When you start teaching a book (whether fiction or nonfiction) an anticipation guide can be very helpful; this Just Mercy anticipation guide can truly work to grab your students’ attention at the beginning of the unit.
Why Teach Just Mercy
When I read Just Mercy several years ago I found it gripping and sobering. It affected me in a way no other book ever has. I believe much of that was due to my own profound ignorance on the topics in the book, but also because of Stevenson’s powerful storytelling.
Perhaps this book had a similar affect on you when you read it, and you see the value in teaching it to your students. If you’re not completely sure about whether or not to teach it, consider a few reasons that it is valuable in the classroom: it reveals injustices many Americans are unaware of while revealing opportunities for change.
The book addresses issues related to social justice, racial inequality, and the criminal justice system. It also provides a deeply human perspective on the experiences of individuals within the legal system. Teaching it can help students develop empathy and a better understanding of the challenges faced by marginalized communities.
In addition to allowing students to gain insight into issues of social injustice, the book also allows many opportunities for students to think critically about the fairness of the legal system and the impact of systemic issues in America.
Just Mercy is perfect for igniting powerful conversations in your classroom and serving as the backbone for student inquiry and project-based learning.
Already planning on teaching it, and short on time? Jump to the bottom of this post for a free download for Just Mercy.
The Importance of Starting The Unit With Discussion
Since the book delves into some deeply disturbing issues, and considering the fact that our political climate is more charged than ever, it will be important to practice respectful discussion with your students as you get into the book.
By starting your unit with a discussion, students can start to see how they feel when others’ views are different and begin practicing restraint, active listening, and respectful discourse.
How To Use Anticipation Guides
Now that you’re sold on teaching the book, consider how you want to start your unit. Using anticipation guides is a powerful way to grab your students’ attention at the beginning of nearly any unit, and this unit is no different.
Anticipation guides are great for a few reasons. First, the statements on the guide allow your students to offer their opinions and their experiences on certain topics. As the teacher you can start to see where students are coming from and even get a feel for any issues that may arise when reading the novel.
Further, one of the most important things we do as educators is allow students to wrestle with and discuss big topics–some of these are personal, some are societal, and some have elements of both, depending on your group of students. Anticipation guides give us a structured way to do this in the classroom.
The concept of the anticipation guide is pretty straightforward. You’ll put about 6-10 statements on a handout and students will decide whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with each topic.
A suggestion is to avoid a “neutral” choice because many students will choose the “neutral” stance to play it safe and not call attention to themselves. Pushing them a bit to decide if they agree or disagree can encourage them to dig deep and make a choice which is valuable because in life they do have to decide where they stand on important issues.
Once students have filled out their handout, you might proceed in a few different ways. One option is to allow students to go to different corners of the room: one for students who strongly agree, one for agree, one for strongly disagree, and one for disagree.
You can read each statement, one by one, and allow students to move to that corner of the room.
Once there, students will discuss their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with those in their group.
Then, you may open it up to the groups to discuss with each other why they went to the coroner they went.
This may get a bit chaotic if you have a large class, so you’ll have to determine the best strategy for your class size and the personalities in your class.
For instance, you might call on specific students in each group instead of simply opening the floor. You might say, “Thomas, you chose the strongly agree group, can you summarize what you and your group members talked about regarding why you all strongly agree?”
Then, you might turn to another group and say, “Sasha, you choice the disagree group. What would you say to the strongly agree group about why you chose the stance you did?”
If you have a small group of students, they may be able to discuss on their own without your guidance, but something about moving around brings a bit more energy to the classroom. Because of this extra energy, you’ll need to choose the best management strategy for you students.
Allowing Students To Write
When students are back in their seats, it’s a great opportunity for them to write about what they heard other students say during the discussion.
This gives them a way to revisit the key points that were made during the discussion, and it also holds them accountable–they should have bene listening during the discussion, and hopefully they were!
Statements To Include On The Anticipation Guide
Choose statements for your anticipation guide that are complex and that you can imagine students feeling differently about. A statement where everyone goes to the “agree” corner, will not be as compelling as a statement that causes people to scatter all over the room.
Be sure the statements relate to the literary work that you will be reading, in this case Just Mercy. This will naturally pique students’ interest in the book.
Choose statements that you can revisit at the end of the book to see if any of your students’ viewpoints have changed.
This can be a meaningful testimony to the power of literature when students can see that their views actually changed from reading a book!
Free Anticipation Guide For Just Mercy
Download our free anticipation guide for Just Mercy and give it a try with your students!
In the English Teacher Vault we have an entire 3-4 week unit with Just Mercy serving as the anchor text. The unit includes every single resource you need to guide your students through this provocative book. You can instantly access the whole unit with a $1 trial for 7 days when you click here.