When my oldest child entered high school, it wasn't the thought
of teaching math or science that made me nervous. It was teaching
literature. I'd read most of the material I would be asking him
to read, but I knew that in order to have intelligent, in-depth
discussions over the material I would need to re-read the book
along with him. The idea of keeping up with the reading assignments
for three students, not to mention planning literature discussions
and essays, made me dread this subject.
I had the opportunity to review Shmoop's guide to teaching Harper
Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird and found it to be a huge help for
the teaching parent.
Shmoop is an extensive website created by educators and designed
to be used by both students and teachers. The study aids and teaching
assistance cover many subjects. For the purpose of this review,
I only looked at the Teacher's Guide for To
Kill A Mockingbird.
There are two sides to the To Kill A Mockingbird materials:
a free side, and a subscription side for teachers. The cost for
the subscription is $7 for a year.
The free side contains a wealth of material for both teachers
and students. Most helpful for parents who wish to refresh themselves
on the content of the book are the summary pages. Extensive summaries
cover the overall story, the history of the publication, and the
overall themes, as well as a thorough chapter-by-chapter synopsis.
Key points of each chapter are covered in the summaries.
For each chapter, discussion questions are available that address
the major themes of the book: race, family, justice, childhood
innocence, etc. Ideas for discussions or debate to assist students
in thinking through these themes are also available.
- The "Quotes" section includes key quotes that relate to the
themes of the book, and breaks them down for the students.
- The "Character" tab
holds summaries and timelines for key characters, each one
containing exhaustive information about the characters and their
evolution through the book.
- The "Analysis" tab looks at the author's
use of symbolism, setting, point-of-view, genre, tone, and
style, as well as brief analysis of the title, epigraph, and
the book's ending.
- The "Questions" section primarily contains
questions that relate to the themes of To
Kill A Mockingbird. Some
questions are a bit silly, asking students to speculate on
what might happen in a sequel, or to describe how the book
would be different if a different character were to narrate.
Others seem more worthy of a robust discussion: "Many lawyers
credit Atticus as their inspiration for entering the law profession,
but others criticize that he's portrayed in the novel as the
lone protector of powerless African-Americans who can't do
anything for themselves. To what extent can Atticus be taken
as a role model?"
- The "Photos" tab contains links to pictures
from the movie, or of a mockingbird. This may be helpful
for other books, but wasn't especially necessary or helpful for
To Kill A Mockingbird.
- The "Resources on the Web" section is
self-explanatory. This page had many links to pictures, video,
and essays about the book and its author.
The subscription side of the site contained quizzes over the book,
more discussion questions and end-of-book essay questions, activities,
and resource links that help the teacher to tie the themes in the
book to current and historical events.
As a teacher, the free side of the website provided everything
that I needed to discuss this with my high school student and great
material for essay questions. For the average homeschooling family,
there is more than enough content on Shmoop to guide you through
your literature studies, no matter your homeschooling style. For
those families who wish to simply read the book, discuss it, and
write a couple of essays, you'll have everything you need. For
a family who wishes to use the book as a springboard for a unit
study, the free side will have plenty of information, and the content
on the subscription side will help extend the material to other
areas of the curriculum. Some of the activities are geared for
classroom use, but can be adapted for use in the home.
I most appreciated the "Chew On This" activities under the "Themes" tab.
These are primarily designed to start debate in a classroom. A
couple of statements are offered for each theme, and the teacher
is to encourage students to argue for or against the statement. We
made great use of these in our home, because high school students
(well, all people, really) are very competent when explaining their
own point of view, but often struggle coming up with reasons for
an opposing view. There are many issues in life, however, that
have good people who see things differently. It is a useful exercise
for students to learn to see things from a different point of view,
and to understand that simply holding a different opinion from
you doesn't make the other person automatically wrong. (Seeing
things from other peoples' eyes is also a notion very central to
For most families, the free side of the website will provide ample
material. For families who wish to dive deeper into a particular
book, or create a unit around the book, the subscription side of
the site will prove very helpful. The $7/year price makes
it an excellent deal!