether real or imagined, has inspired writers for a long time. So, it's time to get your budding writers in the game and on the stage. For this creative and performance-based activity, students will imagine some of the scenes that were not included in the story. They'll use what they know of the historical time and observations about the characters in order to inform their version of what might have happened behind the scenes. This lesson should take about 3-5 class periods to complete.

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of the novel
  • Props and costumes as desired

Step 1: Get talking. In groups, students will brainstorm a few "Scenes That Weren't," or scenes not included in the actual book. Ask them to come to a consensus as a group as to which scene they plan to tackle. We'll talk more about exactly what that means in a minute, but for the time being, which question is most tempting?

  • What might the discussion between Prudence's parents have been right before Kit's trial?
  • What would Mercy and Judith discuss after getting ready for bed (assuming nobody else was around)?
  • What happened to John Holbrook while he was said to have been captured by Indians (while regrettably engaged to Judith instead of Mercy)?
  • At one point, Kit learns that Hannah Tupper and Nat Eaton are friends. What might Hannah and Nat have discussed (before the witch hunt and all the other excitement)?

Step 2: Ask each group to share which question they like best, and why it is appealing. Or, maybe they have another inspired idea. We're open to it.

Step 3: This book is crying out for some major clarification. There are tons of things that "might have happened" behind the scenes. Many of these things could have totally changed the course of the whole book. Your readers are going to imagine what could have, should have, would have been, had another scene been included in the text.

Together, groups will each write a short skit (to be performed of course) for the scene they chose. Groups should begin by developing an outline of beginning, middle, and end. Explain that you'll need to give their plans the okay before they begin writing their scripts. One thing at a time...

Step 4: Who are your budding (or wannabe) Hollywood starlets? You know you have a few major class clowns in the room. Well now is their chance to shine. You probably also have some painfully shy kiddos who looked terrified when you mentioned a skit. Fear not, we have a place for everyone.

Once you give the okay, each group will write, prepare, and rehearse their script. Your quiet kiddos can totally take on the writing or prop and costume jobs while your spotlight-lovers can be the actors. As long as everyone is contributing, the division of labor is up to the students.

Remind students to keep the characters, setting, and themes of the novel in mind. We want their skits to be based on sound inferences, not just big imaginations. Groups should be prepared to present text evidence to support the choices they made in the script. Is someone in the group off task? In need of a job? Grab a book and start hunting down those quotes.

We recommend giving students two or three class periods to create and rehearse their skits. They may need some direction from you, both in terms of the focus of their story and, well, the focus of their brains.

Step 5: Show time! Thankfully the Puritan days have passed and we're not likely to get fired for putting on a play. Break out the popcorn and chocolate-covered raisins as each group performs their skit. Then conduct a post-performance interview with each cast (hey, stars have to be ready for anything):

  • Why did you choose this particular scene?
  • Audience, did you think this scene was realistic? Does it fit with the rest of the novel? Does it fit with the novel's setting? Why or why not?
  • What text evidence supports the choices you made about the events and characters in your scene?
  • What was hard about doing this (group work, historical aspects etc.)?
  • What was fun about this? 
  • Could your interpretation have changed the course of the story? How?
  • Why do you think this scene wasn't included in the book?
  • Why do you think playacting seemed so dangerous to the Puritans? How does the idea of "acting" relate to the themes and events of the novel?

Instructions for Your Students

Psst! Today we're going to break the law—the Puritan law, that is. We'll do exactly what Kit got fired for doing: putting on a show to bring our story to life... the horror! How times have changed. Witchcraft, whether real or imagined, has inspired writers for a long time (ahem—Harry Potter?), so it's time you all got in the game and up on the stage.

For this creative and performance-based activity, you will imagine some of the scenes that were not included in the story. You'll use what you know of the historical time and observations about the characters in order to inform your version of what might have happened behind the scenes.

Step 1: Get talking. In groups, brainstorm a few "Scenes That Weren't," or scenes not included in the actual book. Which question is most tempting? Your group will need to agree on a scene before you can proceed to the next level.

  • What might the discussion between Prudence's parents have been right before Kit's trial?
  • What would Mercy and Judith discuss after getting ready for bed (assuming nobody else was around)?
  • What happened to John Holbrook while he was said to have been captured by Indians (while regrettably engaged to Judith instead of Mercy)?
  • At one point, Kit learns that Hannah Tupper and Nat Eaton are friends. What might Hannah and Nat have discussed (before the witch hunt and all the other excitement)?

Step 2: Let's hear it: Which question did you like best? Why is it appealing? Anyone have another inspired idea? We're open to it.

Step 3: This book is crying out for some major clarification. There are tons of things that "might have happened" behind the scenes. Many of these things could have totally changed the course of the whole book. You are going to imagine what could have, should have, would have been, had another scene been included in the text.

Each group will write a short skit (to be performed of course) for the scene you chose. You should begin by identifying what every story needs: a beginning, middle, and end. When you have an outline, see your teacher (today playing the role of your production studio) for approval to continue with the project.

Step 4: Okay budding (or wannabe) Hollywood starlets, where are you? You know how you usually get in trouble for hogging the spotlight during class? Well not today; now is your chance to shine. And what about those of you who felt the blood drain from your face when we mentioned a skit? Fear not, we have a place for everyone.

Once you get the okay, each group will write, prepare, and rehearse their script. Those of you who hate performing can totally take on the writing or prop and costume jobs while you spotlight-lovers can be the actors. As long as everyone is contributing (and cooperating), the division of labor is up to you.

As you write, remember to keep the characters, setting, and themes of the novel in mind. We want your skits to be based on sound inferences, not just big imaginations. You should also be prepared to present text evidence to support the choices you made in the script. Is someone in the group off task? In need of a job? About to land in detention? Grab a book and start hunting down those quotes.

Step 5: Show time! Thankfully the Puritan days have passed and we're not likely to get fired or thrown in jail for putting on a play. Let's break out the popcorn and chocolate-covered raisins as each group performs their skit. Then we'll conduct a post-performance interview with each cast (hey, stars have to be ready for anything):

  • Why did you choose this particular scene?
  • Audience, did you think this scene was realistic? Does it fit with the rest of the novel? Is it consistent with the setting? Why or why not?
  • What text evidence supports the choices you made about the events and characters in your scene?
  • What was hard about doing this (group work, historical aspects etc.)?
  • What was fun about this? 
  • Could your interpretation have changed the course of the story? How?
  • Why do you think this scene wasn't included in the book?
  • Why do you think playacting seemed so dangerous to the Puritans? How does the idea of "acting" relate to the themes and events of the novel?

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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