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Vocabulary, Questions, and Activities for

"Spelldown" by Becky Mushko

Created by Tammy Wood

Meadows of Dan School

3003 Jeb Stuart Highway
Meadows of Dan, Va. 24120

Introduction:  “Spelldown” by Becky Mushko is an excellent story to use with students in 4th to 6th grades. It gives modern and non-Appalachian students a taste of what school was like for both extremely poor children who were seen to be less than human and for children who were poor but avidly worked to improve themselves. Almost every student can relate to the situation described in "Spelldown" on some level, especially since spelling bees are still a part of many classrooms. There are always students who surprise us in so many different ways. 

Grade Levels:  4 – 6

Subject: School Life, Life in Appalachia, Short Stories

Time Frame:  Five 45-minute periods (adjust time and number of periods based on the needs of your class).

Relevant Virginia Standards of Learning:  

In order to save space, only Virginia SOLs for 4th grade English are listed. The 5th and 6th grade SOLs are very similar. For specific 5th and 6th grade SOLs or updates in current SOLs, please consult Virginia Department of Education SOL manuals and documents.

English 4.3:  The student will read and learn the meanings of unfamiliar words.

  • Use knowledge of word origins, synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms, and multiple meanings of words

  • Use word reference materials including the glossary, dictionary, or thesaurus

English 4.4:  The student will read fiction and nonfiction, including biographies and historical fiction.

  • Explain the author’s purpose

  • Describe how the choice of language, setting and information contributes to the author’s purpose

  • Compare the use of fact and fantasy in historical fiction with other forms of literature

  • Explain how knowledge of the lives and experiences of individuals in history can relate to individuals who have similar goals or face similar challenges

English 4.5:  The student will demonstrate comprehension of a variety of literary forms.

  • Use text organizers such as type, heading and graphics to predict and categorize information

  • Formulate questions that might be answered in the selection

  • Make inferences using information from the texts

  • Paraphrase content of selection, identifying important ideas and providing details for each important idea

  • Describe relationships between content and previously learned concepts or skills

  • Write about what is ready    

Virginia Studies: 1607 to Present 4.2:  The student will use concepts of absolute location and relative location to

  • Explain how physical characteristics, transportation routes, climate and specialization influenced the variety of crops, products and industries, and the general patterns of economic growth in Virginia.

  • Illustrate how communities in Virginia differ in physical features such as land use, population density, architecture, services and transportation.

Virginia Studies: 1607 to Present 4.7:  The student will develop historical analysis skills including

  • Distinguishing fact from fiction by comparing documented sources on historical figures and events with fictionalized characters and events.

Materials:  A map of the general Appalachian area, dictionaries, thesauruses, and a copy of “Spelldown” for the teacher and each student 

Teacher’s Notes:  These plans may not be arranged in the order that you would prefer to do them.  Please feel free to arrange them and expand on them to suit the needs of your class.

Lesson 1: Spelling Bee and Journal

Procedure:  Before reading the story, have students write a journal entry discussing how they might feel about participating in a spelling bee. Next, conduct a spelling bee. After the spelling bee, have students write another journal entry explaining how they felt after participating in a spelling bee. Encourage them to be honest – if they hate spelling bees, they need to be able to say that.

Lesson 2: Vocabulary

Suggested List of Words:

Melungeon      Keen Prolong
Truant   Rivals Suspense
 Recess   Respectable     Impending
Crave  Penitentiary   Chaperone

Procedure: Learn and study the vocabulary by

  1. Having students look up words and write definitions on their own
  2. Dividing students into groups to look up words; groups then share their definitions with the class
  3. Having students look up one word each, write the definition, a homonym, a synonym, an antonym, use their word in a sentence, and draw a picture to illustrate the word’s meaning.  Display students' work and use it to introduce and review vocabulary words. 

Lesson 3: Pre-discussion and Reading

Procedure: Use a map to introduce students to the general area that is considered to be Appalachia. Please note that some maps will show certain areas to be part of Appalachia while others will not. Use your best judgment or use the resources of this web site to find a map that works for your class.  

Using pictures, if possible, generate discussion about what life in Appalachia is like. Some things to consider: how is Appalachia different from other areas? If your class is part of the Appalachian region, how is their area like/unlike what pictures show or others say?

Tie “Spelldown” into Virginia Studies and the Blue Ridge/Appalachian Mountain Regions by asking questions such as what kind of jobs the characters in the story might have. What type of agriculture, if any, might they carry out? What landforms would have been familiar to the characters? What kind of weather would they likely have?

Be sure to introduce the term “dialect” and the use of dialect in the story before reading. Although many students may use the word “ain’t” or pronounce the "ing" ending as "in," seeing dialect spellings in print may confuse students. Point out that the author is using dialect to convey a sense of place and time that may be different from what the students are used to, and that the author is representing pronunciation of everyday speech, which is different from standard spelling used in school work and spelling bees. (See Dialects Study Guide.)

Read the story silently, as a class, in groups, or in pairs. Answer questions as they arise or have students write them down on the board for whole class discussion.

Lesson 4: Post-reading and Answering Questions

Procedure: Go back to the list of questions on the board and answer them as a class.

For a Grade: Use the questions students came up with and have each child answer them on his or her own paper.  Use a list of teacher created questions for students to answer on their own or in groups. Possible questions are listed below.  

  1. Describe the Collins family.
  2. How did Bobby’s class react when Daisy came to school?
  3. How did Bobby know that Daisy was making progress in her studies?
  4. Describe Bobby.  
  5. How did Bobby prepare for a school spelling bee?
  6. What was the prize for winning the spelling bee?
  7. What was the farthest Daisy had traveled from the mountain in her life?
  8. What might Daisy’s brothers have done to get arrested and sent to the penitentiary in Richmond?
  9. Do you think that the last word that Bobby was given to spell – Decision – had anything to do with the outcome of the spelling bee? Did Bobby make an important decision?
  10. What difference, if any, do you think winning the spelling bee might make in Daisy’s future?

Lesson 5: Assessment and Closure

Procedure: Wrap up any discussion that the students might have on the story.  Direct them to sources that might be able to answer questions about the Appalachian region that you can’t answer or assign students to find answers to those questions through research as time permits.

Assess by having students do a comparison/contrast of Bobby and Daisy, or of either of the characters and themselves. Students can set the comparison/contrast up in a Venn Diagram or use another graphic organizer. Students can then take their notes and write a comparison/contrast paper. If your students are unfamiliar with comparison/contrast, model it for them on the board using Daisy and Bobby as an example. Then have the students use Daisy or Bobby and themselves to do the graded work.

Other Ideas

Have students continue the story by telling what happened to Daisy after she won the spelling bee. How might they change her relationship with the other students in the class? What might her family do/think/change now that she’s won? Will winning the spelling bee make a difference in her life as she grows up?

Have students continue the story by writing about how the spelling bee might change/affect Bobby’s life. How does he handle the fact that he missed an easy word with his friends and family the next day? Will he and Daisy become friends? Will she figure out that he let her win? How might Daisy's knowledge of being allowed to win the spelling bee affect her current or future relationship with Bobby?   

  Additional AppLit Resources: 

"Ferradiddledumday" – Fairy Tale by Becky Mushko
Study Guide for "Ferradiddledumday" and other "Rumpelstiltskin" Stories – By Becky Mushko and Tina L. Hanlon
A Midsummer Night's Recollection: A One-Act Play – By Becky Mushko
Complete List of AppLit Pages on Fiction for Children and Young Adults (with other books by Mushko)

Becky Mushko: Writing from the Blue Ridge Mountains - author's web site


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