To Kill a Mockingbird Digital Study Guide

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

In accordance with the director’s uncompromising vision of the play’s subject matter, this production of To Kill a Mockingbird contains language, images and other elements of staging that audiences may find disturbing. Our Study Guide will help you prepare your students for the intensity of this production.

Written by Karen Gilodo, Associate Artistic Director, Education (Young People's Theatre) Adapted by Lois Adamson, Director of Education (Stratford Festival)

INTRODUCTION TO THE GUIDE

"This is their home. Since some of us have made it this way for them, they might as well learn to cope with it." -Atticus Finch

When do we start teaching young people the hard lessons in life? When do we teach them that sometimes life isn't fair, that justice and the law can be two very different things, and that firmly held beliefs will be challenged. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise (Scout) undergoes a process of moving from innocence to experience as she learns about the predicaments of those around her. Why won't Tom Robinson get a fair trial? Why would Bob Ewell treat his daughter so harshly? And just who is Boo Radley? In this study guide we have created exercises that will encourage students to consider, question and evaluate fairness, justice and their own belief systems. Students will be prompted to "walk in someone else's shoes" and try on different perspectives as they arrive at their own opinions. To Kill a Mockingbird is controversial. Students will likely have a multitude of reactions to the play. It is our hope that this study guide may act as a resource for open and honest discussion and exploration of this work of literature -and theatre- that raises important questions. We encourage you - teachers, parents and other adult stakeholders - to share this piece and this study guide with your students so that we might help young people grapple with these tough issues as a community.

Curriculum Connections

Grades 6 and up

To Kill a Mockingbird Student Preparation

  • All Grades: Language/English (Listening to Understand, Speaking to Communicate, Reading for Meaning)
  • All Grades: Drama, Music, Visual Art
  • Gr. 6 -12: Health and PE (Living Skills, Safe and Positive Interaction, Conflict Management, Stereotypes and Assumptions, Bullying, Harassment, Decision Making)
  • Gr. 10: Canadian History since World War I (Communities, Conflict and Cooperation, Great Depression)
  • Gr. 11: American History (Identity, Citizenship and Heritage: Great Depression - discrimination policies and practices, systematic oppression)
  • Gr. 11: World History since 1900: Global and Regional Interactions (Identity, Citizenship and Heritage: limited citizenship and/or human rights)
  • Gr. 11: Understanding Canadian Law (Foundations of Criminal Law, Criminal Justice System, Human Rights)
  • Gr. 11-12: Equity, Diversity, and Social Justice (The Social Construction of Identity, Power Relations, Social Awareness and Individual Action, Respecting Diversity, Promoting Equity and Social Justice)
  • Gr. 12: Canadian History, Identity and Culture (Ethnocultural identities)
  • Gr. 12: World History since the Fifteenth Century (Great Depression, Segregation and the American South)
  • Gr. 12: Adventures in World History (Great Depression)
  • Gr. 12: Canadian and International Law (Rights and freedoms: Development of Human Rights law)
  • Gr. 12: Legal Studies (Rights and Responsibilities)

Key Themes

  • Prejudice/Discrimination
  • Racism
  • Coming of Age
  • Strong Female Role Model
  • Social Inequality
  • Responsibility, Integrity and Perspective
  • The Law and Justice
  • Good and Evil
  • Human Dignity
  • Courage
  • The Mockingbird
  • Innocence and Loss of Innocence
  • Education
  • Revenge
  • Empathy
  • Love and Caring

An Interview with Nigel Shawn Williams, Director, To Kill a Mockingbird

Why did you choose to direct this production? What excites you most about it?

I chose to direct this piece because of the challenge is set forth. There is always a burden or some pressure associated with directing an incredibly well know piece of literary history for the stage. I felt it. It was because of this fear that I chose to go ahead and do the piece. There are also the important issues being tackled in the piece that I wanted to have an opportunity to tackle from my voice, my generation.

I'm not sure if the word excited is the right one. What interests me most about To Kill a Mockingbird, is having an opportunity to tell a story about racial injustice and systemic racism that happened in 1935, and to see whether our audiences can understand that our world sadly has not changed much. If I am excited by anything, it is the 'after' I'm excited about. After the play, will anyone change their views? After the play, will anyone speak up when they witness discrimination? After the play, will more people stand up and speak up against racism, class discrimination and misogyny? The opportunity for change is what excites me.

 

I know it is still early days, but I was wondering if you might be able to share a little bit about your vision for the piece.

The biggest question is why we are telling this story. Why has Jean Louise come back to Maycomb, Alabama 30 years later to remember these horrible but important times in her childhood? What is she going through right now, that she must conjure these memories?

She is the focus. The poverty, the depression, the segregation, the deaths of two men, witnessing a rape trial, an assault on her and her brother. These incidents are traumas. There is nothing beautiful about it.

Her present is 1964, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Is she being cursed by what we are now? Seeing hatred raise its ugly head and not knowing who or what can stop it?

  

To Kill a Mockingbird is controversial. It is often criticized for reinforcing the white saviour trope. In schools, it is sometimes pulled from curriculum reading lists due to arguments that the use of racial epithets makes some students uncomfortable or that there are more relevant texts to teach Canadian young people today. What is your take on the piece? What new perspectives do you find this classic offers a contemporary audience at an increasingly divisive time?

I think if someone is going to use a racial epithet it won't start because he or she read a novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is still an excellent example of study to peer into the behaviour of our past. Racism, bigotry, and discrimination are taught.  Treating everyone on this planet as equal human beings is also taught. We all have to decide what kind of curriculum we want to teach our children.

My frustration is that sadly we need to keep telling these stories to remind ourselves that hatred corrupts and destroys. The new perspective on this classic is telling it now, from our generations' point of view. From the point of view from an artist of colour.

On the note of White saviour trope, I don't think we'll find that in this production because I refuse to reinforce the Black stereotypes. And I would argue that Atticus didn't really do very much 'saving'.

 

Who is this play for? How might audience's best prepare themselves to see it?

The play is for everyone. No one is too young to understand that racism should end. To prepare themselves for this, audiences could read the newspapers, listen to the news...look around.  The degradation of a human life is happening all around us. It's happening in our own neighborhoods. It happens in our schools, in our offices, in our grocery stores and on the busses. Sometimes it's loud, but most of the time it's silent.

 

What do you hope audience members will experience during the show? What questions do you want them to leave with?

I hope that audiences will leave not with questions, but they will leave with a strong need to act. I hope that they will speak up, to not be silent anymore when they witness discrimination of any kind. I hope that some of the people will leave and be a more active participant in this divisive world. Atticus Finch didn't act out against racism because he was compelled to; he did it because he had to.  I hope after watching the play people will be a stronger force for change. Beyond obligation.

PRE-SHOW DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Ask students:

  • What do you already know about To Kill a Mockingbird?
  • How do you define fairness?
  • Is there a difference between the law and justice? Explain your answer.
  • What were the "Jim Crow" laws?
  • What were some events taking place in the American South in the 1950s that might have influenced Harper Lee?
  • What was the Scottsboro Trial?
  • It has been more than 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed.  What were some of the actions taken by those in the civil rights movement to achieve the passing of that landmark act? What more needs to be done to address the inequality that persists today?

WARM UP EXERCISE: STAND THE LINE

Objective:
This exercise provides an opportunity for students to explore and share their opinions on some of the themes in the play in a structured and non-judgmental setting. By using general statements and quotes from the play, students will examine their beliefs, hear alternate points of view, and have an opportunity to rethink their position on some of the major themes of the play.

Materials:

  • a space in which to move

Directions:

  1. Ask students to imagine a line running along the length of floor.
  2. Explain that a series of statements and quotes from the play will be read out loud and it is the students' job to agree or disagree with the statements by choosing their position on the line on the floor.
  3. Define with the class the end of the line which represents "strongly agree" and then indicate that the opposite end represents "strongly disagree". The midpoint of the room is a neutral position where students can stand if they neither agree nor disagree with the statement.
  4. When each statement is read aloud, students decide which place on the line represents their own opinion. They can stand anywhere on the line, near either end, or somewhere in the middle.
  5. After each statement is read, pick a few students to explain their choice of position. This is not a debate. The students' viewpoints should not be judged, just shared.
  6. After a number of viewpoints have been shared on each statement or quote, offer students the chance to move to a new position on the line if they have changed their mind, or feel differently about the statement.

Statements:

Children need to be protected from learning about the injustices in the world.
Everyone deserves to be treated fairly.
People with less money should not be trusted.
Children are born with a sense of fairness.
Honesty is not always the best policy.
Some people aren't worthy compassion and forgiveness.
Racism is learned, so it can be unlearned.

Quotes from the Play:

"Grownups don't have hiding places."
"People generally see what they look for or hear what they listen for." "Having a gun around is just an invitation to somebody to shoot you."
"…a court is only as sound as its jury."

Debriefing Questions:

  • Did hearing the perspectives of fellow students change your ideas on any of the statements? Why or why not?
  • What or who would make you change your opinion?
  • Did you learn anything from hearing your classmate's viewpoints?

EXERCISE: HOW DO STORIES OF THE PAST DEFINE WHO WE ARE TODAY?

Objective:

This exercise prompts students to consider how public and political events influence the perspectives of people, young and old. By reflecting on and sharing personal stories, students will consider how parents and young people's perspectives are connected. They will also look at how power, authority and responsibility affect adults and young people as they grow.

Materials:

  • Writing utensils
  • Paper or notebooks
  • Space in which to move

Directions:

  1. Both the novel and Christopher's Sergel's play of To Kill a Mockingbird are told through the eyes of a narrator reflecting on the events of their childhood. Ask students to think about a pivotal moment from their past that they would feel comfortable sharing in a story or scene that they will write.

Here are some prompts to help students begin:

  • Think of an important event from their past that changed their perspective on something.
  • When did they realize that their parents were individuals with a past and an identity not related to their role in the family?
  • Think of a time when their parents asked them to take on a big responsibility.
  • Think of a time when they disagreed with a teacher or authority figure over what they felt was unfair.
  1. Give the students time to write down their thoughts or experiences based on their chosen focus.
  2. Ask students to share what they have written with one or two students in pairs or in a small group.
  3. Ask students to create a short scene based on their stories. This scene should showcase common elements and differences across the two or three shared experiences.

POST-SHOW DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Ask Students:

  • The book/play is controversial. The Stratford Festival production preserves the original language and uses the N-word. What do you think of this choice?
  • Why does Atticus choose to honestly explain to his 6-year old daughter, Scout, what rape is?
  • Is Mayella a perpetrator or a victim?
  • Is Atticus Finch a hero?
  • What kind of woman do you think Scout will grow up to be?
  • What is the significance/symbolism of the dog that Atticus shoots?
  • Explain the symbolism of the mockingbird.
  • Why are the children fascinated by Boo Radley?
  • Heck Tate: "There's a black man dead for no reason and now the man responsible for it is dead. So let's bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch." Is justice served by Heck Tate's decision?

CULMINATING EXERCISE: A DAY IN THE LIFE

Objective:
This exercise invites students to track the journey of a character through the play, providing an opportunity for students to understand character choices, motivations and actions. Then, students will write-in-role, which will encourage examination of perspective and potential changes of perspective over time.

Materials:

Directions:

1. Share this line from the play with students: "You can never understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." -Atticus Finch

2. Ask students to spread out around the room and sit/lay down and close their eyes.

3. Ask students to choose a character that they would like to embody.

4. Have students find a space on the floor on their own and instruct them not to speak.

5. Read the following "A Day in the Life" excerpt.

It is the morning. You are lying in bed. What do you hear? What do you smell? Is your bed hard or soft? Think about the day ahead of you. What are your plans for the day? Who do you expect to see? Are you excited or nervous or do you not care at all about the day to come? It is hot already this morning. You get out of bed and get dressed in your favourite clothes and shoes. What do they look and feel like? Are the clothes old or new? You walk to the kitchen. What will you eat for breakfast? Do you see anyone else in your house? You finish with your breakfast and leave the house. Where do you need to get to? How will you get there? Walk, drive or ride a bike? You take a look around your neighbourhood. What do you see? Any neighbours out? Do you say hello?

6. Ask students to now imagine that they are their character and it is now July 2nd, 1964 - the date the Civil Rights Act was passed in the U.S. 

7. Reread the excerpt. 

8. Writing in role, ask students to write a letter to another character from the play with their thoughts on the passage of this act.

9. To help students write-in-role, have them fill out the To Kill a Mockingbird Character Profile for their character.

10. After students complete the Character Profile, have them write a first draft of their letter.

11. Next, invite them to share their letter with a partner for a peer review. Encourage the student providing feedback to provide feedback by sharing what was most clear or compelling, what they wanted to know more about and what was unclear or confusing.

12. Once they have received feedback, ask them to write another draft of their letter.

13. When they have a letter they are happy with, give students time to rehearse reading the letter out loud.

14. Finally, ask students to share their letters with the rest of the class.

Debriefing Questions:

  • Was it easy or hard for you to picture your character in the scenario?
  • Did you learn anything new about the character after participating in this exercise?
  • Did your character say hello to their neighbours? What does that tell you about his/ her status in their neighbourhood or community?
  • What was it like to write from a character's point of view?
  • How did you imagine your characters at a different age?

SOURCES & RESOURCES

Online News Articles & Videos

Adamson, Lois & Gilodo, Karen. "To Kill a Mockingbird as a case study for examining artistic practice in relation to Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) in Canada today." Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance. (2016), Vol. 21, Iss. 2.

Web. http://www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/AdamsonGilodoPP-RiDE-Author-Manuscript.pdf

Bloch, Josh & Wong, Moira. "Teaching Controversy." FreedomtoRead.ca. n.p.  A Teaching Resource for Dealing with Controversial and Sensitive Issues in Toronto District School Board Classrooms. Toronto District School Board. (2003), pp. 48-49.
Web.  http://www.freedomtoread.ca/articles/teaching-controversy/#.U7RRX5SwJ4c

Gladwell, Malcolm. "The Court House Ring: Atticus Finch and the decline of southern liberalism." The New Yorker. Aug 10, 2009.
Web. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/10/090810fa_fact_gladwell

Hodd, Thomas. "To kill a colonial curriculum." The Toronto Star. Oct 21, 2009.
Web. http://www.thestar.com/opinion/2009/10/21/to_kill_a_colonial_curriculum.html

Italie, Hillel. "To Kill a Mockingbird finally going digital." The Toronto Star. Apr 28, 2014.
Web. http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/04/28/to_kill_a_mockingbird_finally_going_digital.html

Javed, Noor. "Complaint prompts school to kill Mockingbird." The Toronto Star. Aug 12, 2009.
Web. http://www.thestar.com/life/parent/2009/08/12/complaint_prompts_school_to_kill_mockingbird.html

Kachka, Borris. "The Decline of Harper Lee." Slate. July 21, 2014.
Web. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/07/21/harper_lee_how_legal_troubles_have_mired_the_legacy_of_the_to_kill_a_mockingbird.html

"Huckleberry Finn and the N-word." 60 Minutes. S43 (12:46). CBS. March 20, 2011.
Web. 1 Aug 2014. http://www.cbs.com/shows/60_minutes/video/1996824948/-huckleberry-finn-and-the-n-word

 

Websites

Ontario Justice Education Network http://www.ojen.ca/home

Canadian Association for Civil Liberties http://ccla.org/

"To Kill a Mockingbird Readers Guide: Historical and Literary Context." The Big Read. National Endowment for the Arts. n.d. Web. http://www.neabigread.org/books/mockingbird/readers-guide/historical-context/

Reiling, Tracie."To Kill a Mockingbird's Relevance Today: Bryan Stevenson & Injustice." Ted-Ed. n.d. Web.
http://ed.ted.com/on/PcmRViEK

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