|To Kill a Mockingbird
Theme: Justice in the Face of Prejudice
Grades: Grades 9-10
Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, the award-winning
screenplay of To Kill a Mockingbird is constructed as a series
of episodes recalled by its narrator, Jean Louise Finch, also known
as Scout. The main plot concerns the trial of an unjustly accused black
man who is steadfastly defended by Scout's father, a respected lawyer.
Covering a period of one year during Scout's childhood in Alabama, the
story reflects the details of small-town life in the South and examines
the painfully unjust consequences of ignorance, prejudice, and hate,
as well as the values of courage, honor, and decency.
- Tapping Prior Knowledge: Racism in the United States.
Have students define the word "racism." Ask students whether they've
enountered racism in their own lives, and invite them to share their
experiences. Students from other countries might relate experiences
in their countries of origin as well as in this country. Then discuss
what they know about racism in the United States, both in the past
and present. Also discuss the emotions and ideas that accompany racism,
such as prejudice, bias, stereotyping, and fear.
- Linking to Today: Controversial Trials.
Have students discuss the public's fascination with trials currently
in the news. Ask what kinds of participants and/or crimes are most
likely to get extended news coverage; how the news media affects the
public's interest in the trial; and what kinds of forces influence
the outcome of the trial. Have students evaluate the jury system and
the methods of picking jurors. Encourage them to discuss their belief
in or disillusionment with the U.S. justice system, both today and
in the past.
The poem "Freedom" comes from a section of Langston Hughes's book
The Panther and the Lash entitled "Daybreak in Alabama."
Have students prepare an oral presentation of the twelve poems in
this section (or a group of Hughes's poems of their own selection)
and read them to the class.
- Song Fest.
There are many songs that describe or protest discrimination against
African Americans. Have students make a collection of songs with a
particular focus. For example, songs by the singer Leadbelly or by
Sleepy John Estes; protest songs of the sixties; some rap songs of
today. Students should present their collection along with an explaination
of the thread that ties them together.
- Jury Selection Today.
It is true that in 1933 in Alabama, an African American citizen would
be tried by an all-white jury composed entirely of men, and that prominent
citizens could excuse themselves or be struck. Have students try and
answer the question: Have the rules changed? Instruct them to write
a research paper explaining the process of jury selection today, telling
who can be chosen and who can be excused and why.
- The Scottsboro Case.
Have students research the Scottsboro case. Have them write a persuasive
essay arguing whether or not the trial parallels the one in To
Kill a Mockingbird. Then have them use the Supreme Court decision,
the accounts of the Scottsboro case, and information about the legal
system in the 1930s to decide if the Scottsboro trial was also biased.
Have them write a persuasive essay presenting their opinion and supporting
it with facts.