K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • characterize the main characters of the novel.
  • predict the outcome of the novel based on prior knowledge, evidence from the text, and peers’ opinions.
  • compare and contrast their predictions with the outcome of the novel.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

2-3 Hours


Classroom set of novels: The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson


Students will have read the novel through the end of Chapter 11.



  1. Students will have been practicing predictions based on prior knowledge, foreshadowing, and deductive or inductive reasoning throughout the reading of the novel.
  2. Discuss the differences between adoptive parents, foster parents, and birth parents.
  3. Identify the various methods the author uses to describe and develop the characters. (We usually cover 1-3 prior to or during reading of the first chapters.)

Pre-trial preparation

  1. Tell students that they will be preparing a mock trial to determine Gilly’s guardianship. They will need to develop convincing arguments to convince the jury. Divide the class into pairs or groups. Assign groups to research and play the following roles in the trial: Gilly, W.E., Trotter, Nonnie, and Miss Ellis. The teacher may assign other witnesses (Miss Harris, Courtney, Agnes Stokes, former foster parents) in order to allow more students individual parts. (Keep in mind, the more “witnesses” assigned, the longer the trial will be.) Students will describe their characters and write down their character’s position about Gilly’s guardianship in an essay, graphic organizer, character journal, etc.
  2. Share the descriptions and position statements in whole class discussion. (This is a great opportunity to introduce or review compare/contrast skills using a Venn Diagram or other tool.)
  3. Assign groups to play Nonnie and Trotter’s lawyers. Have these groups develop 5-10 questions they will ask the witnesses.


  1. Set court procedures for the classroom. Most students will expect the trial to proceed like the ones on television or in movies. I suggest setting simple guidelines with the class so the trial will proceed smoothly.
  2. Assign 1 student from each group to play the following roles in the trial: Nonnie and Trotter’s lawyers, Gilly, W.E., Trotter, Nonnie, and Miss Ellis. The teacher may assign other witnesses (Miss Harris, Courtney, Agnes Stokes, former foster parents) in order to allow more students individual parts. (Keep in mind, the more “witnesses” assigned, the longer the trial will be.)
  3. Any remaining students will be jurors. The teacher usually serves as the judge to insure court procedures are followed.
  4. Jurors will vote on Gilly’s guardianship at the conclusion of the trial. The teacher should stress that the jurors make their decisions based on the events of the trial and not their favorite choice or outcome.


  • Use the group description activity as one way to assess students’ understanding of characterization.
  • Students will write a response to the events and outcome of the trial. Ask them to consider the behaviors of the witnesses. Did the character behave as the student expected?
  • Students will write a brief prediction of the actual outcome of the book based on the trial events and prior reading. After finishing the novel, discuss similarities and differences between predicitons and actual outcomes. Discuss clues in the novel and strategies the students can use to make more accurate predictions. (This is something we would have been doing throughout the novel.)
  • Students will pretend to be Gilly and write a character journal (in first person point of view) reflecting on the events of the trial.

Supplemental information

A Study Guide to The Great Gilly Hopkins by Marcia Tretler

This study guide suggested creating a mock family trial at the end of the novel where students present arguments for and against Gilly’s remaining with Mrs. Trotter.


Remind students throughout the activity that they should become the characters they are representing. This is a great opportunity for students to “walk in another person’s footsteps.”

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 4
          • 4.RL.3 Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
        • Grade 5
          • 5.RL.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
        • Grade 6
          • 6.RL.3 Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 6

  • Goal 1: The learner will use language to express individual perspectives drawn from personal or related experience.
    • Objective 1.02: Explore expressive materials that are read, heard, and viewed by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard, and/or viewed.
      • analyzing the characteristics of expressive works.
      • determining the effect of literary devices and/or strategies on the reader/viewer/listener.
      • making connections between works, self and related topics.
      • comparing and/or contrasting information.
      • drawing inferences and/or conclusions.
      • determining the main idea and/or significance of events.
      • generating a learning log or journal.
      • creating an artistic interpretation that connects self to the work.
      • discussing books/media formally and informally.
    • Objective 1.04: Reflect on learning experiences by:
      • describing personal learning growth and changes in perspective.
      • identifying changes in self throughout the learning process.
      • interpreting how personal circumstances and background shape interaction with text.
  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of individual interest.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • discussing literature in teacher-student conferences and small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • discussing and analyzing the effects on texts of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flashback and sarcasm.
      • interpreting text by explaining elements such as plot, theme, point of view, characterization, mood, and style.
      • investigating examples of distortion and stereotypes.
      • recognizing underlying messages in order to identify recurring theme(s) within and across works.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences and within various contexts.
      • exploring relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts and/or experiences.