Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem


  • Written by: Rosalyn Schanzer (Author)
  • Grade level: 4-8
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic Children’s Books; 1 edition (September 13, 2011)

Summary: This is a brief history of the Salem Witch Trials. The story focuses on many of the victims who were accused rather than those that accused them, as this is sometimes portrayed more. There is a big emphasis on the legal proceedings of these trials, which slyly points out basic legal errors, while not undermining the people who made these decisions, as witchcraft was entirely believable at the time. This book will help students of all ages make sense of what happened in Salem all those years ago.

5 keywords: Historical Non-Fiction, Women’s History, New England History, Colonial History, Controversial History, Witch History. 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.4
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

Suggested Delivery: For younger grades, read-a-loud, so words and challenging passages can be clarified, for older students this can be done alone.

Electronic Resources: This book trailer narrated by the author, is a great pre-reading activity to peak interest to read this story, as the illustrations and the suspense of this trailer make it a must read! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fzo3SOR6u5A&feature=channel_video_title

Teaching guide – The author provides many lesson plans on her website. The pre and post witch activity would be great to use obviously prior and the latter part after the story is read. My personal favorite is the pre-reading activity which has true and false statements about witches. This is a great way to see how children view witches, and what their schema consists of.  http://www.rosalynschanzer.com/pdfDocuments/CCSSWitchesActivities.pdf

Website: This website has a ton of resources on the Salem Witch Trials. I especially love the video because it really illustrates what life was like in 160os. http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schooladventures/salemwitchtrials/story/story.html

Key Vocabulary:

Afflicted – To cause pain

Bewitched – To put someone under a spell

Earnest – serious

Incrimination – When someone appears to have committed a crime

False accusation – To accuse someone of something they did not do

Cantankerous – Angry and annoyed

Piene Forte et Dure – Hard and forceful punishment

Opposition – Disagreeing with someone through thoughts or actions

Gallows – Structure used to hang someone

Testify – Promising that the answers to the questions you are asked are true

Tangible evidence – Easily seen proof

Before: Administer the pre-assessment to see what students know about witches. They may know a thing or two about the witch trials, but they may have modern socially portrayed assumptions of witches riding on broom sticks.

Depending on the grade and maturity level of students, vocabulary should also be reviewed. A word list of definitions can be given to students with cognitive disabilities or for younger grade levels to use as a resource as they read.

Invite local author and historian Cynthia Wolfe Boynton to give a lesson on the Connecticut Witch Trials, (these happened almost 40 years before Salem)! She gives an amazing lecture on the CT Trials and how there are many gender implications to accusations of witches. Many of the accused in CT were women who had inherited money and were single, as at this time this was rare and frowned upon. The author can answer many questions that students have about witches in general as well. This can also open a compare and contrast discussion on the CT Trials and the Salem Trials. Furthermore, tying these trials to something much more local gives the students a better understanding of the trials.

During: While reading the story have students reflect on their pre assessments. Have their views of witches changed? How do witches show their magical powers? In Salem are witches good or are they all evil? As they reflect on what they previously answered to questions such as these, they will build more of a schema of the story and be able to comprehend more as they read, or you can intervene and clarify if they are not comprehending.

After: Once reading has ended students should complete the post reading activity. There should also be a class discussion about the trials and thoughts and feelings about the trials themselves and the book should be shared.

Writing Activity: Have students work in groups of 5-8 on writing a play about the trials. This can be done one of two ways, have each group assigned a different part of the book, or have all of the groups chose an accused person and make their trial into a play. This will build upon inferential and literal comprehension, as students will have to understand the basics of the scenes to write about them (literal), and they will have to use intonation, emotion and body language as they act out and write character lines, which were not included in the story (inferential).


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