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Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our Middle School ELA Category!

Catherine Called Birdy Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Catherine Called Birdy Include:

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, is the diary of the fictional teenaged Lady Catherine in the year 1290. Catherine, who is nicknamed “Birdy” or “Little Bird”, records her daily trials and triumphs along with her fears and hopes for the future. On the small Medieval manor on which she lives, her options are limited. As Catherine seeks to avoid an arranged marriage and find meaning in her life, Cushman challenges the reader to consider questions of identity, equality, freedom, and familial responsibility. The book opens a window into the life of Medieval women and will enrich students’ study of both literature and history.

Catherine Called Birdy Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Catherine Called Birdy Plot Diagram


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example Catherine, Called Birdy Plot Diagram

Exposition

Catherine, the daughter of a knight, lives on a small manor in Medieval England. At thirteen, she is nearing adulthood and spends much of her time trying to avoid boring responsibilities and ladylike behavior.


Conflict

Catherine's father has decided it is time for Catherine to marry. He treats her marriage like a financial transaction and is planning to marry her off to the wealthiest suitor he can find, despite Catherine's objections.


Rising Action

Catherine does everything in her power to scare away suitors. When the ugly Shaggy Beard insists on marrying her anyway, however, she refuses to accept it. Catherine witnesses the ups and downs of manor life, including marriages, births, and deaths, while trying to figure out how to avoid the miserable life ahead of her.


Climax

Catherine finally agrees to marry Shaggy Beard in order to use his money to save an abused bear. Just before his arrival, however, she runs away, unable to face the reality of marriage to someone she detests.


Falling Action

While visiting Ethelfritha, Catherine realizes she cannot run away from her life, but must make the most of it. She decides she can marry Shaggy Beard and still be Catherine. When she returns, home, however, she learns that Shaggy Beard has died.


Resolution

Shaggy Beard's son Stephen offers to marry Catherine instead. Catherine believes Stephen will be much better than his father and accepts his marriage offer with relief and hope for the future.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Catherine, Called Birdy.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Catherine, Called Birdy Characters


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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!


Catherine, Called Birdy Characters

  • Catherine (Birdy)
  • Mother
  • Morwenna
  • Father
  • Perkin
  • Aelis
  • Uncle George
  • Meg
  • Shaggy Beard

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the major characters in Catherine, Called Birdy and type their names into the different title boxes.
  3. Choose a character from the "Medieval" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  4. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  5. Replace the bold words in the text boxes with the following categories for each character: Physical and Character Traits, How does this character interact with the main character, and Catherine's attitude toward this character. Write sentences or bullet points to provide details for each category.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Catherine, Called Birdy Conflicts


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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflicts.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the storyboard creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.


Examples of Literary Conflict in Catherine, Called Birdy

MAN vs. MAN

Catherine has conflicts with a number of people around her on a daily basis. She consistently quarrels with her brother Robert when he is around. She insults him, and he generally responds by pinching her.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

Catherine frequently rebels against the expectations of her society. Catherine hates the limits that Medieval society placed on women and noblewomen in particular. Much of her unhappiness comes from the ladylike chores she must complete and the arranged marriage she is expected to accept.


MAN vs. NATURE

After Catherine's mother gives birth to a baby girl, she faces complications and nearly dies. Although Mother is the one facing death at the hands of nature, Catherine, too, is in conflict with nature since the illness also impacts her life negatively.


MAN vs. SELF

Catherine struggles to develop a sense of identity. She does not feel like she fits in with the life that is expected of her, so she tries to imagine alternative options. None of these seem to suit her, however, and she spends months feeling miserable and unsettled.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in Catherine, Called Birdy.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify conflicts in Catherine, Called Birdy.
  3. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  4. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  5. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Contrasting Perspectives in Catherine, Called Birdy


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Since Catherine, Called Birdy is told in first person, the dominant perspective is Catherine’s. It is clear, however, that many of the people in Catherine’s life do not share her perspective. In many places, Catherine’s point of view may also differ from that of the reader. At times, the novel contains dramatic irony when the modern reader can spot flaws in Catherine’s reasoning and predict the outcome. (The modern reader, for example, is not surprised that it happens to be sunny on October 28th, despite being the feast of Saints Simon and Jude.)

Storyboarding can be a helpful way for students to distinguish Catherine’s point of view from other characters’. Using a T-Chart, have students depict Catherine’s perspective on the left with the contrasting perspective of other characters on the right. Students can include their own point of view or the author’s as well. Below each scene, have students explain the character’s thoughts on the issue depicted or include an illustrative quotation from the novel.


Catherine, Called Birdy Contrasting Points of View

Catherine’s Point of ViewContrasting Point of View
Catherine thinks Shaggy Beard is the most foul person ever to walk the face of the earth. Catherine's Father:
Father sees Shaggy Beard as an average man who will bring wealth and security to Catherine and her family.
Catherine thinks all of the sewing, embroidery, and other ladylike tasks she does are pointless and not worth her time. Catherine's Mother:
Mother sees these tasks are part of the life she and Catherine were born into. She believes that accepting them willingly makes life happier and more peaceful.
Catherine views Meg as a friend and fun companion. She does not worry about class distinctions and wishes Meg would stop curtseying and calling her "my lady". Meg:
As a peasant, Meg is always conscious of the class difference between herself and Lady Catherine. She is respectful of Catherine and hesitant to act too boldly in front of her.
Catherine is impressed with the relics Brother Norbert and Brother Berhtwald bring back from Rome. Reader:
I think the monks may have been fooled by the soldier who led them to the graves. They relics could be fake. Since the graves were unmarked, the soldier could have lied just for the money the monks paid for his help.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Identify examples in which Catherine’s perspective differs from your perspective or that of the other characters in Catherine, Called Birdy.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Think of four times throughout the story when Catherine’s perspective on a topic was clearly different than the perspective of another character or of your own.
  3. In the left-hand column, create an image to depict the way Catherine perceives a topic. Use the text box below to describe her perspective.
  4. In the right-hand column, create an image to depict the way you or another character perceive the same topic, then use the text box below to describe that perspective.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Catherine, Called Birdy Medieval Rulebook


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Catherine, Called Birdy immerses students in the world of a Medieval manor. Reading this novel, students will learn about life in the thirteenth century and, in particular, the challenges and difficulties faced by women. Have students show off the historical knowledge they have gained through the novel and/or related research by using storyboards to make a book about Medieval life. The sample storyboard shows a Medieval guide to life as a lady. Students may also present storyboards on life as a noble, life as a peasant, or Medieval life in general. Remember, Storyboard That allows you to easily convert the rulebook into PowerPoint slides or print it out and put it together as a booklet.


Catherine, Called Birdy Medieval Rulebook

Ye Olde Guide to Being a Lady

  1. A lady must accept the husband that her elders choose for her.

  2. A lady should learn to make useful herbal tonics and poultices to tend to the sick and injured in her home.

  3. A lady should learn to sew. A lot. She might be expected to sew, spin, embroider, or weave items for the manor.

  4. A lady should be quiet and demure. She should not run, skip, scream, whistle, or laugh loudly.

  5. A lady must politely share with others. This includes sharing her cup and trencher with other guests at table.

  6. A lady should attend church services on Sundays and holy days.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Use the details from Catherine, Called Birdy to make a guidebook about Medieval life. Your book can be a guide for life as a lady, life as a noble, life as a peasant, or Medieval life in general.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify 5-10 rules that the characters in Catherine, Called Birdy had to live by.
  3. Create an image to depict each rule.
  4. Write a description of each rule in the black text box below its depiction.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


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Catherine, Called Birdy Symbol Square


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Symbols come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify a symbol or motif from the novel and design an image or scene as illustration. Below the square, they should explain their scene’s significance. The example storyboard discusses the symbolism behind Catherine’s caged birds. Other symbols and motifs include the following:


Symbols

  • Catherine’s Journal
  • Embroidery
  • Granny’s Cottage
  • The Bird Pin from Stephen

Motifs

  • Saints and Religion
  • Writing and Drawing

Catherine, Called Birdy Symbol Square

The Caged Birds

The caged birds in Catherine's room represent Catherine herself. Catherine's nickname "Birdy" or "Little Bird" emphasizes this connection. Like the birds, Catherine feels trapped, unable to escape the life that is forced upon her. At the end of the book, Birdy frees all her birds except the popinjay which cannot survive on its own. She recognizes that she is most like the popinjay; she needs her friends and family to survive and cannot simply run away from her life.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies and explains one symbol from the text.


  1. Type in the symbol in the title box.
  2. Illustrate an example of the symbol.
  3. In the description box, describe the importance of the symbol.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Students reading Catherine, Called Birdy will likely require a little background on life in Medieval England. As Catherine explains in her journal entries, her life in the manor house is strictly controlled. For Catherine, acting “like a lady” holds a different meaning than it does today. Being a lady did not simply mean acting like a polite female; a lady was a specific upper-class position in the ranks of English nobility and held different responsibilities and expectations than life as a lower-class female. Catherine is both empowered and restricted by this position.

Her privileged position as Lady Catherine is due to her father’s position as a knight. While he is only a minor knight, he is still lord of the manor on which he lives. His position is a result of the feudal system which dominated English life during the Middle Ages. In this hierarchical system, all power flowed down from the king, and with it, land, money, and food. The king parceled out his property among his favorite nobles who owed him loyalty and yearly taxes in exchange. This system was repeated on a smaller scale between greater and lesser nobles, eventually working its way down to the peasants, who collected no tax themselves, but owed allegiance and rent to their ruling nobleman. With this strict social structure, each member of society knew his or her place in the community and the expectations and responsibilities that came with it. Although this structure could provide comfort to some, it restricts Catherine and creates both external and internal conflicts for her, adding to the novel’s central tension. For more information about the feudal system and life in the middle ages, check out the links below.



Before beginning Catherine, Called Birdy, students may also benefit from research on the following aspects of Medieval society:


Essential Questions for Catherine, Called Birdy

  1. In what ways does Birdy grow and mature during the year she describes in her journal?
  2. How did marriage in the 13th century differ from marriage today?
  3. How does Birdy balance her own desires with her duties to her family and society?
  4. How do family and society help shape our identities?
  5. How did the mindset of Medieval Europeans differ from the mindset of people today? How is it similar?


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