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One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in English Language Arts, High School Level.
SUBJECTS — U.S./1929-1941, the Law & Diversity; Literature/U.S.;
        Coming of Age; Courage; Mental Illness; Parenting;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Respect;
        Responsibility; Fairness; Caring; Citizenship.
Age: 11+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 1962; 129 Minutes; B & W. Available from Amazon.com.

Description: Atticus Finch is a lawyer and single parent in a small Southern town during the Great Depression. He has two young children: Jem and Scout. When Finch is appointed by the local judge to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman, most townspeople expect only a token defense, yet he affirms the value of a fair trial and struggles to see justice done. A separate plot line concerns how the children come to accept a mentally ill neighbor.

Rationale for Using the Movie: The script for the film remains true to the novel's intentions, thus the film and the book reinforce each other. To Kill a Mockingbird, with its lessons about dignity, tolerance, and respect is an excellent account of the racism that dominated the legal and social system in the South until after the Civil Rights Movement. Atticus Finch is one of the best role models ever shown in film.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students who see the film will gain easier access to the novel, although the film by itself clearly demonstrates Lee's universal themes. Through the discussion questions and assignments at the end of this guide, students will be able to exercise research, writing and speaking skills dealing with elements of literature as well as the value of the story's themes to society.

Possible Problems: Minor. The word "nigger" is used several times by whites who are portrayed as ignorant and racist. The word "boy," applied to a black man in a derogatory manner, is also used by the villain. This is a story about a place and time in American history when these words were often used to describe African Americans. The story disapproves of the use of these terms.

Note to Teachers About Book and Film:     The book, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel and one of the most widely read books in American Literature, is an important part of the reading curriculum across the country. It is a superior source from which to teach reading and writing standards to students.

The movie version is a classic of American cinema:

Many people, including Harper Lee, the author of the novel, consider the film To Kill a Mockingbird to be highly faithful to the novel. In fact, after seeing the film, many think that the dialogue was taken word for word from the novel. "This is simply not so," says the novel's author, commenting on the screenplay .... "Scenes humorous, scenes tender, scenes terrifying, each with a definite purpose and value, blended so delicately with the original, created the illusion that these were [my] words." In further praise of the screenplay, Lee says, "For me, Maycomb is there, its people are there: in two short hours one lives a childhood and lives it with Atticus Finch, whose view of life was the heart of the novel." Glencoe Literature Library Study Guide on To Kill A Mockingbird
However, no movie can contain all of the events and characters that add depth and ideas to a well-written, full-length novel. Watching the film and reading the book are parallel beneficial experiences which reinforce each other. Children who are strong readers should read the novel before seeing the film.


Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Discussion Questions


Helpful Background:
      Historical Setting
      Themes in To Kill a Mockingbird
      Symbols & Literary Devices

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments
      Empathic Reaction Q & As

Other Sections:
      Bridges To Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.

Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.



Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1.  The mockingbird which sings and does no harm is a symbol for innocent people who need protection. Atticus says, "It's a sin to kill a mockingbird," at lunch on Scout's first day of school. How do actions at the end of the film show the true meaning of this statement? Suggested Response: At the end of the film, Sheriff Tate says it would be a sin to expose Boo Radley to the public. Scout sees the connection and comments that it would be like killing a mockingbird.

2.  In the book, Atticus says that courage is "…when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what." What in the film showed this kind of courage? Suggested Response: Atticus shows this courage himself when he defends Tom Robinson with all of his skill and energy even though he realizes his cause is lost.

3.  Tom Robinson and Boo Radley have much in common. What characteristics do they share? Suggested Response: Both Tom and Boo try to help others. They are the only people in the story who are imprisoned. Tom Robinson is persecuted because he's black, and Boo is persecuted by his parents for some long ago infraction and by the community because of his oddness. They are both at risk in the justice system of Maycomb. They are both "mockingbirds" who are need of protection from others; Atticus tries to protect Tom Robinson and Sheriff Tate and Atticus protect Boo Radley.

4.  Why did the lynch mob disburse after the children arrived on the scene and Scout talked to them? Suggested Response: There were several reasons. The mere presence of the children and their innocence and goodness highlighted the wickedness of the deed which the mob intended to perform. Jem's courage in standing up with his father while hopelessly outnumbered shamed the men who could not do what they intended without the anonymity and protection of the mob. Scout's recognition of Mr. Cunningham and her discussion about his son emphasized the purity of children and family life. The men realized that they would have trouble explaining to their children what they intended to do that night. (One of the tests to determine ethical conduct is whether the actor would want his family to know what he had done. See Ethical Testing: How Will Our Decisions Affect Other People, Animals and the Environment? -- 4.D. the Rule of Disclosure.) Finally, the lynch mob had not intended to hurt any children. Their evil didn't go that far. But the children would be witnesses and could testify against them. They had lost their anonymity and, being cowards, this was not acceptable to them.

For more than 50 additional discussion questions, click here. These include 21 empathic reaction discussion questions, with writing assignments.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.  As the film opens, the credits roll as the camera focuses on a box of objects containing a variety of things that are important to both Jem and Scout. Write an informal essay describing what would be included in a box of items significant in your life. Be sure to make the value of the items understood. For example, a ticket stub in the box should be identified by what event it represented and why the event was important. At least one of the items should serve as a reminder or an important lesson or experience that helped shaped who you are.

2.  Research three people in history who have taken stands on principles that have led to social change in spite of great odds and great difficulties. Include biographical information and a brief description of their principled stand; include the consequence of their demonstrations of belief. The people that you find can be from different cultures and from any time period, famous or little known.

3.  The vigilantes show up to take Tom Robinson from jail most certainly for a lynching. Write an informative essay resulting from Internet research that includes a time line of the history of lynching in the U.S. Relate a few specific exemplary incidences, including the most recent, and show the struggle by progressives to end the practice.

4.  Ironically, in the trial scene, the courtroom is segregated. Write an essay about the history of integration in the legal system. Be sure to include Howard Zinn who, along with the young women from Spellman College, was able to integrate a courtroom in Atlanta Georgia.

5.  Interracial relationships during the time period in which the film is set were largely against the law. Using Internet research skills, write an expository essay on the miscegenation laws through which authorities tried to keep people of different races from marrying. Find details about when the laws were written and when they were subsequently invalidated. You may write in general terms or focus on one particular state or area of the nation. Investigate interracial marriages today and note the changes over the past half century.

6.  In the conversation between Atticus and Sheriff Tate after the children were attacked and Ewell has been found dead, the issue of "situation ethics" is raised. Both men have been shown to be honorable and moral yet they are now willing to cover up a set of circumstances that would normally call for a formal investigation. They plan to lie to the authorities and take the law into their own hands. Write an opinion essay in which you either justify or decry the action of these two men in defending Boo Radley.

For additional assignments, click here.


MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: The Long Walk Home details another Southerner who breaks with his (in this case her) neighbors in order to do justice. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman looks at the South during the period after the Civil War.

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Parenting Points: Take care that your children are not seeing the film in lieu of reading the book that may have been assigned. Support your child's teacher when the book is being read in class by asking about some of the characters or incidents that appear in the story or the themes of the story.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: See English Learner Movie Guide to "To Kill A Mockingbird" from ESLnotes.com.

. This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and Mary RedClay. It was last updated on August 24, 2012.

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