Help needed with To Kill a MockingbirdI am a rookie teacher preparing to teach TKAM for the first time. I am excited but apprehensive about two aspects of the unit. The first is establishing...

Help needed with To Kill a Mockingbird

I am a rookie teacher preparing to teach TKAM for the first time. I am excited but apprehensive about two aspects of the unit.

The first is establishing historical and cultural context through pre-reading activities. I'd planned to discuss the Scottsboro trial, Harper Lee's biography, and perhaps read some oral histories from people who lived in the 1930s south. I'm having some difficulty figuring out how many days to devote to pre-reading and how to make the activities more student-centered.

My other question involves the numerous vocabulary words. How have teachers introduced, reviewed, and assessed vocabulary in this work? I am loath to devote too much of our class time to focus on vocab, but want to be sure students are "getting it."

Any suggestions from experienced teachers would be most appreciated!


Expert Answers
jessecreations eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To teach the history, I put kids in groups and had them complete a webquest on a particular historical topic (like Scottsboro or The Great Depression). You can find them at Then the kids would make PPT presentations about their topics to teach the rest of the class. I only took maybe 3 class periods for this, total.

For vocabulary, I say give them a study guide for the words they only need to know for the novel, and have them look up the more frequently used words. You should probably also prepare them for the racial undertones in the book. I think you should teach the book as it is and not gloss over the vocabulary; after all, Lee wanted it to cause a reaction. However, some kids are sensitive to that, and they will need to be forewarned.

Here are some great TKAM resources:

Good luck - it's a great book to teach!


cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the To Kill a Mockingbird group site, you'll find a tab for lesson plans. eNotes provides excellent access to professionally developed plans that you will find useful; some include ideas about how to teach vocabulary.

Here's the link:

I recommend that if possible you show your students the movie with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch because it presents an outstanding depiction of the novel. It will help your students understand aspects of life in the South at the time the novel is set.

Good luck! It's one of my favorite books to teach. For years I taught it to freshmen; now it's been moved to our seventh grade curriculum.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One thing I have done to both incorporate the regional themes and the vocabulary is have the students design and produce a newspaper over the course of the reading.  The newspaper will have town news and features on town people, culture, etc.  As an additional component, I will have the students use the vocabulary words in the newspaper so that they are showing their understanding of it.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Students do need some historical background and information about the legal system, but not as much as you'd think.  I had my students do a web quest about the Great Depression to give them some basic background, but that was pretty much it.  It depends on how much time you have and how much you can delve.  The best way is to just explain things as you go along, as they are needed.

cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

NCTE's readwritethink series of lesson plans offers several approaches to teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. Here is a link that will connect you to a page listing them:,12&search_subject=literature

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Four great sources for information regard teaching of and lesson plans for To Kill a Mockingbird would be right here at e-notes, NCTE's website, and, and Any of these sites will probably offer more choices than you could ever need. Good luck, and work hard to help students learn to love this great book.

edspecialist | Student

Chances are, you need to think about your State standards tests. What is it that the students need to learn through the book for the state test? How will the book be a vehicle to prepare students for the state test? For us in Virginia, it is important that we look at the Literary Elements. We also have State Blueprints that show which elements are highly emphasized on the tests. In a classic such as TKMB, of course you could find potentionally tons of the elements. But focusing on a few will help students not only understand the element, but will also shed light to one or two particular aspects to the novel.

Another approach is that you pick several themes - even one for each student - and ask the students to write down whenever their theme is mentioned. After the student then reads the book, a central idea will develop from their theme and the evidence and references they have gathered through out their reading. The presentations or papers will then be very unique as well as adding whole new perspectives to the other students listening, since they were focused on their own theme as they were reading.

United Streaming is a excellent source of videos and clips that are appropriate for public school that can provide the background information that you want to give in a shorter amount of time.