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Kent State Educator Guide
Lesson Plan
SLC's Educator Guides bring you a go-to set of curated resources, lesson plans, and author insights to help you introduce and share quality literature with your students and teachers. Books are selected by SLC's editing team based on advanced copies of the titles and reviews from their school librarian reviewers.

Kent State

Kent State by Deborah Wiles (Scholastic 2020) brings the voices of the tragic Kent State shootings to life to a new generation. Written in first person and in verse form, the book shifts from perspective to perspective—from students, to townspeople, to protestors, to the national guards who shot and killed four students—to illuminate the moment to moment of May 4, 1970, on the Kent State University campus. The book not only asks us to revisit the past, it also encourages readers to make connections between history and the present moment and become an active participant in both.

To help you make the most of this title in the library and classroom, we're sharing these resources:

Curriculum ideas and recommended book pairings below, along with these lesson plans: "Exploring 'Fake News' with Kent State" and "Kent State with Primary Sources"

Author interview with Deborah Wiles

"Protest Movements of the 1960s," a student activity from ABC-CLIO's American History Educator Support Site, and its accompanying Educator Guide (with curated primary sources, literature and film recommendations, and PD related to this topic)

Book Pairings & Curriculum Ideas from School Librarian Suzanne Libra

In Wiles's "Dear Reader" introduction, she refers to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's song "Ohio," the iconic protest song written in response to the shootings at Kent State University. Music can provide context for historical milestones and has long been used by artists and activists as a way to promote social change. Introduce students to the history of protest by exposing them to protest songs across the ages. Pop Matters' website ( has a five-part "100 Great Protest Songs" list, with explanations of each song's context and links to performances. Not all the songs are appropriate for all audiences, so teachers may want to select individual songs themselves; but more mature students can be assigned a chronological period to investigate. After learning about a song or time period, the class can create a chart comparing/contrasting the songs by time, style, genesis, and impact. This activity provides a base for looking at the events of May 4 not as distant history but as part of a continuum of protests.

Wiles's "Prelude" includes basic information about the Vietnam War. One group of students can use this information to create a timeline of the war, including the protests against it. Another group of students might research the war in Afghanistan or other wars and create a timeline for those events. This would be an opportunity for purposeful grouping and differentiation, ensuring students are assigned to a group that meets their academic needs.This is also a great opportunity to collaborate with social studies teachers.

Several of the book's chapters provide opportunities for students to discuss the Bill of Rights, most notably "Friday, May 1, 1970." Using this chapter, students can create another chart with each right listed and at least two examples of those rights: one where the right was upheld and one where it was violated. Several of the early chapters also reference Nixon's speech about bombing Cambodia. Students can continue their exploration by researching other pivotal speeches, such as Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor speech, and compare their impact.

In addition to these background knowledge activities, students can look at other books in verse and books told in various voices. All the Broken Pieces (Scholastic 2009), set in the post-Vietnam era, is a good companion book for middle school students. Death Coming Up the Hill (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014) is set in 1968 and is suitable for older students. Long Way Down (Atheneum 2017) addresses more current issues in a novel in verse format. White Rose (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019) deals with the German youth resistance during World War II. Most of these books, including Kent State, are relatively quick reads so students can independently read the companion book concurrent with their study of Kent State in class.

Kent State, like a play, is best read aloud so that the different voices can be heard and considered carefully. This format also allows for discussion of literary techniques and visual rhetoric, including point of view, allusions, word choice, font, and page layout. Additionally, the book lends itself to mini projects on town and gown relationships, fake news, generational issues, and the history and future of the draft.

About the Author

Suzanne Libra is a teacher librarian at Silver Hills Middle School in Westminster, Colorado.

MLA Citation

Libra, Suzanne. "Kent State Educator Guide." School Library Connection, May 2020,

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Entry ID: 2245757