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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Book Club for Middle School discusses To Kill a Mockingbird within a themed multi-book unit along with three other stories Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

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Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of To Kill a Mockingbird.

A Synopsis

Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and her older brother Jem live with their widowed father Atticus, a respected lawyer, in rural Alabama during the Depression. For a time, the children’s lives are filled with adventures surrounding their fascination with a spooky house on their street. Rumor has it that an Arthur “Boo” Radley has lived in the house for years without ever leaving. Life becomes much more complicated when Atticus makes the decision to defend Tom Robinson, an African American man accused of raping a white girl. The Finch family faces hostility from a community entrenched in the deep-seated racism of the times. Despite Atticus’s evidence to the contrary, Tom is found guilty and dies trying to escape from prison. To punish Atticus for defending Tom, the father of Tom’s accuser attacks Jem and Scout one night. The children are saved by none other than their secret friend—Boo Radley.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

About the Author and the Book

  • Harper Lee — The official site of the author provides a biography and other information.
  • Harper Lee Biography — Biography site has a thorough biography, videos, and other information on the author.
  • Interview with Harper Lee — The Bluegrass Special provides an interview with the author her childhood, life, and writing.
  • Common Sense Media — This review of the book gives it 5 out of 5 stars. You can read details and user reviews about the book.

Explore the Novel's Setting

  • Facts about Alabama — The Infoplease website has compiled quick facts about Alabama including where the state's name came from.
  • The Great Depression — PBS provides this site with general information about The Great Depression including a timeline and a movie about riding the rails.
  • The Scottsboro Boys — Alabama 1931, nine black teenagers were arrested for allegedly raping two white woman. Over the next two decades, the boys would struggle for justice.
  • PBS: Jim Crow Laws — Learn about the Jim Crow laws, segregation, and personal accounts by individuals who experienced those times.

Big Theme Questions

What is the meaning of civil rights?

How and why do prejudices against groups of people develop?

In what ways are people affected by prejudice and racism?

How do people begin to overcome their prejudices?

What was the American civil rights movement? What were the goals and methods of people involved in the movement?

Outline of Lesson Plan | Discussion Topics | Writing Prompts

The following section can be used to get discussions started in your classroom. It is based on the themed multi-book Lesson Plan within Book Club for Middle School. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for the students that support the writing prompts. The writing prompts provided are meant as suggestions only. As students become more comfortable with the Book Club format, they will certainly have ideas and questions that go beyond the prompts. Consider giving students “free choice” as a log option. Book Club Reading Logs help students respond to literature and organize ideas as they participate in Book Club.

Chapters 1–4 | Literary Elements: Setting

  • What do you learn about setting (the time and place in which events occur) in this first reading assignment?
  • Predict how the setting might relate to the theme of civil rights. (Think about how the lives of African Americans are portrayed.)

Chapters 5–6 | Response to Literature: Characterization

  • Describe an important character you’ve encountered in the reading so far. Explain how the author reveals this character’s traits (provide details, sample dialogue, description, etc.).
  • So far, which characters do you like, dislike, have trouble understanding, or relate to easily?
  • How does setting seem to affect individual characters in the book?

Chapters 7–9 | Literary Elements: Point of View and Voice

  • Describe the unique point of view and voice of the narrator in the book. Support your response with details, words, and phrases.
  • In today’s reading assignment, what struggle or problem does the narrator face? How does he or she react to the situation?
  • How would the events be different if they were told from another character’s point of view? Choose one other character and describe a scene in the book from this character’s point of view.

Chapters 10–12 | Comprehension: Plot and Sequencing

  • Describe an incident or event that has a strong effect on the narrator.
  • What questions are raised in your mind by events in the book so far?
  • What statements can you make about the world in which the narrator lives?

Chapters 13–15 | Literary Elements: External and Internal Conflict

  • Describe one external conflict and one internal conflict.
  • What conflict seems to drive forward the events of the book?
  • What do pride and self-respect mean to the characters?
  • Return to the theme of civil rights. What inequities do characters live with on a daily basis?

Chapters 16–18 | Literary Elements: Symbolism

  • Identify and write about an example of symbolism in the book.
  • Write about the poem “A Black Man Talks of Reaping.” Connect it to the unit theme or to a specific incident or event in the novel.
  • How do the characters in the novel describe prejudice? Collect quotations from the book.
  • What is the most memorable or disturbing example of prejudice so far?

Chapters 19–21 | Response to Literature: Confronting Problems

  • The characters face a variety of problems and struggle to find solutions. Create a problem/solution chart in which you can keep track of the ways in which different characters respond to problems in their lives.
  • Continue charting important events in the plot of the book.
  • Write about a time when you were forced to confront a problem or a difficult situation. Compare and contrast your response to the problem with the way a character in the novel responds to a problem.

Chapters 22–24 | Literary Elements: Imagery

  • What images does the author use to help readers experience a scene in the book? Note specific words and phrases that stand out to you.
  • Explain any evidence of racism or racial tension in today’s reading assignment.
  • Connect the poem “Dream Variations” to a theme or idea in the book or to something discussed in class.

Chapters 25–29 | Composition: Personal Letter

  • Focus on your favorite or least favorite character. Write a letter to this person, explaining why you admire or disagree with him or her. Use concrete details from the text to support your ideas, and give the character advice if appropriate.
  • Review the predictions you made earlier. Have you been surprised by anything? Explain. Then make more predictions for the end of the book.

Chapters 30–32 | Response to Literature: Family Connections

  • Describe the importance of family in the novel. How are the characters’ experiences in their families both challenging and rewarding?
  • How do events bring family members closer together? How do these events strain relationships between family members?
  • Compare and contrast a relationship you have with someone in your family to a relationship between characters in the book.

Chapters 33–36 | Response to Literature: Characters Coming of Age Through Experience

  • Choose one character and explain how he or she has been affected and/or changed by events in the book.
  • What have you learned from events?
  • Review the predictions you made for the final chapters of the book. Were you surprised by anything? Explain.