A young Scout watches her father, prominent lawyer Atticus Finch, defend Tom Robinson, a Black man accused of raping a white woman in the southern town of Maycomb, Alabama.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In the informational text "The Great Depression," Jessica McBirney discusses the various causes and effects of the Great Depression, as well as how America's economy eventually recovered.
Have students read "An Overview of the Great Depression" before beginning the novel in order to provide context on the period the novel is set in. Ask students to keep the economic and employment circumstances of the Great Depression in mind as they meet new characters throughout the novel.
The informational text "From Slaves to Sharecroppers" describes the sharecropping system that emerged after the end of slavery in the United States.
Have students read "From Slaves to Sharecroppers" before they begin reading Chapter 6, in order to provide them with context on the racial climate of the time. After reading the chapter, ask students how they view Mr. Radley's language in light of this contextual information?
In "Learning to Read," a former slave describes what it was like to be prevented from obtaining an education and learning to read as an adult.
Introduce this text after students have read Chapter 12. Ask students to discuss the significance of Calpurnia's literacy and how education and race affect the social structure of Maycomb. How does Calpurnia talk to and relate to other people at her church? Compare and contrast this to the way she talks and relates to Jem and Scout. What are the similarities and the differences?
Billy Collins (b. 1941) is an award-winning American poet who writes about everyday occurrences to express the deeper meaning of life. In this poem, the speaker reflects on his youth with longing.
Introduce this text after students have read Chapter 13, when Aunt Alexandra arrives to give them “a feminine influence.” Ask students to compare Jem's character, as a maturing boy, to that of the speaker in the poem. What does growing up mean to the two of them? How are the two impacted by their environments?
"Herd Behavior" describes how individuals change when they are part of a crowd.
Introduce this article after students have read Chapter 16 — when people from across the county come to town for the trial — in order for students to analyze the climate in Maycomb. Ask students to discuss Atticus' explanation of mobs in the context of the article. Ask students to use the two texts to form their own explanation for mob behavior.
In "Excerpt from Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws in All Its Phases," historical activist Ida B. Wells discusses the injustice and horrors of Southern lynch laws, focusing on the violence against African Americans following the Civil War.
Have students read this text before reading Chapter 18, in order to provide them with some insight into the history of white women accusing Black men of rape in the post-Reconstruction South. After reading Chapter 18, ask students to discuss their views on Mayella's believability in the context of the article "Southern Horrors."
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was an influential African American poet, the son of freed slaves, and friend of Frederick Douglass. In "We Wear the Mask," Dunbar introduces the idea of hiding behind a metaphorical mask.
Introduce this text after students have read Chapter 19, when Tom testifies in court, in order to examine this character through a cross-text analysis. Ask students to examine Dunbar’s poem and use it discuss whether Tom, as a Black man in a courtroom, wears his own type of mask.
In "The Scottsboro Boys," Jessica McBirney discusses the historic event in which nine black boys were wrongfully accused and convicted of assault.
The trial of the Scottsboro boys inspired much of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Have students read "The Scottsboro Boys" after reading Chapter 21, when the jury returns a verdict, and ask students to write a paragraph comparing the trials in the two texts. Ask students to discuss the similarities and differences between the two trials.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's poem "An Obstacle," she urges us to remain strong when facing everyday obstacles. Gilman was writing as a feminist during a time when it was not socially acceptable to identify as such.
Have students read "An Obstacle" after reading Chapter 24, and ask them to discuss how Scout is learning to overcome or dismiss prejudices regarding society's expectations for her as a woman. Ask students to discuss what lessons can be taken from Gilman’s poem and applied to the prejudice that takes place throughout the novel.
On the evening of February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old African American boy from Florida, was fatally shot by a George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and was found "not guilty" by a jury in July of 2013. These are the remarks of President Barack Obama after the trial.
Introduce this text after Chapter 25, in order to use the text and its themes on race and responsibility to discuss contemporary events. Ask students to discuss the evolution of the public reaction to the death of unarmed Black men. How can the modern story shed light on America's history of race relations?
Claude McKay (1889-1948) was a Jamaican-American writer and poet who was a seminal figure during the Harlem Renaissance. In this poem, McKay discusses facing death and other obstacles with courage and dignity, and reflects upon his perspective on the black experience during early 20th century America.
Have students read “If We Must Die” after reading Chapter 25, in order to discuss the novel through a cross-text analysis. Ask students to compare Tom to the speaker in the poem. Can Tom's decision to run be understood better through the lens of McKay's poem?
This article details the rise of anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s which eventually led to the complete dehumanization and segregation of Jews living in Nazi-occupied territory.
Have students read this text after they have read Chapter 26, in order to gain historical background on the antisemitic practices in Germany that are discussed in Scout's class. Ask students to discuss what the texts paired together reveal about the themes of fairness, tolerance, and indifference.