Seeking Justice: To Kill a Mockingbird

Students explore human nature through the story of a young white girl facing the harsh realities of racial injustice in the Jim Crow south.

This unit has been archived. To view our updated curriculum, visit our 8th Grade English course.

Unit Summary

Students will begin their year-long study of human nature by reading To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel tells the story of a young white girl’s growing awareness of racial injustice in the Jim Crow South. When protagonist Scout’s father takes on the task of representing a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, Scout is forced to face the individual and systemic racism present in her small town and the impact of racial prejudice on the lives of all members of the community. This text pushes students to face an uncomfortable past, consider the ways that many of the book’s themes continue to resonate today, and think about how its warnings and lessons should inform the way we move toward the future.

While the majority of lessons in this unit focus on the core text, students will begin the unit by building a very basic contextual understanding of the time period and setting of the text. Additionally, one day is reserved to discuss the book’s use of the N-word, and students will read an article about the use of that word within a contemporary context. The majority of the nonfiction texts students will read are part of writing tasks, which address issues raised by To Kill a Mockingbird in a more contemporary context.

As the first text of the year, this unit primarily focuses on the first four literature standards. Authentic practice with these standards will provide students with a foundation as the year progresses and they begin to work with other standards (and continue to circle back to these).

In the writing tasks in this first unit, students will begin to develop skills in three different types of writing: analytical, informational, and argumentative. Although these three writing styles require students to think and write in different ways, the skills they develop in each task are transferable to the next. The aim of this unit is to provide students with an introduction to three major forms of non-narrative writing, with a focus on collecting quality evidence from a variety of sources to support ideas.

In the first task, students will write a short literary analysis. This task is very close to what students are asked to write every day during their target task writing. It will, therefore, be an opportunity for teachers to provide careful feedback on students’ ability to develop clear claim statements, select the best evidence, and write compelling analysis. The second task is an informational writing task in which students will begin to develop their research skills by pulling information from multiple nonfiction texts in order to write a coherent, informative article on the existence of racial bias in the application of capital punishment. In this task, students will focus on providing different types of information in their writing, including statistics, examples, and quotations, and focus on providing an unbiased account of the issue. In the final task, students will write an argumentative letter in which they will have to provide background on an issue—the debate over whether or not To Kill a Mockingbird should continue to be taught in schools—and then take a clear position. Students will implement research skills developed in the second task, as well as analytical skills developed in the first task. Additionally, these writing tasks provide students the opportunity to dive into a number of nonfiction texts that will supplement their understanding of To Kill a Mockingbird, particularly the ways in which the issues raised in this text continue to resonate today.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale


This assessment accompanies Unit 6 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • How does a person develop a sense of right and wrong? What is the role of a person’s family and community in their moral development?
  • How do expectations around race, gender, and class shape the way that people see themselves and the world around them?
  • How do different people respond when faced with injustice?

Reading Enduring Understandings


  • In the Jim Crow South, almost every aspect of a person’s life was determined by his or her race (as well as class and gender). Challenging or subverting norms of race could have serious—even deadly—consequences.
  • People’s perceptions of others are often strongly influenced by bias, prejudice, and stereotypes. It can be challenging to “unlearn” these beliefs.
  • It is important to extend generosity and empathy to all people to understand why they make the choices they do, even as we take a stand against the injustice they may perpetrate.

Notes for Teachers


  • This text is controversial for its frequent use of the N-word. It is essential that you discuss this issue with students and set clear expectations around the use of this word in the classroom. Lesson 4 provides you with an opportunity to discuss this issue with students in-depth, but the conversation around this word should continue throughout the unit.
  • This text has been criticized for centering on the experience of white people—as it features a white narrator and a white man as the “hero” of the story. Many have argued that the black characters in the text are only secondary characters, and their suffering primarily provides the protagonist an opportunity for moral development. Students will have the opportunity to dive more deeply into this criticism of the text in the final writing task, but it is important to push students to regularly interrogate the idea of whose voices we are and are not hearing in this text.
  • The story centers around a case in which a white woman falsely accuses a black man of rape. There is historical precedent for black men being falsely accused of rape or sexual harassment, including the falsely accused Scottsboro Boys and Emmett Till. Some lessons ask students to talk about this potentially sensitive issue and how race, gender, and sexuality intersect. Be especially mindful that the conversation around false rape accusations has intensified in the wake of the #MeToo movement. You may wish to both share with students information around the history of the Scottsboro case and also share current statistics about the (in)frequency of false rape accusations.
  • There are many opportunities to connect the events of To Kill a Mockingbird to current events. Students will read and write about racial bias in the application of the death penalty, but there are many other contemporary issues that can be drawn into the unit. Consider talking to students about police violence and brutality, gender expectations, class discrimination, social welfare programs, the criminal justice system and the incarceration of men of color, etc.
  • You may wish to send families a letter explaining the content of this unit and potentially sensitive topics that may arise in class.

Lesson Map


2 days


  • “The Man in the Well” — paragraphs 1-19

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.8.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.8.1 — Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RI.8.6 — Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.8.1 — Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.8.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.8.3 — Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

  • RL.8.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

  • RL.8.7 — Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.

  • RL.8.9 — Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.8.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.8.1.a — Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.

Writing Standards
  • W.8.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • W.8.1.a — Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

  • W.8.1.b — Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

  • W.8.1.e — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

  • W.8.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content

  • W.8.2.a — Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

  • W.8.2.b — Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

  • W.8.2.f — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented

  • W.8.5 — With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.

  • W.8.8 — Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.