Teaching Guide: Exploring To Kill a Mockingbird

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Compare and contrast the photographs of kids and a new car and the sharecropper family in Macon County. How do these two pictures relate to the Finch children and the Cunninghams? How do they relate to the Great Depression? Use textual evidence to support your answer.

  2. Listen to the interview with Rosa Jackson. Explain how Atticus Finch would have reacted to Rosa’s arrest. How is Atticus similar to Judge Abernathy? How is Tom Robinson similar to Rosa Jackson? Use textual evidence to support your answer.

  3. Look at the photograph of the children on the playground. Find a quotation from the book that could caption this picture. How does this image show Scout’s feelings about Jem’s school experience? What emotion does the picture evoke?

  4. Look over the review of Alabama schools, specifically in rural areas. Reread chapter two about Scout’s first day of school. What do we learn about rural schools in Alabama during the Great Depression from a historical document and a fictionalized account? Use textual evidence from the novel to support your answer.

  5. Scout tells the reader in chapter one that “there was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with...But it was a time of vague optimism for some people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself." This historical allusion is from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. Read the first page of the address. How could this speech help revive a nation in the depths of a Great Depression?

Classroom activities

At the conclusion of the novel, have students read the Scottsboro trial calendar. With a partner, have students create a Tom Robinson trial calendar. Next have students read The Crime at Scottsboro. Emulating the tone of the excerpt, have students write a one-paragraph editorial proclaiming Tom Robinson’s innocence. Finally, show the “Scottsboro Limited” pamphlet, the flyer, the photograph of mothers, and the photograph of the Communist parade. Allow students to discuss. Students should describe the items, explain what is happening in each, explain how each makes them feel, and identify how each is connected to To Kill a Mockingbird.

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