"What a pity every child couldn't learn ... under a willow tree." Hanna Tupper, an accused witch in Elizabeth George Speare's young-adult novel "The Witch of Blackbird Pond," laments the close-minded Puritan community that smothers knowledge with religious hatred. Speare's protagonist, Kit Tyler, stands in for the reader in seeking knowledge her own way; your class may not have willow trees handy, but a number of activities based on "Witch" can enrich their learning.
You're Accused, Interactively
The witchcraft-soaked atmosphere of Wethersfield, strongly reminiscent of "The Crucible" and "The Scarlet Letter," is home to insane Puritan accusations of dark sorcery. To acclimate your students to the mindset of the times, try the ingenious online site "You're Accused!" -- the website replicates the dilemma of defendants in witch trials, based on Salem accounts. No matter which way students try to escape, the website cuts them off; they get a genuine feel for the horrors that threaten Kit and Hannah and a lesson in the bigotry that decrees absolute ends for ill-fated individuals.
Good and Evil Settings
Another activity for before or during reading is to create a map of the settings of the novel, including the Connecticut colony where Wethersfield is located and the island of Barbados, Kit's former home in the late 1600s. This is based on an Adventist activity that maps the Western Hemisphere with colonial icons; however, the novel's immediate locales, and the points of reference that maps of them would reinforce, are more effective and time-manageable for a limited class calendar. In addition, your students can write compare/contrast essays about the "good" and "evil" settings in Kit's life.
Playing Kit as Schoolteacher
An exciting activity during reading is for students to dramatize an essential scene at the "dame school," a Puritan prekindergarten. In response to the dull lessons that she and Mercy Wood are forced to teach, Kit creates a blasphemously unorthodox activity by having students act out a Bible story. Have your students plan a three-scene presentation in three groups: one group acts out the "status quo" boring lessons, one enacts the Bible story play scene and one sends in Goodwife Cruff, a furious religious bigot, to accuse Kit of corrupting youth. Drama and revelation should ensue.
Kit and Her Choices
Kit Tyler is a marvelous role model for young readers, particularly in the choices that reveal her character. An excellent activity for examining Kit is her Personal Choices Chart, which your students create, filling in not only her choices but the restrictions and influences -- why and for whom she chose -- that dictated her actions. Your students quickly understand that choices, while still their own, are often strongly influenced by their circumstances.
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond (paperback ed. 1986); Elizabeth George Speare
- University of Missouri at Kansas City: Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692: You're Accused!
- Adventist.org: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, page 2
- Angelfire: 91 Ways to Respond to Literature
- Prestwick Power Packs: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, page 8
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.