Questions, and Activities for
by Becky Mushko
of Dan School
Jeb Stuart Highway
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
Levels: 4 – 6
Subject: School Life, Life in Appalachia, Short Stories
Frame: Five 45-minute periods (adjust time and number of periods based on the needs of your
Virginia Standards of Learning:
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
Department of Education SOL manuals and documents.
English 4.3: The student will read and learn the meanings of unfamiliar words.
knowledge of word origins, synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms, and
multiple meanings of words
reference materials including the glossary, dictionary, or thesaurus
4.4: The student will read
fiction and nonfiction, including biographies and historical fiction.
the author’s purpose
how the choice of language, setting and information contributes to
the author’s purpose
the use of fact and fantasy in historical fiction with other forms
how knowledge of the lives and experiences of individuals in history
can relate to individuals who have similar goals or face similar
English 4.5: The student will demonstrate comprehension of a variety of
organizers such as type, heading and graphics to predict and
questions that might be answered in the selection
inferences using information from the texts
content of selection, identifying important ideas and providing
details for each important idea
relationships between content and previously learned concepts or
about what is ready
Studies: 1607 to Present 4.2: The student will use concepts of absolute location and relative
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.
how communities in Virginia differ in physical features such as land
use, population density, architecture, services and transportation.
Studies: 1607 to Present 4.7: The
student will develop historical analysis skills including
Materials: A map of the general
Appalachian area, dictionaries, thesauruses, and a copy of “Spelldown” for the teacher and each student
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
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.
List of Words:
Procedure: Learn and study the vocabulary by
students look up words and write definitions on their own
- Dividing students into groups to look up words; groups then share their
definitions with the class
- 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
Lesson 3: Pre-discussion
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.
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?
“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?
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,
bees. (See Dialects
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.
4: Post-reading and Answering Questions
Procedure: Go back to the list of questions on the board and answer them
as a class.
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.
- Describe the Collins family.
did Bobby’s class react when Daisy came to school?
- How did Bobby know that Daisy was making progress in her studies?
- Describe Bobby.
did Bobby prepare for a school spelling bee?
- What was the prize for winning the spelling bee?
- What was the farthest Daisy had traveled from the mountain in her life?
- What might Daisy’s brothers have done to get arrested and sent to the
penitentiary in Richmond?
- 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?
- What difference, if any, do you think winning the spelling bee might
make in Daisy’s future?
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.
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.
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?
Fairy Tale by Becky Mushko
Guide for "Ferradiddledumday" and other "Rumpelstiltskin"
Stories – By Becky Mushko and Tina L. Hanlon
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)
Mushko: Writing from the Blue Ridge Mountains - author's web site