Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Study Questions by Virginia Knowles

The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Book by Elizabeth George Speare
Study Guide Questions by Virginia Knowles

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the first novel we studied last year in our 7th-8th grade English class at co-op. My students (and their parents) have really enjoyed this book the two years we have done it. The book is set in Puritan times during the era of the Salem witch hunts. Kit, the main character, befriends Hannah, an elderly Quaker widow who is accused of witchcraft.

I used selected pages from a publisher’s free PDF study guide (click here to download it) to introduce the novel and its author, Elizabeth George Speare, but I mainly use my own study guide. I have included it below. Even if you don’t use it, it will give you an idea of the kinds of things you can discuss with your children when they read books independently or when you read them aloud. The questions are not all mere recall because I want my students to think about the deeper themes and issues in the book, as well as the excellent descriptive language that the author employs. You may wish to listen to my audio presentation, “Academic Education for a Deeper Heart” which is on my blog.

We finished this book in four or five weeks, with discussion in class on Mondays, and reading a chapter or two each day from Tuesday to Friday. Please note that these questions do not cover everything in the chapters. Besides this book, they also have writing, grammar, and other assignments for my class, so I don’t want to give them too many questions. I let them choose about four questions per day to answer. Questions marked with a ** are for more advanced students. Sometimes I combine two chapters in one daily assignment, as you will note.


Chapter 1
  1. When and where does the story take place?
  2. Why was everyone so surprised that Kit could swim?
  3. Compare Kit and Nat. How are they similar and different?
  4. How do you think this chapter sets up the plot for the rest of the story?

Chapter 2

  1. Describe Kit’s opinion of each member of the Cruff family.
  2. What is John Holbrook like?
  3. What had Kit’s life been like in Barbados? How do you think it will be different here?
  4. Why wouldn’t the Eaton family transport slaves on their ship?
  5. What is “walking up the river”?
  6. What is your favorite descriptive sentence in this chapter? Why?

Chapters 3 & 4

  1. Describe what happened when Kit arrived at Aunt Rachel’s house.
  2. Why hadn’t Kit written a letter to ask if she could come? (If she had e-mail, do you think she would have written or not?)
  3. How did Uncle Matthew react when he found out Kit had come to stay?
  4. Compare the personalities of Judith and Mercy as seen in these two chapters.

Chapter 5

  1. How does the author show us in word pictures what Judith feels about Kit?
  2. What were the pillory, whipping post, and stocks used for?
  3. Judith asked Kit, “Have you set your cap for him?” What does this mean?
  4. What were Sabbath houses? Why were they necessary?
  5. Describe the church service. How is it different from your church’s service?
  6. Why is this sentence about the townspeople’s reaction to Kit so effective?
    “It was not so much a sound as a stillness so intent that it made her ears ring.”

Chapters 6 & 7

  1. What is Reverend Bulkeley like? Is his use of Scripture effective here?
  2. How does Mercy show that she is a peacemaker throughout these chapters? Give as many examples as possible. What other character qualities are evident in Mercy’s life?
  3. What words are used in these chapters to replace “said”? (Example: “replied”) Which ones show that the speaker is speaking in an unpleasant tone of voice?
  4. Why does Kit learn how to knit? What is her attitude toward her other chores?
  5. ** Why are Reverend Bulkeley and Matthew Wood arguing over loyalty to the king and the Massachusetts Charter?
  6. ** What are Kit’s opinions of John Holbrook and William Ashby?

Chapter 8

  1. How does Kit respond to the Great Meadows? Does any place make you feel the same way?
  2. Describe Hannah Tupper.
  3. What is a dame school?
  4. ** Ask your mom or dad to pick a sentence from this chapter to dictate to you. Write it down as accurately as you can. Check how you did, and make corrections.
  5. ** What sorrowful events have happened to the Wood family in the past?

Chapter 9

  1. You get choices this time! Draw a picture of a child with a hornbook. Make up a rhyme for your own name just like Kit did for her students.
  2. Tell what happened when Kit let the children act out the story of the Good Samaritan. How do you think that Mr. Kimberley should have responded?
  3. Why does Hannah Tupper always use the word “thee” and “thy” instead of “you” and “your”?
  4. ** In chapter 8, you described what little you knew of Hannah Tupper. Now, tell what more you have learned about her. How has your own first impression of someone you have met changed after you have gotten to know them better?
  5. ** What is the symbolism of the red flower at Hannah’s house? What does this teach Kit?

Chapter 10

  1. Kit says that what people say about Hannah is “malicious gossip.” What does this mean?
    Many of the people of Wethersfield have a negative opinion of Hannah, who is actually good and kind. Does this prejudice make them “bad” people? Why or why not? Have you ever been prejudiced about someone and then found out that they were different from what you thought?
  2. How does the author show that Judith is in love with John, after she says it in plain words?
  3. Find, copy, and label four different kinds of sentences from this chapter: a statement, a question, an exclamation and a command.
  4. ** How were the Quakers different from the Puritans? How did each group get its name?
  5. ** “Kit picked up her wool cards and went to work. She knew she looked stubborn and ungrateful, and she felt so. The hard little knot had kinked up inside her tighter than ever. Coming home through the meadow everything had seemed so simple, and here it was all tangled again.” How does this paragraph use an object (wool cards) to show about feelings?

Chapter 11

  1. There are three scenes or settings for this chapter. What are they? What is the main thing that happens in each one?
  2. What is Mercy’s attitude about not being able to do the things the others do?
  3. What is your favorite book that someone has read aloud to you? Why did you like it?
  4. What discovery does Kit make at the end of chapter 11? Why do you think it makes sense?
  5. ** Has anyone ever affected your life like Kit and Hannah affected Prudence? How?
  6. ** John Holbrook reads a poem by Anne Bradstreet. Find out more about her. See if you can memorize the poem or copy it down decoratively and illustrate it.

Chapter 12

  1. What chores needed to be done at harvest time? How did this affect Kit?
  2. What do Kit and Nat do for Hannah? Have you ever helped an older person (like a neighbor or relative) by doing something like this?
  3. Alliteration is when two or more words close to each other start with the same sound. One example of it is “The strong sweet smell of it tickled her nostrils.” Find as many other examples of alliteration as you can in this chapter.
  4. Find the paragraph that starts with “Kit followed him into the swamp…” Give examples of as much sensory detail as possible. What can they smell, feel, see, hear and taste?
  5. ** Find the section where Kit and Nat are talking about birds. What do they mean? If you were compared to a kind of bird, which one would it be? Why?
  6. ** What does Nat say about King James? If he had lived a nearly a hundred years later, what side would he have fought for in the War for Independence? What is King James most known for now?

Chapter 13

  1. What was a husking bee? How does it change Kit’s opinion of the people in Wethersfield? What is the significance of a red ear of corn?
  2. What is John Holbrook’s opinion of Hannah Tupper? Why does he think this way?
  3. How does John Holbrook treat Kit in their conversation? What is one word from this chapter that describes their relationship?
  4. Why does John come to visit the Wood home just before the husking bee? What happens?
  5. ** John Holbrook said that skunk cabbage was used as a remedy for asthma. Find out more about herbal remedies. Which ones are still used today?

Chapter 14

  1. In the opening paragraphs of this chapter, Kit observes the change of the seasons. How does this affect her? How does the author use sensory detail, such as sight, sound, touch, and smell?
  2. Kit sees her uncle with a handful of dirt. How does her opinion change?
  3. Why was Kit so interested in seeing the Dolphin?
  4. ** How does Nat react to the idea that Kit plans to marry William?
  5. ** Describe an outdoor scene, as the author did in the first paragraphs.

Chapter 15

  1. The chapter openings with a meeting of men talking about politics. Why was the mood so tense?
  2. Judith knows something about William that Kit doesn’t. Why?
  3. What does Matthew advise that the men NOT do about their situation? What does he say to his wife when they leave?
  4. How do the townspeople react to the arrival of Governor Andros? What does Kit feel about him?
  5. ** What happened to the charter? When Matthew Wood heard that it was safe, he said, “Then we can hold up our heads.” What does he mean by that? What does he say about the future?
  6. ** What is Kit’s opinion of her Uncle Matthew at the end of the chapter?

Chapter 16

  1. What happened on All Hallow’s Eve? Who did it, and why did they single out William as their target?
  2. Describe the scene at the stocks. What would you do if one of your friends was sent to jail?
  3. Why is Kit jealous when she found out that Nat had often visited Hannah?
  4. How has Prudence changed since the beginning of the book? Why is Kit worried about her?
  5. ** Copy the following and tell what it means: “Bless thee, child!” said Hannah softly. “Perhaps ‘tis the answer. But remember, thee has never escaped at all if love is not there.”
  6. ** Why has John gone away? How does this show a change in his opinions? Why does Judith react the way she does?

Chapter 17

  1. What happens in the Wood household at the start of this chapter? Why doesn’t it affect Kit as much as Judith?
  2. Describe the scene between Matthew Wood and Reverend Bulkeley. What does each one think about the situation?
  3. What reason do the angry townspeople give for the sickness? What do they propose to do?
  4. What happens at Hannah’s house?
  5. ** What “miracle” occurs in this chapter? Has God ever done something like this for you?
  6. ** Why does Kit decide to stay in Wethersfield?

Chapters 18 & 19

  1. What reason does Matthew Wood give for defending Kit in the previous chapter? What does Kit decide to do as a result?
  2. What are some specific words that the author uses to reveal Goodwife Cruff’s character?
  3. What happens when Nat and Prudence show up at Kit’s trial? Why did Reverend Bulkeley choose those particular Bible verses for Prudence to read in the trial?
  4. ** What are Kit’s feelings about all the happy times she and Prudence had at Hannah’s cottage?
  5. ** How does Adam Cruff’s character change during chapter 19?

Chapter 20

  1. What specific words does the author use to describe snow in the first few pages of this chapter? How does her description change later in the chapter?
  2. What do William and Kit learn about each other’s life priorities when they finally get to talk? What is the result of this conversation?
  3. What does Kit decide to do near the end of the chapter?
  4. What happens when John returns?
  5. ** After reading about the Peabody’s wedding feast, vividly describe a favorite meal.
  6. ** How does Mercy’s grief about John affect her? Can you find a Bible verse about this?

Chapter 21

  1. How has the relationship between John Holbrook and Reverend Bulkeley changed?
  2. In a few words, how would you describe the well-matched priorities and personalities of the three new couples, Judith & William, Mercy & John, and Kit & Nat?
  3. What does Kit decide to do with her fancy clothes?
  4. What happened to the site where Hannah’s house had been?
  5. ** How does spring bring a new beginning for Kit? What sentence sums it up?
  6. ** How has the past year developed and proved Nat’s and Kit’s character so that they are more prepared for a lifetime together?

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