Wondering if you should teach Kim Johnson’s This Is My America? Check out this post here before you add it to your classroom library.
So, how do you teach This Is My America by Kim Johnson?
- Anticipation Guides
- Close reads
- Pairing with current events
- In class discussions and lit circles
- Character analysis
- Reader’s response journals
- Pairing with similar content like Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy
- Using creative novel projects
I always start all of my texts with an anticipation guide. Anticipation guides help students activate prior knowledge, familiarize themselves with any knowledge they should know before hand, and pique interest for what they are about to read. For This Is My America, I like to review some relevant concepts like racism, code switching, and equity, and I ask students what their take is on some statements, like authority figures are incorruptible.
It gets students passionate. Plus, what teenager doesn’t like to give their opinion? It’s a great way to open up class discussion and teach students discourse.
Most people like to leave close reading to heavier texts, but there are a few chapters in this novel where you can look at character interactions, particularly those surrounding authority figures like the police, Mrs. Evans, or even the correctional officer, and tease apart language. Students can easily miss places where Tracy is the victim of microaggressions, so it helps to go through it with them.
In Class Discussion of Novel
In class discussions are always going to be in. You can break students up into groups with the aim of answering the 5Ws and H. Who, what, when, where, why, and how. You can write all these on the board as a table, and then have students come up to the board with expos and fill in the individual headings.
Character analyses can be a great way to get students to tease apart character traits and then figure out how those traits, relationships, and interactions drive the plot. I like to use sticky note character notes for this and a series of graphic organizers.
This Is My America lends itself to study with current events. Students can easily pull up articles on people who were falsely accused of crimes or exonerated after death row.
Reader’s Response Journal
A reader’s response journal is a nice way to have students summarize what a text is about, and answer questions. For this novel, I ask for a summary (it can be bullet points) and then I ask a question pertaining to the chapter which develop mastery of a particular standard, like understanding author’s purpose in wording things a certain way, or drawing inferences on how character interactions will affect the conclusion of the novel.
Pair With Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy
The organization in This Is My America is based off of Bryan Stevenson’s This Is My America. A logical pairing then would be Just Mercy. You can read through Stevenson’s book and determine which excerpt would pair well with this novel.
No book reports. Novel projects. Novel projects give students the freedom to express what they have learned about a novel. You can choose to rein it in with a specific focus like theme or character development, but let students demonstrate their learning through less traditional ways. I like to do anything from a series of TikTok videos posing as a character to show character growth and relationship, to collages with specific requirements on what types of images to include. In most of these, I make it a requirement for students to be able to tell me how their project meets the standard, either verbally in a presentation or written.
Solve the mystery in the novel as it goes with a class crime scene bulletin board. Put up pictures or drawings of the main characters, post thumb tacks connected by red yarn when a connection is made, and draw out clues and reveals. At the end of the novel, you should have a clear map of how the story was weaved together. It will be stunning décor and a useful anchor chart for your students.