To Kill a Mockingbird Themes with Student Choice

In my high school, teaching To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a requirement for all freshman English classes during second semester. This year I had a teacher approach me wanting to brainstorm ways we could make this book and its relevant themes more relatable and engaging to our students. Together we created a list of books that would give students choice while covering the important literary elements required. 

Choosing the Titles

The themes, discussion points, and writing assignments associated with our traditional To Kill a Mockingbird assignment are able to be covered through so many diverse and outstanding books today.  When I started to compile the list of books I started with our state book award list for young adults, the Lincoln Award List. I already had multiple copies of each that would lend perfectly to literature circles for students. Also, since these titles are all well known award books we could justify to parents if needed the value of these diverse titles. We wanted to keep To Kill a Mockingbird as a choice for students, but I compiled a list of 11 additional titles students could choose from. I wanted all of these titles to represent diverse groups and show perspectives of prejudice, racism, sexism, and so much more. 

Book titles included:

  • Devils Within by S.F. Henson
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
  • A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
  • Internment by Samira Ahmed
  • Slay by Brittney Morris
  • They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

Creating the List

At this time my library is still closed to students. We aren’t allowed to have students come in to check out books or browse. When I was thinking about how to create a list of books for students to choose from my first thought was a Google slide presentation. This would allow the teacher and I to collaborate together when we could. This is the slide that I created for this project. When I joined the class Zoom call to book talk each title the students had a copy of the presentation to reference as well as my screen sharing. At the end of the presentation the teacher created a quick Google Form for students to record their first and second choices for the literature circle project. Luckily I had enough copies of each wanted title that all students were able to get their first choice.

This project was a breath of fresh air and gave students choice. We were able to still meet the freshman English requirement but in a new and interesting way. With so many diverse books out right now, covering the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird was easy and relevant in a multitude of ways.  I look forward to hearing the feedback from our students as they read and discuss each chosen title.

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Author: Elizabeth Pelayo

Elizabeth Pelayo is the library media specialist at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles Illinois. She currently writes book reviews for School Library Journal. She is a member of the AASL AAUP Book Selection Committee. Also, she is a member of the nominations committee for the ISLMA Abraham Lincoln Book Award.



Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

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1 reply

  1. Thank you for coming up with this great list for the students. Yes, TKAM teaches history and helps with reading stamina, but you are right, the standards taught along with TKAM can also be applied to any other novel, and especially ones that do not have a white savior figure.

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