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The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Elizabeth George Speare

Theme: Personal Choices
Grades: Grades 7-8


Summary:
Speare's second novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, is a romantic, historical tale about a young girl's rebellion against bigotry and her Puritan surroundings. Kit is a free-spirited sixteen-year-old colonial girl from Barbados who comes to live with relatives in the solemn, hard-working town of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Kit feels trapped and lonely in her new life until the day she finds refuge in the Meadows. There she meets an old Quaker woman named Hannah, who is known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond. Uncle Matthew forbids Kit to see Hannah, but Kit persists in visiting her friend and even helps an abused child named Prudence find solace there. When an epidemic causes the townspeople to go after Hannah for practicing witchcraft, Kit helps her escape. Then Kit herself becomes the subject of the witch hunt. Her incarceration and trial force her to reexamine her feelings towards two young men and her future. In the end, Kit must choose the direction her life will take.


THEME OPENERS
  1. Linking to Today: Personal Choices.
    In The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the main character moves to a society in which her choices are much more restricted than they were when she was growing up. Have small groups of students brainstorm about and list the kinds of choices they have in their society today, especially in such areas as education, behavior, occupation, dress, and the choice of a mate. Then have them consider the cultural factors that might restrict their choices in some way, and what happens when someone breaks through the restrictions and chooses a path not sanctioned by society. Encourage students to think about their conclusions as they read the novel, and see if their ideas fit the situations Kit encounters.
  1. Group Work: The Freedom Debate.
    Freedom and the importance of obeying authority are central issues in this novel. Have students explore their understanding of these concepts by debating one of the following statements: 1) Individual freedom is more important than doing things for the good of the community. 2) A person should follow his or her own heart, even if it means disobeying rules or going against the rest of the group.
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. Thanks for the Memories.
    Have students work in small groups to role play interviews with various characters from the novel. Each group can choose one or two key events in the novel and plan interviews with the characters involved, asking them about their memories of the event. Students assuming the roles of the characters should try to adopt their character's personality for the interview and to speak from that character's point of view on the issue.

  1. Growing Pains.
    All the characters grow as a result of the events in this novel. Ask students to select one character and make an illustrated timeline of that character's life within the scope of the book. What incidents in their life had the most impact?
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. Who's To Blame?
    The Wethersfield people blamed Hannah for the epidemic that swept through the town. Instruct students to find information about another incident in history of a person or a group being used as a scapegoat for hard times. Have them write a report about the incident they find and conclude by showing any parallels they see between this incident and Hannah's ordeal.
  1. Compare/Contrast.
    Research the Puritan and Quaker religions as they were practiced in colonial times. Make a chart comparing and contrasting each religion's views on such issues as worship services, sin, education, freedom, holidays, children, and any other issue you would like to include.