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To Kill a Mockingbird

Horton Foote

Theme: Justice in the Face of Prejudice
Grades: Grades 9-10


Summary:
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.


THEME OPENERS
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. Alabama Poetry.
    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.

  1. 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.
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. 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.

  2. 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.