Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I'll be giving a panel presentation tomorrow morning at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in New York City. In this presentatiion I'll be giving a streamlined version of the workshop on To Kill a Mockingbird that I describe in my entry entitled "martin luther and walt disney as teachers of reading." Since I've never typed out the Dill Harris, Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson exerpts that I use in this workshop, I thought it would be helpful to do so in this entry. Following thse excerpts, I'll reproduce my most recent version of the agenda for this workshop. Here goes:

Dill Harris

Dill was from Meridian, Mississippi, was spending the summer with his aunt, Miss Rachel, and would be pending every summer in Maycomb from now on. His family was from Maycomb County originally, his mother worked for a photographer in Meridian, had entered his picture in a Beautiful Child contest and won five dollars. She gave the money to Dill, who went to the picture show twenty times on it.

"Don't have any picture shows here, except Jesus ones in the courthouse sometimes," said Jem. "Ever seen anything good?"

Dill had seen Dracula, a revelation that moved Jem to eye him with the beginning of respect. "Tell it to us," he said.

Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duck-fluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. As he told us the old tale his blue eyes would lighten and darken; his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead.

When Dill reduced Dracula to dust, and Jem said the show sounded better than the book, I asked Dill where his father was: "You ain't said anything about him."

"I haven't got one."

"Is he dead?"

"No . . . "

"Then if he's not dead you got one, haven't you?"

Dill blushed and Jem told me to hush, a sure sign that Dill had been studied and found acceptable.


"Dill, you ain't telling me right--your folks couldn't do without you. They must be just mean to you. Tell you what to do about that--"

Dill's voice went on steadily in the darkness: "The thing is, what I'm tryin' to say is--they do get on a lot better without me, I can't help them any. They ain't mean. They buy me everything I want, but it's "now-you've-got-it=go-play-with-it. You've got a roomful of things. I-got-you-that-book-so-go-read-it." Dill tried to deepen his voice. "You're not a boy. Boys get out and play baseball with other boys, they don't hang around the house worryin' their folks."

Dill's voice was his own again: "Oh, they ain't mean. They kiss you and hug you good night and good mornin' and good-bye and tell you they love you-- Scout, let's get us a baby."


There was a man Dill had heard of who had a boat that he rowed across to a foggy island where all these babies were; you could order one--

"That's a lie. Aunty said God drops 'em down the chimney. At least that what I think she said." For once, Aunty's diction had not been too clear.

"Well that ain't so. You get babies from each other. But there's this man, too---he has these babies just waitin' to wake up, he breathes life into 'em. . . . "

Dill was off again. Beautiful things floated around in his dreamy head. He could read two books to my one, but he preferred the magic of his own inventions. He could add and subtract faster than lightning, but he preferred his own twilight world, a world where babies slept, waiting to be gathered like morning lilies. He was slowly talking himself to sleep and taking me with him, but in the quietness of his foggy island there rose the faded image of a grey house with sad brown doors.



"Why do you reckon Boo Radley's never run off?"

Dill sighed a long sigh and turned away from me.

"Maybe he doesn't have anywhere to run off to. . . ."


This was as much as I heard of Mr. Gilmer's cross examination, because Jem made me take Dill out. For some reason Dill had started crying and couldn't stop; quietly at first, then his sobs were heard by several people in the balcony. Jem said if I didn't go with him he'd make me, and Reverend Sykes said I'd better go, so I went. Dill had seemed to be all right that day, nothing wrong with him, but I guessed he hadn't fully recovered from running away.

"Ain't you feeling good?" I asked, when we reached the bottom of the stairs.

Dill tried to pull himself together as we ran down the south steps. Mr. Link Deas was a lonely figure on the top step. "Anything happenin', Scout?" he asked as we went by. "No sir," I answered over my shoulder. "Dill here, he's sick."

"Come on out under the trees," I said. "Heat got you, I expect." We choose the fattest live oak and sat under it.

"It was just him I couldn't stand," Dill said.

"Who, Tom?"

"That old Mr. Gilmer doin' him thataway, talking so hateful to him--"

"Dill, that's his job. Why, if we didn't have prosecutors--well, we couldn't have defense attorneys, I reckon."

Dill exhaled patiently. "I know all that, Scout. It was the way he said it made me sick, plain sick."

"He's supposed to act that way, Dill, he was cross--"

"He didn't act that way when--"

"Dill, those were his own witnesses."

"Well, Mr. Finch didn't act that way to Mayella and old man Ewell when he cross-examined them. The way that man called him 'boy' all the time and sneered at him, an' looked around at the jury every time he answered--"

"Well, Dill, after all he's just a Negro."

"I don't care one speck. It ain't right, somehow it ain't right to do 'em that way. Hasn't anybody got any business talkin' like that--it just makes me sick."

Mayella Ewell

Maycomb's Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a Negro cabin. The cabin's plank walls were supplemented with sheets of corrugated iron, its roof shingled with tin cans hammered flat, so only its general shape suggested its original design: square, with four tiny rooms opening onto a shotgun hall, the cabin rested uneasily upon four irregular lumps of limestone. Its windows were merely open spaces in the walls, which in the summertime were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb's refuse.

The varmints had a lean time of it, for the Ewells gave the dump a thorough gleaning every day, and the fruits of their industry (those that were not eaten) made the plot of ground around the cabin look like the playhouse of an insane child: what passed for a fence was bits of tree-limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts, all tipped with rusty hammer-heads, snaggle-toothed rake heads, shovels, axes and grubbing hoes, held on with pieces of barbed wire. Enclosed by this barricade was a dirty yard containing the remains of a Model-T Ford (on blocks), a discarded dentist's chair, an ancient icebox, plus lesser items: old shoes, worn-out table radios, picture frames, and fruit jars, under which scrawny orange chickens pecked hopefully.

One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell's.


"Miss Mayella," he said, smiling, "I won't try to scare you for a while, not yet. Let's just get acquainted. How old are you?"

"Said I was nineteen, said it to the judge yonder." Mayella jerked her head resentfully at the bench.

"So you did, so you did ma'am. You'll have to bear with me, Miss Mayella. I'm getting along and can't remember as well as I used to. I might ask you things you've already said before, but you'll give me an answer, won't you? Good."

I could see nothing in Mayella's expression to justify Atticus's assumption that he had secured her wholehearted cooperation. She was looking at him furiously.

"Won't answer a word you say long as you keep on mockin' me," she said.

"Ma'am?" asked Atticus, startled.

"Long as you keep on makin' fun o'me."

Judge Taylor said, "Mr. Finch is not making fun of you. What's the matter with you?"

Mayella looked from under lowered eyelids at Atticus, but she said to the judge: "Long's he keeps callin' me ma'am and sayin' Miss Mayella. I don't have to take his sass, I ain't called upon to take it."


"Miss Mayella," said Atticus, in spite of himself, "a nineteen-year-old girl like you must have friends. Who are your friends?"

The witness frowned as if puzzled. "Friends?"

"Yes, don’t' you know anyone near your age, or older, or younger? Boys and girls? Just ordinary friends?"

Mayella's hostility, which had subsided to grudging neutrality, flared again. "You makin' fun o'me agin, Mr. Finch?"

Atticus let her question answer his.

"Do you love your father, Miss Mayella?" was his next.

"Love him, whatcha mean?"

"I mean, is he good to you, is he easy to get along with?"

"He does tollable, 'cept when--"

"Except when?"

Mayella looked at her father, who was sitting with his chair tipped against the railing. He sat straight up and waited for her to answer.

"Except when nothin'," said Mayella. "I said he does tollable."

Mr. Ewell leaned back again.

"Except when he's drinking?" asked Atticus so gently that Mayella nodded.

"Does he ever go after you?"

"How do you mean?"

"When he's -- riled, has he ever beaten you?"

Mayella looked around, down at the court reporter, up at the judge. "Answer the question, Miss Mayella," said Judge Taylor.

"My paw's never touched a hair o' my head in his life," she declared firmly. "He never touched me."

When Atticus turned away from Mayella he looked like his stomach hurt, but Mayella's face was a mixture of terror and fury. Atticus sat down wearily and polished his glasses with his handkerchief.

Suddenl Mayella became articulate. "I got somethin' to say," she said.

Atticus raised his head. "Do you want to tell us what happened?"

But she did not hear the compassion in his invitation. "I got somethin' to say an' then I ain't gonna say no more. That nigger yonder took advantage of me, an' if you fine fancy gentlemen don't wanta do nothin' about it then you're all yellow stinkin' cowards, stinkin' cowards, the lot of you. Your fine fancy airs don't come to nothin'--your ma'amin' and Miss Mayellerin' don't come to nothin', Mr. Finch--"

Then she burst into real tears. Her shoulders shook with angry sobs. She was as good as her word. She answered no more questions.

Tom Robinson

Thomas Robinson reached around, ran his fingers under his left arm and lifted it. He guided his arm to the Bible and his rubber-like left hand sought contact with the black binding. As he raised his right hand, the useless one slipped off the Bible and hit the clerk's table. He was trying again when Judge Taylor growled, "That'll do, Tom." Tom took the oath and stepped into the witness chair. Atticus very quickly induced him to tell us:

Tom was twenty-five years of age; he was married with three children; he had been in trouble with the law before: he once received thirty days for disorderly conduct.

"It must have been disorderly," said Atticus. "What did it consist of?"

"Got in a fight with another man, he tried to cut me."

"Did he succeed?"

"Yes suh, a little, not enough to hurt. You see, I--" Tom moved his left shoulder.

"Yes," said Atticus. "You were both convicted?"

"Yes suh, I had to serve 'cause I couldn't pay the fine. "Other fellow paid his'n."


"Tom, what happened to you on the evening of November twenty-first of last year?"

Below us, the spectators drew a collective breath and leaned forward. Behind us, the Negroes did the same.

Tom was a black-velvet Negro, not shiny, but soft black velvet. The whites of his eyes shone in his face, and when he spoke we saw flashes of his teeth. If he had been whole, he would have been a fine specimen of a man.

"Mr. Finch," he said, "I was goin' home as usual that evenin', an' when I passed the Ewell place Miss Mayella were on the porch, like she said she were. It seemed real quite like, an' I didn't quite know why. I was studyin' why, just passin' by, when she says for me to come up there and help her a minute. Well, I went inside the fence an' looked around for some kindlin' to work on, but I didn't see none, and she says, 'Naw, I got somethin' for you to do in the house. Th'old door's off its hinges an' fall's comin' on pretty fast.' I said you got a srewdriver, Miss Mayella? She said she sho' had. Well, I went to the front room an' looked at the door. I said Miss Mayella, this door look all right. I pulled it back'n forth and those hinges was all right. Then she shet the door in my face. Mr. Finch, I was wonderin' why it was so quiet like, an' it came to me that there weren't a chile on the place, nat a one of 'em, and I said Miss Mayella, where the chillun?"

"Robinson, you're pretty good at busting up chiffarobes and kindling with one hand, aren't you?

"Yes suh, I reckon so."

"Strong enough to choke the breath out of a woman and sling her to the floor?"

"I never done that, suh."

"But you are strong enough to?"

"I reckon so, suh."

"Had your eye on her a long time, hadn't you, boy?"

"No suh, I never looked at her."

"Then you were mighty polite to do all that chopping and hauling for her, weren't you, boy?"

"I was just tryin' to help her out, suh."

"That was mighty generous of you, you had chores at home after your regular work, didn't you?"

"Yes suh."

"Why didn't you do them instead of Miss Ewell's?"

"I done 'em both, suh."

"You must have been pretty busy. Why?"

"Why what, suh?"

"Why were you so anxious to do that woman's chores?"

Tom Robinson hesitated, searching for an answer. "Looked like she didn't have nobody to help her, like I says--"

"With Mr. Ewell and seven children on the place, boy?"

"Well, I says it looked like they never help her none--"

"You did all this chopping and work from sheer goodness, boy?"

"Tried to help her, I says."

Mr. Gilmer smiled grimly at the jury. "You're a mighty good fellow, it seems--did all this for not one penny?"

"Yes suh. I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em--"

"You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?" Mr. Gilmore seemed ready to rise to the ceiling.


Inquiry Question: How might we draw more effectively on different learning modalities to help all our students gain access to our core English curriculum texts?

4:15 - 4:20 participants read excerpts concerning Dill Harris, Mayella Ewell or Tom Robinson from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

4:20 – 4:25 participants write first paragraph of a character analysis essay on their assigned character

4:25 - 4:30 J Lovell provides overview of the sequence of activities & purpose of workshop

4:40 - 4:40 demonstration of 'cumulative graphic organizer' as a pre-reading strategy, focusing on courtroom segment of To Kill a Mockingbird (henceforth TKAM)

5:40– 5:05 watch courtroom segment from 1963 movie version of TKAM

5:05 - 5:10 gather in 'character’ groups -- Dill Harris #1 & #2, Mayella Ewell #1 & #2, Tom Robinson #1 & #2-- according to character you wrote about initially

5:10 - 5:25 create a visual symbol poster of your character and post it on the wall

5:25 – 5:40 BREAK!

5:40 – 5:55 ‘gallery walk’ of visual symbol posters in character groups; meeting in character groups to discuss questions you'd like to ask the other two characters

5:55 – 6:10 in 'mixed character’ groups of 3 or 4, students role play Dill, Mayella or Tom while the other two participants ask questions (5 minutes per character)

6:10 - 6:30 participants listen to same excerpts that they responded to in print form at the beginning of the workshop, this time from Recorded Books’ audio version of TKAM, while large print versions of these excerpts are shown on the overhead (shortened excerpts only to give the flavor of listening vs reading)

6:30 - 6:45 participants begin reflective writing on what they learned about their characters, and about themselves as learners, by experiencing this workshop.


Anonymous said...

I would love to try this out with my freshmen class. What is the 'cumulative graphic organizer'?

If you could email me a copy at I'll be sure to let you know how it goes!


jonathan said...

Hi John,

I'll see if I can make some digital photos of the four "cumulative" transparencies I use and send them to you.

But until then, to describe what I do, here's how it looks:

I start with a visual of courtroom as seen from the judge's perspective, showing the desk for the lawyer for the accused on the right, the desk for the lawyer for the state (or the plaintiff) on the left, and the balcony above (transparency #1)

I overlay this with simple stick figures by the desks and up in the balcony: the lawyer for the accused (AF) by the right side desk, the lawyer for the state (Mr G) by the left side desk , and, up in the balcony, Scout and Jem Finch and Dill Harris. I color code these stick figures: half red and half black for Atticus, half green and half black for Mr G, all green for Scout and Jem, and half green and half red for Dill (transparency #2).

I next overlay simple stick figures for Tom Robinson (red and black) behind the desk to the right, and Mayella Ewell and Bob Ewell (red and black) by the desk to the left (transparency #3).

I finally overlay a transparency showing a throng of stick figures in green on the ground floor and a smaller throng of stick figures in red up in the balcony.

I then have a final overlay that explains that the color coding refers to the following:

green = Maycomb's "insider" population, largely white

red = Maycomb's "outsider" population, largely black (but notice the exceptions)

black= the accused,his accusers, and their lawyers

What this cumulative graphic organizer helps to do is set students up to view the courtroom scene from the film, not only situating the main characters in relation to the "geography" of the courtroom but also anticipating something of the roles they will play in relation to one another.

Thanks for the response! Do please let me know how this works with your students.

My very best,

Jonathan Lovell