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Greensboro, Alabama

[Detail] Greensboro, Alabama

Lesson Procedure

I - Historical Understanding of Setting (2 days)

1. Students view photographs from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. (Students should be given time to browse this collection, then select one photo for careful analysis.)

  • They should search for:
    Selma, Alabama
    Eutaw, Alabama
    Greensboro, Alabama
  • After browsing through these images, students should select one photo for careful analysis. Students analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion. If time allows, students should browse some of the other photographs in this collection.

2. The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress also has a collection of images entitled "Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information." Ask students to read the information explaining the nature of the photo collection then review the photographs. They should select one. Students analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.


II - Exploring Oral History (3 days)

  1. Ask an oral historian to speak to the class on the value of oral history as a research tool and as a vehicle for passing history from one generation to the next.
  2. Review with students the concepts of open and closed questions and what kinds of questions best serve the oral historian.
    Note: Explore Your Community: A Community Heritage Poster for the Classroom, by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, has pointers for conducting oral history interviews.
  3. Take the students online to American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 and read about the collection. Begin with the Introduction.
  4. Download and print "I's Weak an' Weary" from American Life Histories, 1936-1940. The class should read this document and determine voice, time, and place.
  5. Working in groups of 2 to 3 students, ask students to read one of the oral histories suggested below. Students analyze the oral history, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Oral Histories to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
    Suggested readings:
  6. From the oral histories reviewed, ask students to create an original work, either a found poem or an interpretive reading, from the materials they have reviewed. They may use one or a combination of readings. They must capture the voice of the selection and perform their original material in an open mike setting.


III - Writing Connection (1 day)

Students create a "Town Poem" from their observations of the photographs in Lesson II.

Directions for students:

Create an imaginary town based on the photographs you viewed from the Library of Congress collections.

  • Take emotional possession of the town.
  • Rely on your impressions and your subjective observations.
  • Let your imagination give each person, building, object its own story.
  • List assumptions, hunches, observations and feelings.
  • What are the town secrets?
  • What is the mood or tone of the town?
  • Write a poem about your town in the second person.
  • You have never been to this town, but write as though you have lived there all your life.

IV - Getting into the Novel (3 days)

  1. After reading the first three chapters of the novel, students should refer back to their notes on the photographs they viewed from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives and "Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information."
  2. Review Harper Lee’s descriptions of Maycomb and discuss pictures from the collection that could be scenes from Maycomb.
  3. Ask students to reflect on the oral histories studied in Activity II and compare the language, colloquial expressions, and the vocabulary unique to the Depression Era and the Deep South to the style and dialogue in To Kill a Mockingbird.
  4. The first ten chapters of the novel focus on the Arthur (Boo) Radley story line with only hints of the racial unrest building around the Tom Robinson story line.
    • Ask students to identify examples of discrimination against Arthur Radley.
    • Draw contrasts and parallels between that discrimination and the discrimination directed toward African Americans in earlier readings.
  5. Begin a list of the foreshadowings of racial tension that will grip Maycomb during the Tom Robinson trial.


V - Mob Justice (4-5 days)

  1. Read Chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird
  2. Read an excerpt, "Clippings from Some of our Leading Southern Papers," from A Sermon on Lynch Law and Raping preached by Rev. E.K. Love, D.D., at the First African Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia.
    • How are Love's comments on mob behavior reflected in Tom Robinson’s experience?
  3. Read an excerpt from The Blood Red Record : a review of the horrible lynchings and burning of Negroes by civilized white men in the United States, as taken from the records with comments by John Edward Bruce from African American Perspectives, 1818-1907.
    • Students should discuss how this article emphasizes the danger that Tom is in and the hopelessness of his case.
  4. Optional Timeline Activity.
    • At any time during the study of To Kill a Mockingbird, creating a timeline can enhance students’ understanding of the story’s sequence of events. In addition, the timeline gives students an opportunity to physically organize historical events and people mentioned in the novel.
    • The timeline can span from 1890 to 2000. It should be large enough to be seen from any part of the room. For our purposes, our timeline was positioned horizontally across the front of the room, divided into decades, and color-coded so that literary happenings could be distinguished from historical events.
    • During the portion of the book that recounts Tom Robinson’s wait for his trial and the formation of a mob outside the jail, the timeline is especially effective for demonstrating to students how pervasive and longstanding the record of violence against African-Americans has been.
    • Students should use African-American Perspectives, 1818-1920 and enter the Timeline of African American History, 1852-1925 for 1881-1900 and 1901-1925.
    • Ask students to note the number of lynchings that occur during those years on black cards with white tags and attach them to the timeline. When the students have attached all the cards to the timeline, ask them to calculate the total number of lynchings that took place between 1880 and 1925. Ask students how the crime of lynching relates to the story and how it affects Tom Robinson.
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  6. Ask students to read Eleanor Roosevelt's letter against lynchings. They should consider the following questions:
    • What is her position on the issue of lynching?
    • What is the tone of her letter?
    • What words or phrases strengthen her argument?
  7. After students have read the assigned primary source documents, ask them to compose a "Letter to the Editor" to express their own perspectives regarding prejudice and violence.
    • If their letter is in response to one of these historical documents, they should assume the writing style and tone of that specific time period.

VI - Pulling it all Together

Students should complete one or more of the following activities:

  1. Newsletter

    Create a newsletter covering the trial of Tom Robinson, prepared by students in small groups. The newsletter should chronicle the events of the Robinson trial as well as cover related articles on similar issues of actual occurrences during the same time period.
  2. Oral History Interview

    Observe an oral history interview of a member of their community conducted by an experienced oral historian. After the interview the students can write an account of the interview. (This exercise prepares the students to launch into a research project in which they will be taking oral histories of community members.)

    The power of To Kill a Mockingbird has much to do with the authentic voice and simple honesty of its narrator.  As a culmination to the study of this novel, it is helpful for students to realize that the intolerance described by Scout exists in every community and in every era.

    Consider whether there are people in your community who have experienced prejudice during their lifetime. Look for individuals with an historical perspective on social attitudes and behaviors regarding prejudice. Invite them to take part in an oral history interview conducted in front of the class and ask their permission to tape the interview.

    Prior to the oral history interview date, arrange for someone who has a background in oral history to explain the interview process to the students and to help generate questions for the interview. The day of the interview make both an audio and video recording of the interview.

    Leave time for students to ask the community member any follow up questions that arose while they listened to the interview. If you plan to retain the tapes for future viewing or for creative writing opportunities, be sure to obtain written permission from the interviewee.