Activity Overview

Chains is filled with symbolism, and it is helpful for students to identify and analyze them to gain a deeper understanding of the characters and their journey. The symbols in this book will come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify and explain symbols from the novel using a storyboard.

Chains Symbols to Look for and Discuss

Isabel’s Mark

Upon discovering Madam Lockton sold Ruth, Isabel fights her and runs to Colonel Regan for help. Seeking revenge, Madam has Isabel branded with the letter "I" for insolence on her cheek. Branding is something farmers do on cattle, so it symbolizes the brutality and dehumanization of slavery. It also represents the depth of Madam Lockton's cruelty. However, the "I" ends up empowering Isabel to reclaim her identity, believing "this mark stands for "Isabel" and gathers the courage to escape.

Ruth’s Doll

When they were sold, Ruth and Isabel were forced to leave everything behind including Ruth's beloved doll. At the Lockton's, Isabel makes Ruth a new doll. The doll symbolizes family, love, and their connection to their past. After Ruth is sold in secret again, the doll is all Isabel has left of Ruth and symbolizes Isabel's purpose to escape and find her. However, when Isabel is forced to leave the doll behind to save Lady Seymour from the fire, it shows how Isabel is willing to make extraordinary sacrifices to help others.

Curzon’s Hat

Curzon's red hat symbolizes the spirit of Curzon himself. While he is enslaved, he tries to maintain his individuality and enthusiasm just as his red hat stands out in a crowd. It also symbolizes the hope he has for freedom as he helps his enslaver Mr. Bellingham and the Patriot cause. His red hat changes appearance as time goes on and becomes more tattered as his and the Patriots' circumstances become more desperate.

King George Statue

The toppling of King George's statue by the Patriots symbolizes the overthrowing of the British government itself. When the statue is pulled down, the citizens are able to easily break it apart and Isabel realizes that it wasn't made of gold after all, but lead with gilt paint. It symbolizes that while the British empire might have looked indestructible, it was vulnerable too.

Momma’s Seeds

Isabel hides her mother's seeds and brings them to the Locktons. The seeds symbolize her connection to her family, desire to continue their legacy, and hope for the future. She plants them in an effort to maintain that connection. After Ruth is sold, Isabel feels incredible remorse. She feels a similar regret when her plants die in the cold winter. When Isabel escapes, she brings the seeds with her, symbolizing her hope to find Ruth and start a new life.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Due Date:

Objective: Create a storyboard that identifies recurring symbols found in Chains. Illustrate each symbol and write a short description below each cell.

Student Instructions:

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the symbols from Chains you wish to include and write their title in the top.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents each symbol using appropriate scenes, characters, and items.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples in the black text box.

Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 6-8

Difficulty Level 3 (Developing to Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual or Partner

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/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
  • [ELA-Literacy/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
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/5/1] Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Create a storyboard that identifies symbolism in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.
Proficient Emerging Beginning
Identify Symbol(s)
All symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story.
Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or are incorrectly identified as significant symbols.
No symbols are correctly identified.
All examples support the identified symbols. Descriptions clearly say why examples are significant.
Most examples fit the identified symbols. Descriptions say why examples are significant.
Most examples do not fit the identified symbols. Descriptions are unclear.
Storyboard cells clearly show connection with the symbols and help with understanding.
Most storyboard cells help to show the symbols but some storyboard cells are difficult to understand.
Storyboard cells do not help in understanding the symbols.

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