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Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

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

Student Activities for Johnny Tremain Include:

Johnny Tremain has long been a staple in the classroom. Winner of the 1943 Newbery Medal, the novel is an outstanding example of historical fiction. So successful is author Esther Forbes at bringing to life the people, places, and events leading up to the American Revolution, that the novel is often read in conjunction with the study of the American Revolution in history classes. Some students will derive more lasting knowledge from the vivid adventures of the fictional Johnny Tremain than from any history textbook! Published during WWII, Johnny Tremain shows the way young people are caught up in and shaped by war and the forces of change that it brings. The novel invokes patriotism without glamorizing war and gives a balanced portrayal of the humanity of both sides engaged in the conflict.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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Introduction

Much of Johnny Tremain’s enduring popularity rests in its meticulous attention to historical detail. The world of 18th century Boston comes to life in Forbes’s story, as do a number of famous historical events and figures. The novel includes minute details about the Boston Tea party, Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride, and the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Historical figures include Sam Adams, Paul Revere, Robert Newman, James Otis, Dr. Joseph Warren, Dr. Benjamin Church, Josiah Quincy, John Hancock, William (Billy) Dawes, the Reverend Samuel Cooper, Governor Hutchinson, General Gage, and General Earl Percy. Students should be aware that Johnny, the Laphams, the Lytes, and the Silsbees/Lornes are fictional, but that most other characters with both first and last names are based on real people. For this reason, Johnny Tremain pairs nicely with history classes and/or research assignments. Students may benefit from learning a little background on the pivotal players and events. Check out some helpful storyboard background at Storyboard That’s history teacher guides: Events and Causes Leading up to the American Revolution (1607-1776) and The American Revolution.

The various trades depicted in Johnny Tremain also add historical realism to the novel. When the novel opens, Johnny is a silversmith. Because this profession is little known today, students will benefit from a little background on it. Youtube includes several helpful videos on blacksmiths, though not silversmiths. Teachers might also preview the following trade-specific vocabulary used in the novel: smith, crucible, ingot, anvil, hood, cast, annealing furnace. Historically, Paul Revere was a famous silversmith, and additional information can be found in researching him. The Paul Revere Memorial Association provides helpful information, including photos of Revere’s surviving silver work.

The importance of printers in fomenting revolutionary fervor is also clearly conveyed in Johnny Tremain. The Observer’s Club, which meets in the loft above Uncle Lorne's print shop, is based upon the real historical Long Room Club which met above the print shop of the Boston Gazette. The following link contains interesting background information on the Long Room Club and its members (many of which were included in Forbes’s Observer’s Club) along with a number of related primary documents: http://www.masshist.org/education/resources/blackington/blackington_complete.pdf

The print shop in which the meetings took place also has a useful website, which can be accessed at http://bostongazette.org/about.


Essential Questions for Johnny Tremain

  1. What were some of the events and causes that led up to the American Revolution?
  2. What role do our friends and the people around us play in shaping our characters?
  3. What kinds of ideals are worth killing and dying for?
  4. Can both sides in a war be both good and bad?
  5. How does Johnny Tremain’s character change over the course of the book?
  6. What role did the printing press play in the Revolution?


Johnny Tremain Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Johnny Tremain Summary


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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 Johnny Tremain Plot Diagram

Exposition

Johnny Tremain is an apprentice to Mr. Lapham, a Boston silversmith. The whole Lapham family admires Johnny for his talents and intelligence. Johnny is proud of his abilities and confidently plans to take over his master's shop and marry Cilla Lapham in a few years.


Conflict

When Johnny burns his hand in a silversmithing accident, his life falls apart. His future as a silversmith is over, his betrothal to Cilla is canceled, and his position in the Lapham household sinks rapidly.


Rising Action

Johnny begins a new life living with the Lornes and working with the Sons of Liberty. He participates in the Boston Tea Party and supports the Patriots' cause as a paperboy and messenger.


Climax

The first battle of the Revolutionary War is fought at Lexington and Concord. There is no turning back.


Falling Action

After the battle, Johnny searches all over for Rab. Shortly after Johnny locates him, Rab dies of a battle wound.


Resolution

Johnny takes Rab's gun and learns from Dr. Warren that his hand can be fixed. Johnny is ready to take Rab's place and fight for a new nation.



Johnny Tremain Plot Diagram

Example

(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 Johnny Tremain.


  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.



Plot Diagram Template

Example

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





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Johnny Tremain Character Map


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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!


Johnny Tremain Characters

  • Johnny Tremain
  • Rab Silsbee
  • Cilla Lapham
  • Isannah Lapham
  • Mrs. Lapham
  • Lavinia Lyte
  • Mr. Lyte
  • Dove
  • Lieutenant Stranger

Johnny Tremain Character Map

Example

(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. Identify the major characters in Johnny Tremain and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "1600s to 1800s" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in Textables for Physical Character Traits, How does this character change over time?, and Political Affiliation.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.


Blank Character Map

Example

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Johnny Tremain Vocabulary Spider Map


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Another great way to engage your students is creating a storyboard that uses vocabulary. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with Johnny Tremain and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

In the vocabulary board, students can choose between coming up with their own use of the vocabulary word, finding the specific example from the text, or depicting it without words.


Johnny Tremain Vocabulary Words

  • apprentice
  • chaise
  • pompous
  • artisan
  • pious
  • breeches
  • gig
  • wharf
  • kin
  • louse
  • indolent
  • nonchalant
  • tallow
  • florid
  • seditious
  • barracks
  • gallows
  • Whig
  • Tory
  • notorious
  • scorn
  • dawdle
  • tyranny
  • skirmish
  • disconsolate

Johnny Tremain Vocabulary

Example

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


Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in Johnny Tremain by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



Vocabulary Template Blank

Example

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Literary Conflict in Johnny Tremain


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

Having students create storyboards that show different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose examples of internal and external conflicts 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.


Johnny Tremain Internal and External Conflicts

Internal ConflictExternal Conflict
  • Johnny is filled with inner turmoil after he burns his hand. He doesn’t know what to do with himself or how to create a new future. As a result, he becomes angry and depressed.
  • Johnny has a number of external conflicts with Dove. Every time they bicker, they are in conflict. The most important conflict between them is when Dove gives Johnny the cracked crucible which leads to Johnny’s burn.
  • As time goes on, Johnny is unsure how he feels about Cilla. At first he rejects her along with the rest of the Lapham family and is bored with her company. But when Rab walks her home, Johnny feels jealous. He must decide how much her friendship means to him.
  • Johnny has an important external conflict with Mr. Lyte when Mr. Lyte accuses Johnny of stealing his silver cup and has him arrested.
  • Johnny is unsure how to feel about Lieutenant Stranger. He knows that he should view him as an enemy, but he can't bring himself to imagine fighting him in battle.
  • One of the most obvious external conflicts is the fight between the colonial militia and the British soldiers at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Johnny Tremain Internal and External Conflicts

Example

(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 Johnny Tremain.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify conflicts in Johnny Tremain.
  3. Categorize each conflict as Internal or External.
  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.



Internal vs External Conflicts

Example

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Johnny Tremain Themes, Symbols, and Motifs


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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.


Johnny Tremain Themes to Look For and Discuss

Freedom is worth Fighting For

Esther Forbes does not take death lightly in Johnny Tremain. For her characters to be willing to kill and die, they must have a worthwhile reason. The true justification for the Revolutionary War is given by James Otis in a rare moment of sanity (due to an injury, the historical James Otis had a lead plate in his head that was slowly poisoning him). Otis argues that anger and money are no reason to go to war, but freedom and equality are. He says, “we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.” In essence, he is arguing for the rights of the common man, who should not be made to bow down physically or financially to a higher class. He also argues that this cause is bigger than the city of Boston, bigger even than the 13 colonies. The fight for freedom that begins with the American Revolution is one that will continue across the globe in the centuries to follow. This humanitarian cause is worth dying for, and the characters accept this. Rab’s death and the suffering it causes are not meaningless, therefore. He gives his life for the freedom of future generations.


Pride Goes Before a Fall

Perhaps the most important lesson Johnny learns throughout the book is to control his pride. At the beginning of the novel, Johnny’s greatest flaw is his pride, which leads him to abuse his peers and take his privileged position for granted. In an instance of foreshadowing, old Mr. Lapham warns Johnny against this pride by having him read various proverbs from the Bible. Pride in his abilities and reputation as a silversmith leads Johnny to secretly light the forge on a Sunday, a decision which ends in his permanently maimed hand. His burn almost seems like a divine punishment meted out to quell his pride. With the loss of both his hand and his future, Johnny reaches an all-time low. He only regains his sense of well-being when he learns to humbly accept help and treat others with patience and kindness.


War Turns Boys into Men

Johnny Tremain is a classic bildungsroman, a coming of age story. Though Johnny begins as a spoiled, carefree boy, sheltered by the predictable security of the Lapham household, he is ready, two years later, to join the colonial forces in the War for Independence. As Johnny becomes more involved in politics, he comes to believe in the cause of liberty, but struggles to come to grips with the violence that war brings. He is sickened by a Tory sympathizer who is tarred and feathered by a Patriot mob. He is horrified to witness Pumpkin’s death and cannot imagine lifting a weapon against his British friend, Lt. Stranger. By the end of the book, however, he has seen Rab die and accepted the price of freedom. Most significantly, he has accepted Dr. Warren’s offer to fix his hand so that he can hold a musket and join the war. Forbes directly addresses this theme when she states that at sixteen Johnny was “a boy in time of peace and a man in time of war”.



Johnny Tremain Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Color Red

The color red is symbolic of the British troops that invade Boston following the Boston Tea Party. At various points, the troops are described as “redcoats”, “lobsterbacks”, “red ants”, the “scarlet deluge”, and the “scarlet dragon”. These troops change the daily lives of the Bostonians and increase the tension between the British government and the rebellion-minded colonists. From Johnny’s perspective, the red soldiers ultimately represent an enemy threat.


Johnny’s Family Cup

Johnny’s silver cup with the Lyte’s rising eye symbol represents his connection to his mother and the Lyte family. It also represents the British aristocracy that the Lytes embody and that the Revolutionaries seek to destroy. Early in the book, Johnny’s cup seems almost magical – it is the key that can connect him instantly with the riches and power of his Lyte ancestors. Johnny likes the idea that he might be superior to others and that possible treasures await him amongst his estranged family. As he matures, however, he learns that he cannot take the easy way out. In fact, he becomes a stronger and better person once rejected by Mr. Lyte. When he has the chance to take back his cup in the Lyte house at Milton, Johnny leaves it behind. His personal story mirrors that of the American colonists. Johnny cuts ties with his aristocratic past, much like America is about to do with England.


Johnny Tremain Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Example

(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 recurring themes in Johnny Tremain. Illustrate instances of each theme, symbol, or motif and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the themes, symbols, or motifs from Johnny Tremain you wish to include.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



Spider Map TSM

Example

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Character Growth in Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain is a strongly dynamic character who matures significantly over the novel’s two-year span. Students should be able to identify ways that Johnny changes and incidents that illustrate this change. Storyboarding can be an excellent way to identify and depict these moments. In a brief two-cell storyboard, students can show a “before and after” pair, identifying one of Johnny’s early character qualities and the way it develops over time. Expanding the assignment to include multiple pairs can be helpful preparation for writing assignments on character development.


Character Change in Johnny Tremain

Hot-headed

Early in the book, Johnny gets angry easily and shouts out rude and insulting comments. When he insults Mr. Lyte in anger, he makes a powerful enemy.


Patient

After living with Rab, Johnny learns patience. When Sam Adams's servant Sukey splashes water on Johnny, he counts to ten before getting angry. As a result, he is invited inside for pie.


Johnny Tremain Character Change

Example

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