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The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

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 The Witch of Blackbird Pond Include:

Winner of the 1959 Newbery Medal, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is a work of historical fiction set in seventeenth century New England. The novel follows a year in the life of an orphan girl Kit, who moves from the English settlement in Barbados to the Puritan town of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Kit’s story is filled with challenges that reveal her weaknesses, test her strengths, and bring about important character growth. The novel provides rich historical background on life in the early colonies, specifically addressing the lifestyle of New England Puritans and the history of the famous Connecticut Charter Oak.

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




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Background Information

Students reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond may need some background on its historical context. A basic understanding of the British colonial empire in the seventeenth century will help students understand the connection between Connecticut and Barbados. A helpful background on the colonization of Barabados can be found here.

The customs and beliefs of Puritans are also heavily referenced in the novel. While not all the characters are Puritan, the Puritan faith is the dominant force in Wethersfield. Although many Puritans left England to escape restrictive religious laws, this did not stop them from implementing their own. Their vision for a moral society shaped the legal and social practices of their settlements. Puritans valued prayer, pious reading, and hard work, and the frowned upon fancy dress, silly games, and secular songs and books. They expected all believers to follow the teachings of the Bible and required women and children to obey their husbands and fathers.

Social expectations and even local laws were based on this strict mentality. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in the notorious witch trials. In their fear of sinful disobedience, many Puritans saw the devil at work in the actions of those who diverged from their lifestyle. Women and men who disagreed with Puritan beliefs and looked or acted oddly were sometimes thought to be bewitched by the devil. Throughout the seventeenth century, dozens of people were executed for witchcraft, most famously in the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s. The websites below might be helpful for supplementing students’ understanding of Puritan society and religious beliefs.



The Witch of Blackbird Pond also highlights the political tension between the Connecticut colonists and the English government. Although nearly a century before the Revolutionary War, many colonists in the 1680s already felt that living in an American colony entitled them to a certain amount of autonomy from the British government. In fact, this is why many Puritans came to America in the first place. The religious freedom in the colonies was possible because the dominance of the Anglican Church in England itself was not enforced in its territories. In 1662, the colony of Connecticut was granted a charter from King Charles II which granted the colony a certain amount of self-government and freedom from direct oversight from the Crown. In 1685, however, Charles II died and his successor, King James II, refused to honor the charter. He consolidated several colonies into a single territory named the Dominion of New England and set his appointee Sir Edmond Andros in place as Royal Governor of the dominion.

With all these changes, colonists found themselves divided along ideological lines as the characters in the novel do. Some, like Reverend Bulkeley, felt loyal to the king and his governor, but others, like Matthew Wood and William Ashby objected to the loss of autonomy. In an attempt to preserve this autonomy, a number of men conspired to hide the 1662 charter so that the governor could not invalidate it. Although William Ashby does not reveal its hiding place in The Witch of Blackbird Pond, history tells us that the colonists hid the charter in a the trunk of an oak tree, which has since been known as the Charter Oak. Later, when King James II was deposed, the colonists removed the charter from its hiding place and reinstated its privileges for another 120 years. For more on the story of the famous Charter Oak, click here.


Essential Questions for The Witch of Blackbird Pond

  1. Why are people afraid of those who are different? What advantages can “different” people bring to a community?
  2. How does the characters’ Puritan faith affect their society in both positive and negative ways?
  3. What difficulties did colonists in 17th century New England face?
  4. What role do community, family, and country play in shaping our identities?
  5. How does Kit Tyler change and grow over the course of the book?

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Witch of Blackbird Pond 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 helps 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 The Witch of Blackbird Pond Plot Diagram

Exposition

Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler leaves her wealthy home in Barbados following the death of her grandfather. Impulsively jumping aboard the ship the Dolphin, she sets out to start a new life with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in Wethersfield, Connecticut.


Conflict

Right away, Kit finds that she does not fit in well with the Puritan society of Wethersfield. Her wealthy upbringing and free-spirited ways make it hard for her to adjust to the hard work and strict religious practices of her family and neighbors.


Rising Action

As Kit strives to fit in with Wethersfield society, she works long hours in the kitchen and fields, attends church services, and wins the romantic attentions of William Ashby. Although the villagers begin to accept her, she feels most at home with an elderly Quaker, Hannah Tupper, who is rumored to be a witch. Kit’s best friends turn out to be Hannah, a sailor on the Dolphin named Nat, and Prudence, a young girl Kit secretly teaches to read.


Climax

When many of the villagers come down with a deadly fever, an angry mob tries to attack Hannah Tupper, believing her to be a witch responsible for the illnesses. Kit manages to get Hannah to safety, only to be accused of witchcraft herself. When Kit is put on trial, she is nearly condemned until Nat and Prudence come with evidence to prove her innocence.


Falling Action

When William Ashby fails to defend Kit during her witch trial, she realizes she can never marry him. Instead, William decides to marry Judith, and Mercy gets engaged to John Holbrook. Although Kit is happy for them, she feels unsettled and discontent. At first, she believes she is homesick for Barbados, but eventually she realizes that she misses Nat.


Resolution

Nat returns in the spring with his own ship, the Witch, named after Kit. Kit and Nat plan to get married, allowing Kit to spend her winters in the West Indies and her summers in Connecticut with those she has come to love.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond 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 The Witch of Blackbird Pond.


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



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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The Witch of Blackbird Pond Compare and Contrast

Kit struggles to adjust to her new life in Wethersfield due to the culture shock she experiences. Although both Barbados and Connecticut are British colonies, the two could not be more different. Students can benefit from using storyboards to compare and contrast life in Kit’s two homes. Have students use one column of a T-chart to depict various aspects of life in Barbados. On the opposite side, they should depict contrasting aspects of Kit’s life in Wethersfield, CT. Students can use text below each scene to explain their observations. The sample storyboard shows possible topics for comparison.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond Compare and Contrast

BarbadosConnecticut
The climate in Barbados was tropical, and the plants were lush and brightly colored. The climate in New England is much cooler than Barbados and includes a long, snowy winter. Connecticut has plenty of green plants, but few brightly colored flowers.
On Barbados, Kit lived a wealthy life with plenty of leisure time and slaves to serve her. In Connecticut, Kit is expected to work hard every day, from dipping candles to weeding the crops.
In Barbados, Kit lived with her kind-hearted grandfather who loved her and doted on her. In Wethersfield, Kit lives with her uncle Matthew who disapproves of her and lets her know she is unwelcome. Even her aunt and cousins are stressed by Kit’s arrival.
In Barbados, Kit lived a life filled with laughter and fun. She enjoyed reading literature, swimming, sailing, and watching plays. In Wethersfield, the Puritan culture frowns on fun. Their community has strict rules and does not approve of most non-religious books and activities.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Compare and Contrast

Example

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The Witch of Blackbird Pond Character Map

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!


The Witch of Blackbird Pond Characters

  • Kit Tyler
  • Nat Eaton
  • Hannah Tupper
  • Matthew Wood
  • Judith Wood
  • Mercy Wood
  • Rachel Wood
  • William Ashby
  • Prudence Cruff

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Characters

Example

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The Witch of Blackbird Pond Direct and Indirect Characterization

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a largely character-driven novel. Kit’s interactions with the various people she meets in Wethersfield drive her story and personal growth. As they read the novel, students should develop a strong understanding of the various characters and their personalities through both direct and indirect characterization. To help students master direct and/or indirect characterization, have them create a storyboard identifying important character traits and the way these are conveyed in the novel. Students can look for indirect characterization based on character actions, their comments, or others’ comments about them. Students looking for direct characterization will search for specific lines in which the narrator explicitly states particular character qualities. For each character trait, have students depict an appropriate scene, annotated below with the student’s observations or a direct quotation from the text.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond Direct and Indirect Characterization


HANNAH TUPPER


WISE

DIRECT CHARACTERIZATION: "Her faded eyes studied the girl beside her, and now there was nothing childlike in that wise, friendly gaze" (96).


KIND

INDIRECT CHARACTERIZATION: Hannah is gentle and comforting. She reaches out to those in need like Kit, Prudence, and the young Nat. She lets them play with her kittens and feeds them generously out of her small store of food.


INDEPENDENT

INDIRECT CHARACTERIZATION: Hannah survives all alone in a small hut in the field. She is not welcome in the nearby Puritan settlement, but seems to content to exist with her cats and memories of her husband Thomas.



The Witch of Blackbird Pond Direct and Indirect Characterization

Example

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The Witch of Blackbird Pond Frayer Model


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Frayer Model storyboards can be helpful for introducing new concepts or vocabulary terms to students. The Frayer Model is particularly helpful for complex thematic concepts that can be understood differently by different people and in varied contexts. The sample storyboard investigates the concept of patriarchy, which is never explicitly named in the novel but dominates the social structure of the Puritan society. Provided below is a list of words that can be used to introduce students to thematic concepts along with a list of vocabulary pulled directly from the text.


Theme-related Terms

Consider revisiting these terms as you move deeper through the story. Students can then add characteristics, examples, and non-examples from the book and discuss whether their original understanding of the term has changed since reading the book.

  • Persecute
  • Frivolous
  • Judgment
  • Assimilate
  • Mob mentality

Vocabulary from Text

  • vanity
  • hawser
  • frippery
  • beholden
  • unseemly
  • apparel
  • scour
  • auspiciously
  • garb
  • fulsome
  • afflicted
  • brand
  • affront
  • spiteful
  • condescension
  • nonplussed
  • enthralled
  • decorum
  • poultice
  • rebuked
  • shrewd
  • soberly
  • testimony
  • monotonous
  • resolutely
  • ketch

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Frayer Model Example: PATRIARCHY


DEFINITIONS

A social system in which males hold primary power, predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. In the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children.


CHARACTERISTICS

male name passed on, males had more power, social expectations clear, restrictive to women, sometimes unjust, sexist


EXAMPLES

Puritan society, most of Western society before the 20th century, some Middle Eastern cultures


NON-EXAMPLES

Matriarchies or societies with gender equality



The Witch of Blackbird Pond Frayer Model

Example

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


Student Instructions

Create a Frayer Model for one of the vocabulary words from The Witch of Blackbird Pond.


  1. Choose a vocabulary word and type it into the center title box.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary and enter it into the description box under Definition.
  3. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the Definition 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.
  4. Think of at least three characteristics that help expand the meaning beyond the definition.
  5. Provide written and visual examples of the word.
  6. Provide written and visual non-examples of the word.



Frayer Model Template

Example

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





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The Witch of Blackbird Pond 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.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond Themes to Look For and Discuss

Independence and Self-Determination

This theme is conveyed through Kit as well as the colonists in general. Kit stands out from the others because of her independent spirit. She traveled alone all the way from Barbados, and acts according to her own judgment rather than the dictates of her society. The CT colonists value independence too. They object to control by a British governor and hide their original charter in a tree to preserve their right to self-determination in the future.


Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Many of the villagers judge others quickly based on superficial qualities. Both Hannah Tupper and Kit are labeled as witches because of how they appear or how they act. In reality, however, Hannah and Kit are some of the kindest people in the colony. The judgments the colonists make based on appearance are not accurate.



The Witch of Blackbird Pond Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

Books and Reading

Books play a positive role in Kit's life. In Barbados, Kit found joy and adventure reading poetry and plays with her grandfather. Even in Wethersfield, where the Puritans disapprove of secular texts, Kit's favorite activity is listening to John Holbrook read the Bible. Reading is also the key to Prudence's friendship with Kit and her newfound confidence.


The Meadows

The meadows symbolize peace for Kit. The waving grass reminds her of the billowing waves surrounding her home in Barbados. Kit comes to the meadows when she is worried or upset, and the meadows bring her a sense of calm.


William’s House

William's house is a symbol of marriage. The new home will be the first place he and his wife will live together. He begins building his house only after he has decided upon marrying Kit. The timeline of his courtship with Kit is determined by the building process. As his house nears completion, Kit knows she must make up her mind about William.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

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 The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Witch of Blackbird Pond you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



Template: Theme

Example

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





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