From Laurie King:
I’ve long felt that The Beekeeper’s Apprentice could be a valuable way to introduce students to the early Twentieth Century: the Great War, the women’s movement, the roots of conflict in Europe and the Middle East, all those huge social and technological changes that rang in the modern era. Bundle these themes up with Sherlock Holmes, hansom cabs, exotic adventures, and a young girl growing up in hard times—well, this was a book that I would have loved studying in school.
I was pleased to find a person of similar mind, when an eighth-grade teacher named Jake Wilson wrote to me asking if I had considered making a program for teachers out of Beekeeper, noting its challenging language (Beekeeper has a Lexile count of 1100L, a “stretch Lexile” for grades 8 and 9), its heavily researched historical setting, the many potential directions of nonfiction tie-ins, and the fact that the American Library Association called it both a Notable Young Adult book and an Outstanding Book for the College Bound.
I wrote back to say that alas, middle-school curricula were not among my skills—and was then thrilled when Mr Wilson and his colleague Miss Russell (!) decided to go ahead, ending up many weeks later with a Common Core based unit using those very themes from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice whose potential I could envision, if not actually develop for the use of students. These two imaginative and hard-working teachers could, and did. What’s more, they then very generously decided to share their work with other middle-school teachers, offering their colleagues near and far a path into the world of Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes.
Their unit includes guided comprehension and discussion questions for each section; vocabulary lists and worksheets with short excerpts from Beekeeper to put the words into context; nonfiction materials that flesh out the background of the story and encourage research skills; and chapter quizzes and section tests, all in a ready-to-print format.
You’re free to print it off for the use of your students, and we encourage you to take advantage of the supplemental material below (we’ll be adding to that over coming weeks). Note that quizzes, tests, and answer keys are not included in the student version, and lest the students take a non-Sherlockian shortcut to the answers, you will need to request the teacher packet—using your school email, and with a link to your faculty page or the equivalent—by emailing here.
Mr Wilson, Ms Russell, and I would also appreciate any suggestions for the nonfiction supplemental materials, sent either to the above email or to me, Laurie, here.
From Ms. Russell & Mr. Wilson:
This unit breaks A Beekeeper’s Apprentice into six sections, and was originally taught over the course of seven and a half weeks. Each week, students were expected to complete a vocabulary unit, read a nonfiction piece from the time period, write an essay or piece of fiction given the nonfiction piece, and complete a comprehension packet. Both the vocabulary units and the nonfiction pieces were read one week in advance of the corresponding section of Beekeeper’s Apprentice so that the students could use the acquired knowledge as they read. Just before the last two sections, students took a break from text to read two of the original Sherlock Holmes stories—”A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Adventure of the Final Problem.” Certain individuals from these stories appear in Ms. King’s novel, so reading the original works can give students some background on those characters before moving into the final act.
Keep in mind that the above plan worked for us, but some teachers may want to start with the two Doyle stories, while others may prefer to spread the unit out over more time. Do let us know what worked best for you (send an email to [email protected]) and we’ll consider making it a part of the packet. That email address is also where you’ll be able to find the teacher packet, which contains the answer keys and quizzes. Please be sure to email Ms. Russell and Mr. Wilson from your school email address and include a link to a faculty webpage in order to confirm your identity. We want you to have access to the materials, but we want to keep them out of the hands of your students (and ours!)
About the Green Ink Collaborations team:
Katye McCullough Russell graduated Phi Beta Kappa from The College of Wooster with a B.A. in Comparative Literature and a minor in Women’s Studies. She earned her Master’s degree from the University of Virginia, and subsequently completed education coursework in the Language Education Department at Indiana University (Bloomington). After teaching 7th grade English at University School of Nashville for seven years, she is currently studying web development at the Nashville Software School. When not coding, creating in polymer clay, sewing her own clothes, or building furniture, you’ll find Katye reading (or talking, writing, and arguing about books). She lives down the street from her parents, and next door to her sister, along with her Latin teacher husband, Tim, and their two teenagers.
Jake Wilson has always wanted to teach. Even in high school, he took the opportunity to work alongside teachers at a local elementary school. From there, Jake entered the education program at Vanderbilt University, where he majored in Elementary Education and English in his undergraduate career, eventually graduating with a Masters in Education and Technology. While still a student, Jake began teaching with Vanderbilt’s Program for Talented Youth, an academic summer camp, which cemented his desire to teach. Working as the Middle School Technology Coordinator at the University School of Nashville didn’t cut it, however. Neither did lecturing Vanderbilt students as an adjunct professor. Jake needed his own classroom and his own curriculum. Without the love and support of his wife, Katie, he would never have left USN to find it. Before long, Jake’s voice could be heard booming down the halls of Robert Ellis Middle School. He’s been teaching 8th grade Language Arts there for four years now, where he’s won Tennessee Lottery’s Teacher of the Month and Sumner County Teacher of the Year. He hopes to continue learning and growing in that building for quite some time.
The US Common Core standards provide goals and guidance for teachers as they help students prepare for college, and for life. The standards are designed to be, among other things, Research and evidence based, as well as Based on the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills.
To that end, a big part of Common Core is helping students make use primary source material rather than material that has already been digested.
This section of the Common Core Beekeeper’s Apprentice is an ongoing project, a growing library of excerpts and images that illuminate aspects of the novel. Each excerpt is short, from 800-3000 words, and has a link to its source. Please note that, in the spirit of Common Core, individual teachers are expected to survey the material before assigning or recommending it.
Nonfiction Excerpts for Student Projects:
- Base Eight
- The Great War:
- Gypsy Lore
- Syria & the Holy Land
Thousands of public domain books (under US copyright law) from Detective Fiction to War Journals are digitized for downloading at Project Gutenberg.
The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
The city of Oxford during the Great War.
A collection of images from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice on Laurie King’s Pinterest page.