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Teaching Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is so enjoyable for me as a teacher. Her poetry, her artistic arrangement of language, her raw honesty, her depth of knowledge, her growth as a person and her power as a woman jump off of the page for me as a reader. I want my students to experience the profound impact of her words. To do this more successfully I have started posting clips of her speaking on my Collaborize Classroom site to allow my students to hear the deep resonating beauty of her voice. It always gives me goosebumps. I wanted my students to experience that for themselves in the hope it would strengthen their connection to the text.

History Channel has some fabulous video clips too!


“Rather than addressing feelings of being displaced by computers, instructors could focus on meaningful ways to blend the learning experience, appropriately integrating computers where they make sense and providing classroom experiences when they felt computers could not appropriately teach the content.” In her article titled, “Advantages of Blended Learning,” Natalia Sparks describes the myriad ways that technology and online learning can be integrated into traditional classes to maximize the educational experience. As I design engaging discussion questions and student driven assignments to compliment my own curriculum, I am amazed by the possibilities that an online discussion tool has in the contemporary classroom. Although a growing number of teachers recognize this potential and welcome the role of technology into their curriculum, many do not.

Are teachers today prepared to integrate technology into their curriculum? Are teacher training programs giving their students the opportunity to explore the potential of technology? Why are so many teachers resistant to this idea of blending an online component with their in class curriculum?

To read Natalia Sparks’ article “Advantages of Blended Learning,” go to

I actually had to stop a discussion because we were out of time!

Prior to using an online discussion site, I always felt that in class discussions were a silent battle. Students sit, stare and pray that I will not call on them to participate. In contrast, I present countless questions in an attempt to lure the class into an engaging discussion. It was rare that I walked away from a class discussion feeling satisfied with what was discussed. I usually felt frustrated that the same 5 kids spoke (repeatedly) and the rest of the class remained silent.

On Thursday I had planned to spend 10-15 minutes revisiting the previous night’s online discussion. I am teaching Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and we had spent the previous class reading the molestation and rape scenes in chapters 11-12. I had posted the question:

Yes or No Question
Do you think that Mr. Freeman’s death was justified? Why or why not? Support your position with a clear explanation and details from the text. Remember to respect differences in opinion!

The online discussion was fantastic! Students raised a variety of interesting, valid and controversial points. Despite the emotion in the student responses, they were supportive and respectful of their peers’ postings. It was a validation for me that our online discussions are a safe space where students feel free to share their ideas without fear of being attacked or ridiculed.

In class, I shared the pie graph from the results page showing the break down of student votes. In my first and second class 75% said “yes” his death was justified while 25% said “no.”  In contrast, my last class 29% said “yes” and 71% said “no.” I invited students to share their thoughts on the question and asked if the results of our discussion surprised them. This was all I asked. For the next 25 minutes, I sat in stunned silence as they thoughtfully revisited the discussion begun the night before. Students were using each others’ names and referencing specific points made by specific students in the online forum. One student said, “I originally voted ‘yes’ that Mr. Freeman’s death was justified. Then I read Nick’s posting about how his death negatively impacted Marguerite, and I began to rethink my answer. If she felt his death was her fault, then maybe justice was not served.”

After 25 minutes, I actually had to tell them we were out of time and there were still 8 hands in the air. I thanked each class and said it was the first time in my teaching career that I have EVER had to end a discussion when students still wanted to talk. With the exception of maybe 4 or 5 students, everyone spoke multiple times. It was one of the most exciting moments I have ever experienced in the classroom.

Allowing students to discuss online as a regular part of our class has opened the doors of communication for many of my students- “boarder line talkers- who would not otherwise feel comfortable speaking. Students are less intimidated because they have thought through the question[s] and engaged in a conversation online. As a result they feel confident that they have something worthwhile to share with their peers. They also seem more comfortable directly addressing individuals in their class since they are asked to do it online each night.

After nine years of teaching and feeling that I was failing at in class discussions, I feel like I have discovered how to support students in finding their voices!

After reading about the Rutgers University suicide, I was struck by the sad realization that young people do not seem to understand clear boundaries for behavior when it comes to online interactions. The screen functions to liberate students from the social norms that usually dictate their behavior.

In my own class, I have been surprised to witness the difference between the way students speak to one another face-to-face as opposed to their online interactions. Just last week I had to revisit the “Dos and Don’ts of Online Student Communication” because  of a volatile conversation that took place in our online discussion forum. Students were asked to reflect on the essay writing process for their To Kill a Mockingbird essay and provide feedback for how it could have been improved. A sophomore criticized the quality of feedback she received from freshmen peer editors. This sparked several emotional responses from freshmen students who felt they were being attacked. The entire exchange snowballed and created tension in our online forum.

When I addressed the situation in class, I was amazed at the change in tone. Students who had been aggressive online explained very calmly why they were upset. The sophomore whose comment sparked the tense interaction quickly apologized for saying the peer feedback she received “sucked.” She said she remembered being in 9th grade and realized that they were doing the best they could given a new skill set.

In a time of super connectedness, students are collecting “friends” at an accelerated rate thanks to social networking sites. However, they rarely see how their words are received on the faces of the people they converse with online. There is a level of disconnectedness that is evident in tragedies like the Rutgers suicide. How can two individuals (Ravi and Wei) who are by most accounts strong students and good people tape a private interaction then post it online? Why didn’t the possible consequences of this invasion of privacy and public humiliation register for them?

As a teacher I see it as my responsibility to teach students how to engage with their peers online in a healthy and productive way. The first step was creating a safe space online, which I have done by providing clear guidelines for their communication as well as their participation. It is crucial that our conversations be continuously revisited so students can see the impact of their words (both positive and negative) on their peers. Perhaps if students are given the opportunity to take classroom conversations with people they know and see on a daily basis into the online realm, they will be more likely to engage in discussions that more closely mirror how they speak to each other in person. Online discussions that compliment a class allow students an opportunity to practice their online communication skills with people they know and see regularly. This ensures a measure of accountability.

Online communication is rapidly becoming an essential life skill. Shouldn’t we as teachers support students in learning and mastering this skill? Perhaps if more teachers were teaching this skill fewer tragedies like the one at Rutgers would take place.

To Kill a Mockingbird: Online Discussion Questions

For more of my teacher resources go to

I have just finished teaching To Kill a Mockingbird (God, this book gets better every time I read it!) and wanted to share my complete collection of online discussion questions. This year I threw out all of my reading comprehension handouts (since there is no money for copies and paper is hard to hunt down already) and decided to do something different. I wanted to engage my students in dynamic online discussions about the book. My discussion questions range from analytical to creative to controversial. The students loved the variety of topics and their insights, observations, questions, etc. were inspiring for me as a teacher. What a great reminder that they are actually thinking about what they read. In the past, it has been nearly impossible to draw them into meaningful conversations in class. The same few speak while the rest stare silently into space.

I hope these questions will serve to support other teachers using online discussion forums and platforms!

Chapter 1:

What do we learn about the historical context of the novel from Chapter 1? What details does Scout provide in the first chapter about the social, economic, cultural and political climate in Maycomb- and the United States –during this time period? Reference specific details from this first chapter to support your assertions. Forum Question

Based on the your reading of Harper Lee’s biography and details from Chapter 1, do you think the character of Scout is inspired by Harper Lee’s childhood? Choose “yes” or “no,” then defend your answer with details from both the novel as well as Lee’s biography. Yes/No Question *Attach a PDF of Harper Lee’s Biography

In Chapter 1, Scout asserts, “Jem and I found our father satisfactory: he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment” (Lee 10). Why do you think the children feel this way? How do you feel about the fact that Atticus regards them with “courteous detachment?” Why do you think Scout calls her father “Atticus”? Is this a reflection of their relationship? Vote and Suggest Question

What are your parents’ strengths and weaknesses? How will you be similar to or different from your own parents when (and if) you have children of your own? Explain. What qualities, traits, duties, responsibilities, etc., do you feel a parent should possess? Why are these qualities so important? What makes a parent-child relationship healthy? How can you judge the success of a parent? Forum Question

Chapter 2:

What do we learn about Scout, her classmates, her school, Maycomb’s educational system and the community from her first day at school? What does the reader learn from Scout’s interaction with Walter Cunningham? Use details from the book to support your statements. Forum Question

Did the events of Scout’s first day of school shock you? What events during Scout’s first day of school were most surprising? What is ironic about Miss Caroline’s interactions with Scout on that first day? Yes/No Question

Climb Into Their Skin: Day-in-the-Life Creative Posting
In Chapter 3 Atticus tells Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Choose one of the following characters and metaphorically “walk around in their skin.” Describe a typical day for your chosen character given the clues provided in the novel. What thoughts do they have about life, Maycomb, other residents of the town, racial relations, events that take place in town, etc.? Get creative and use sensory details (i.e. sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, and smells) to bring your depiction of this character’s reality to life.
After choosing your character and posting your day-in-the-life response, read your peers’ work and provide feedback on their character depictions. Do their narratives lack any vital information? Could they have added anything to make their writing stronger? Which sensory details are underdeveloped?

  • Calpurnia
  • Miss. Maudie Atkinson
  • Stephanie Crawford
  • Atticus
  • Charles Baker Harris/Dill
  • Aurthur Radley/Boo
  • Walter Cunningham
  • Burris Ewell

Multiple Choice Question

Chapter 3:
Choose a spooky place from your childhood memories to describe in detail. Were there people in this place or living in this house? If so, what were they like? Describe an encounter you had with the house and/or the people inhabiting the space. Write a 300-500 word description of a haunted or spooky place you encountered in your childhood that is similar to Scout, Jem and Dill’s experience with the Radley’s house. Focus on incorporating sensory details to bring this spooky place to life (i.e. What did you see, hear, feel, taste, smell and touch when you encountered this place?) Vote and Suggest Question

Make a prediction about who is leaving gifts in the tree knot for the kids. Why do you think this person is leaving these gifts? What is the symbolic meaning of their gifts? Use quotes from the text to support your predictions. Forum Question

Chapter 4:
Take a deeper look at Boo Radley: Find 2 quotes from the novel (use your annotations) that describe Boo Radley. Share these two quotes with the class (Remember to include MLA citation). Then answer the following questions: Why do you think the kids are so fixated on Boo Radley? Do you think the kids’ description of Boo Radley is accurate? Why or why not? Do you think Boo Radley is an urban legend in Maycomb or does he exist? Explain your answer.
Forum Question

Chapter 5:
During the 1930s gender roles were more strictly defined than they are in today’s society. How are gender roles evident in this novel? What is expected of girls (i.e. appearance, behavior, hobbies, etc.)? What is expected of boys? How does Scout challenge traditional gender roles? How does Scout’s gender limit her ability to take part in Jem and Dill’s activities? Use details from the text to support your answers. Vote and Suggest Question

Chapter 6:
In this chapter, Jem displays physical courage when he peeks into the Radley house. Harper Lee effectively builds the suspense and tension in this scene with her writing. Identify 3 aspects of her writing that helped create suspense for you, the reader. Use specific examples form the scene to support your answers. Vote and Suggest/Forum Question

Chapter 7:
What’s eating Jem? “He [Jem] had been on the verge of telling me something all evening; his face would brighten and he would lean toward me, then he would change his mind. He changed it again. ‘Oh, nothing’.” What do you think Jem wants to tell Scout? What is Jem contemplating what he is hesitant to share with his sister? What is causing his hesitation? Vote and Suggest Question

Chapter 8:

Carefully reread the description of Miss Maudie’s house burning and identify the sensory details used to bring this moment to life. As a reader what do you:

  • see?
  • hear?
  • smell?
  • taste?
  • feel?

Is there any aspect of the description that needed further development? How do these details affect your reading of the chapter? Were there details that were particularly powerful for you? Forum Question

Chapter 9:
Exploring Courage: What does courage mean to you? What are the differences between mental, emotional and physical courage? Describe a time when you witnessed or demonstrated each type of courage. If you have not personally demonstrated or witnessed one of these types of courage, then think of an example from a book or movie. Have you ever demonstrated courage even though you knew you would not “win” or the outcome of your courageous act would not be positive? Do you feel one type of courage is more challenging to demonstrate? Explain your answer. Forum Question

Compare and contrast Uncle Jack and Aunt Alexandra. How are they similar? How are they different? Include two quotes to describe each that support your comparison. Your explanation should include information about:

  • appearance
  • demeanor
  • relationship with Atticus
  • relationship with the children

Forum Question

Chapter 10:
Describe the shift in Jem’s perspective of Atticus from the beginning of Chapter 10 to the end. Are you surprised that one event could so drastically change a child’s perception of his or her parent? How did the incident with Tim Johnson-the mad dog-change Jem’s estimation of Atticus as a father and man? Yes/No Question

Chapter 11:
Do you think Mrs. Dubose is a courageous character? Why or why not? If so, what type of courage does she demonstrate? What adversity (def: distress; affliction; hardship) does she face? If not, why do you think her actions fail to be courageous? Justify your position with details from the novel. Use specific examples and/or quotes to support your ideas.
Yes/No Question

Metaphorical Mockingbirds: Analyzing the Title
Watch this clip from the 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird where the title is mentioned for the first time. Why is it a sin to kill a mockingbird? How are mockingbirds different from other birds?

After analyzing the meaning of Atticus’ statement about mockingbirds, choose a character from the novel you believe may be a metaphorical mockingbird. Support your explanation with evidence from the novel. Forum/Vote and Suggest Question *Include an embedded YouTube video for this question

Chapter 12:
“That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages” (Lee 125).
What are the different roles Calpurnia plays in the novel? In Chapter 12, Calpurnia plays a different role when she is at church compared to the role she plays when she is at the Finch house. In one paragraph, analyze the different roles Calpurnia plays. In a second paragraph, discuss the various roles you play in your own life. Do you act the same around your friends that you would act around your parents? Your teacher? Your employer? Explain in detail two different roles that you play in your own life. Forum Question

Chapter 13:
Do you think Aunt Alexandra’s decision to move in with Atticus and the kids will benefit the children?
Describe the ways in which Aunt Alexandra’s presence in the Finch household changed the kids’ daily lives. Why do you think she decided it was time to move in? What motivated her decision? What is she hoping to accomplish by living in the same house as the children? Yes/No Question

Chapter 14:
“Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand…I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town” (Lee 88). To Kill a Mockingbird presents a poignant commentary on prejudice in the post-depression South.

Describe in detail a time when someone demonstrated prejudice against you. What caused the prejudice (i.e. age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.)? How did you react to this kind of treatment? How did this experience affect you? Have you ever demonstrated prejudice against a particular person or group of people? What caused this prejudice? How did you feel about your actions after the fact? Do you know or love someone who harbors prejudice? How do you deal with this person’s particular prejudice? Do you agree or disagree with their ideology? If you disagree with them how do you handle this difference of opinion? Forum Question

Chapter 15:
The scene when Atticus sits in front of the Maycomb jail, where Tom Robinson is being held, is a tense yet important moment. Rewrite the scene from the perspective of one of the following characters. Select your character then write a first person narrative from his point of view. Your description of the scene should include your character’s thoughts on the trial, a reaction to Scout’s actions in front of the jail, and feelings about the conclusion of the scene.
Please incorporate sensory details, dialogue from the text and information about the characters into your creative writing to bring it to life.

  • Atticus
  • Tom Robinson
  • Mr. Cunningham
  • Mr. Underwood
  • Jem

Multiple Choice Question

Chapter 16:
Sweet Irony: The Trial Begins Tom Robinson’s trial begins at the Maycomb Courthouse and the entire town is abuzz. There are several moments in this chapter that are ironic. Choose a moment from this chapter that demonstrates irony. Describe the moment and why you think it is ironic (note: you can focus on verbal or situational irony). Please read your peers’ postings before writing your own to ensure you are not repeating information already presented. Vote and Suggest Question

Read the lyrics or listen to an audio recording of a song (YouTube). Example songs: “You’ve Got to Be Taught” or “I, Too, Sing America” How does this song relate to the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird? Discuss similarities and differences between the song you have chosen to analyze and the novel. Focus on similarities in differences in themes, social atmosphere/historical context, and events/ situations. Use specific information/ examples from the novel, as well as quotes from the song to support your ideas. Forum Question *Attach PDF lyrics or embed a YouTube recording of the song.

Chapter 17:
Circumstantial Evidence vs. Direct Evidence Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence-“facts offered as evidence from which other facts are inferred.” Direct evidence is “evidence of a witness who testifies to the truth of a fact.” Make a list of all the circumstantial versus direct evidence presented in the case thus far. Then based on that information explain which lawyer is presenting a stronger case. Vote and Suggest Question

Read the attached song lyrics. Example songs: “The South” or “Strange Fruit” What is this song saying? What is the message of the song writer/poet? Describe the historical time period you believe this song was written in based on the lyrics. Use quotes to support your answer. Identify one theme present in the song. Use quotes from the song to support your assertion that the theme is present. Forum Question *Attach PDF lyrics or embed a YouTube recording of the song.

Chapter 18:
Do you pity Mayella Ewell? Why or why not? What do you learn about her education, home, friends, hygiene and family from her testimony? Yes/No Question

Chapter 19:
What is the tragic irony behind Mayella’s accusation that Tom Robinson raped her? What really happened the day Mayella said Tom attacked her? How did Mayella feel about Tom? Forum Question

Chapter 20:
Do you agree with Dolphus Raymond’s decision to give Maycomb a “reason” for his lifestyle? Why or why not? Do you think Dolphus Raymond should have allowed the people of Maycomb to think he was a drunk? Why did he think the people of Maycomb needed “a reason” for his life and choices? How did this decision impact the town? How did his decision impact his own life? Yes/No Question

Do you think Dolphus Raymond is a courageous character? Is his lifestyle courageous during this time period? If you think he is courageous, what type of courage is he demonstrating? What adversity does he face? Justify your answer with details from the novel. Yes/No Question

Chapter 21:
What was your emotional reaction to the verdict of the Tom Robinson’s trial? Describe how you felt when you read the verdict of the trial. Is it what you expected? Why or why not? Yes/No Question

Were you surprised to discover that the Tom Robinson trial in the novel was inspired by an actual trial from the early 1930s? Did anything about the PBS special describing the Scottsboro Trial surprise you? What were the similarities and differences between the two trials? Explain. Forum Question *Attach a video clip of the PBS documentary about the Scottsboro Trial.

Chapter 22:
“ ‘I waited and waited to see you all come down the sidewalk, and as I waited I thought, Atticus Finch won’t win, he can’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that. And I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step- it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step’ ” (Lee 219). Analyze the deeper meaning of Miss Maudie’s conversation with Jem. What is she saying? What are the larger implications of what she is saying in this quote? How does it connect to a central theme in the novel? Forum Question

Chapter 23:
Do you think rape should be a capital offense punishable by death? Why or why not? Justify your position with a strong explanation. Please be respectful of opinions that are different from your own. Yes/No Question

Do you agree with Aunt Alexandra’s statement that “When a man says he’s gonna get you, looks like he means it”? Do you think Mr. Ewell will take revenge on Atticus in an attempt to get back at him? Why is Mr. Ewell so angry even though he won the court case and Tom Robinson was found guilty? Yes/No Question

Chapter 24:

Hypocrisy is defined as “a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess” ( Identify the hypocrisy present in the Women’s Missionary Meeting. Specifically reread the discussion of the “poor Mrunas” and the ladies’ desire to help them. Vote and Suggest Question

How does Tom Robinson’s death make him a metaphorical mockingbird? What was shocking about his death? Forum Question

Chapter 25:
What is the deeper significance of Jem telling Scout not to “mash” the roly-poly? What does the roly-poly represent on a deeper level? What does this tell the reader about Jem? How has he changed? What caused this change? Forum Question
Write an editorial (def: an article presenting the opinion of the publisher, editor, or editors) for a newspaper about a “senseless killing” in our society. Describe a current event (who, what, when, where, why) in detail that you consider an example of a “senseless killing” or murder. (Please choose an event from the last 6 months.) Then provide your commentary/ opinion about why you think the death of this person is also an example of a metaphorical mockingbird being shot.
Vote and Suggest Question

Chapter 26:
Why do you think the kids begin talking about Boo Radley again after such a long time? Why hasn’t he been the object of the kids fascinations for several chapters? What has changed? Why are the kids fixated on him again? Vote and Suggest Question

What is ironic about Miss. Gate’s discussion of Hitler? How is the class’s reaction to the discussion of Hitler’s unfair treatment of the Jews also ironic? Why does Jem react so emotionally to Scout’s questions about Miss. Gate and hating others? What does this tell the reader about Jem? Vote and Suggest Question

Chapter 27:
How does Link Deas demonstrate courage in this chapter? What kind of courage does he display? What adversity does he face? Forum Question

Identify one moment of foreshadow in this chapter. Include a quote where a clue or hint is provided (Remember to use MLA citation). Then predict what you think this quote is foreshadowing. Please be specific in your response. Vote and Suggest Question

Chapter 28:
Harper Lee uses sensory details to bring the attack on Scout and Jem to life. Scout’s senses are impaired by her cumbersome costume, yet the scene is full of rich description. In one paragraph identify the sensory details used by Lee and how they enhanced your reading of the scene and understanding of the events taking place. In a second paragraph describe what you think took place based on the sensory details provided. Forum Question

Chapter 29:

Does it surprise you that Bob Ewell attacked Jem and Scout, intent on killing them? Why or why not? Why would he go after the kids instead of Atticus? What does this reveal about his character? Yes or No Question

Chapter 30:
What really happened? Atticus and Heck Tate have a tense conversation on the porch about how Mr. Ewell died. What does Atticus say he thinks happened? What does Heck Tate insist happened? What does Heck Tate actually believe happened? Why wouldn’t Heck Tate want Maycomb to know the truth? Forum Question

Chapter 31:
Choose the moment from the last four chapters (28-31) that you found most surprising. There are many surprising moments to choose from, so be creative! Clearly identify the moment that surprised you most. Explain why this moment surprised you. Find two quotes from previous chapters that foreshadowed this event. Please follow each quote with MLA citation. Briefly explain in 2-4 sentences how each quote foreshadowed the event you found surprising. Vote/Suggest Question

For more of my teacher resources go to

I presented my students with the Challenge Based Learning Project two weeks ago. I expected my students to be overwhelmed and balk at the various steps and absence of teacher involvement. To my immense surprise, they were really excited. Truly energized at the prospect of working with a small group to tackle a real world problem.

I chose the big idea of Environmental Sustainability, which relates to both their science and global studies classes. I also happen to feel passionately about the environment, so it was the perfect “big idea.” In science they are currently studying climate change and ecosystems. In global studies they are studying various countries/regions and analyzing the culture, resources, social units, etc. Facilitating a student led project in English that connects to two other academic courses allows students the opportunity to see the interconnectedness of ideas. I am hopeful this will result in deeper learning.

So far…
Week One: Groups were formed and subtopics were brainstormed in our online discussion forum. Groups identified issues ranging from water usage to alternative energy sources to benefits of buying local produce. The variety of topics discussed related to Environmental Sustainability impressed me. I realized that my students are more informed about environmental issues than I had previously thought.

Week Two: After each group decided on their subtopic within the umbrella of Environmental Sustainability, they began generating “essential questions.” These questions needed to make this topic personal. This is an aspect of the project students struggled with slightly. They asked general questions like, “How can society reduce the amount of trash going to the landfills?” I explained that they needed to stay focused on how the topic directly related to them. I encouraged them to use first person (…a struggle since this is usually a “no no” in my class due to the sheer volume of formal writing pieces they are required to do).

For example:

  • Where does my trash go when it is picked up by a garbage truck?
  • How does my trash impact the soil in and around a landfill?
  • Why do I generate so much trash?
  • Do I throw things away that are toxic or could damage the environment?
  • Do I throw items in the trash that can be recycled, reused, composed, donated?

Now that we have discussed shifting their questions from the general to the personal, they are going to choose their favorite  question to focus on for their Challenge. I had to clarify that the Challenge is the problem presented by their question in relation to Environmental Sustainability. I am excited to see what they come up with!

To be continued…

Teaching students to put on their “detective hats” while reading is an important skill, because they learn to look for the subtle hints, clues and subtext. It helps to teach literary terms, like foreshadow, in reverse. Introducing the meaning of a literary device then discussing a moment in the text that demonstrates that literary device allows students the opportunity to see it in action.

Foreshadow seems to present challenges for many of my students who read too quickly and do not take the time to notice the more subtle happenings in the text. Annotations have been a wonderful tool in slowing students down and requiring that they interact more with the reading. In teaching foreshadow, I have found it helpful to first ask students to read a scene that is surprising or shocking. Then I ask them to work their way backwards in the text looking for subtle hints or clues that led to that moment. Students, who have just learned the definition of foreshadow, are much more successful in pulling out examples from the text once they have read the moment that has been hinted at.

I posted the following discussion question for my students:

Choose the moment from the last four chapters (28-31) of To Kill a Mockingbird that you found most surprising. There are many unexpected moments to choose from, so be creative!

  • Clearly identify the moment that surprised you most.
  • Explain why this moment surprised you.
  • Find two quotes from previous chapters that foreshadowed this event.
  • Please follow each quote with a MLA citation.
  • Briefly explain in 2-4 sentences how each quote foreshadowed the event you found surprising.

The student responses were very thoughtful and right on target. I have included a sample student response below. This is a student who rarely speaks in class, but posts some of the most thoughtful responses to our online discussion.

The moment I found most surprising throughout chapters 28-31, was when Mr. Bob Ewell died. I never expected him to die. I thought after Tom Robinson’s trial was over, I would not hear much about him anymore.

Being done with the book, I clearly see the foreshadowing of Mr. Ewell’s death. “…Mr. Bob Ewell stopped Atticus on the post office corner, spat in his face, and told him he’d get him if it took the rest of his life” (Lee 217). Mr. Ewell clearly stated that he would do anything to make Atticus’s life horrible. He ended up getting Atticus by attacking Scout and Jem while they were walking home alone in the dark. Mr. Ewell ended up breaking Jem’s arm, and bruising both Scout and Jem. This quote foreshadows how Mr. Ewell dies, later on in the novel.

“Ruth Jones, the welfare lady, said Mr. Ewell openly accused Atticus of getting his job” (Lee 248). This shows how Mr. Ewell still wants to “get” Atticus. He is willing to do anything to get back at Atticus because he feels threatened by him. He also holds a grudge against him for “getting his job.” In the end Mr. Ewell’s attempts at getting back at Atticus only led to his own death, which is ironic and sad.