Crossing Bok Chitto, by Tim Tingle


In this lesson students will listen to Crossing Bok Chitto, by Tim Tingle and write their stories about times they or their families have fought injustice. This fictional story is about Martha Tom, a young Choctaw girl, and Lil’ Mo an enslaved African boy whose family lives in a plantation across the Bok Chitto river. Students will learn about the oral traditions of two different cultures, and how two young children braved friendship and trust. Students will also learn about different forms of resistance by enslaved Africans including oral traditions through religion, alliances with other communities, and escaping enslavement to stay together.

Common Core Learning Standards:


Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.


Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Social Justice/Anti-Bias Standard:

(From the Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Framework)

Identity 2

Students will develop language and historical and cultural knowledge that affirm and accurately describe their membership in multiple identity groups.

Justice 11

Students will recognize stereotypes and relate to people as individuals rather than
representatives of groups.

Justice 15

I know about the actions of people and groups who have worked throughout history to bring more justice and fairness to the world.

Action 20

I will work with my friends and family to make our school and community fair for everyone, and we will work hard and cooperate in order to achieve our goals.


Crossing Bok Chitto, by Tim Tingle


Choctaw, Bok Chitto, plantation, auction

Learning Target:

I can write and then tell a story that shares my unique family history and shows ways that I’ve fought injustice, big or small.


  • What are stories that you’ve heard about your family that might be unique?
  • Are there events in your life, or in your family that you would want to make sure were remembered? Why?
  • Are there times that you’ve helped someone else? Why did you help them? What did you know about them?

Direct Teach:

“Today we’re going to read a story about a girl and boy who forged a friendship although they lived during a time when it was dangerous to be friends or even be together. The girl, Martha Tom, was part of a American Indian Tribe called the Choctaws, and the boy, Lil’ Mo, was enslaved with his family on a plantation. They lived in a time of terrible injustice when millions of Africans were enslaved in the United States, but many enslaved Africans found ways to fight back against the injustice of enslavement. As we listen to the story, think about how Lil’ Mo, with the help of Martha Tom decided to resist injustice in his life.”

Read Crossing Bok Chitto. As you read, you might ask:

  • Were Martha Tom and Little Mo really invisible to the people sitting on the porch? (What does that tell you about ethnic invisibility?)
  • Why did Little Mo help take Martha Tom home even though it might get him and his family in trouble if he goes near the river?
  • How is Lil’ Mo’s reaction to the music he hears at the wedding similar or different to Martha Tom’s reaction upon hearing the enslaved Africans singing?
  • Why does Lil’ Mo’s father wait to tell his family about Lil’ Mo’s mother being sold until after dinner?
  • Why does Little Mo tell his father they can cross Bok Chitto, even though his father says there will be guard dogs?
  • Why did the men pursuing the slaves put down their weapons and allow them to escape?
  • Why does Martha Tom’s mother say she will help Little Mo’s family even though it’s so dangerous?

After reading, you might ask:

  • When each of the children in the story first heard the music of the other culture, “it touched them deeply”. Why do you think it made them feel that way?
  • What are some ways the author shows us the injustice of slavery? What are some ways enslaved Africans resisted enslavement in the story?
  • At the beginning of the book Mo took a great risk to help a girl he had just met, and at end of the book the Choctaw people took a great risk to help a family they didn’t know. Do you think these were a good decisions? Why or why not?
  • Why would plantation owners fear an alliance between American Indians and slaves?

Guided Practice:

  • After reading, think about how both African American slaves and the Choctaw people used storytelling to preserve their history. Discuss:
    • Why do you think storytelling was important to these communities?
    • What are stories you know about your family, your history, or your schooling that you would wish to preserve?
    • Why are those stories important to you? How do they show similar themes to Crossing Bok Chitto?
  • Help students think of small examples of fighting against injustice that might appear in their lives. Make a web or chart of different daily examples of fighting injustice that they might have seen their family members do, or they might have done themselves.
  • As a class, begin a story together about a time that you have (either individually or as a whole class) fought injustice.

Independent Practice:

  • Ask students to write their own story about someone, something, or an event they wish to preserve. When they write, ask students to consider events when they’ve fought injustice.
  • Have students practice reading the story aloud, and eventually telling the story without reading.

Anticipated misconceptions or questions (If kids say…):

“I wouldn’t want to risk getting in trouble just to help someone else.” You could say, Can you think about how you would feel if you were the person needing help? How would you feel, and what might you want?

“American Indians are all gone now right? That was a long time ago.” You can have texts, news articles, and videos of of American Indians today and their many contributions in the United States. Also, push students to ask themselves why they might not know about American Indians in today’s society. What does that tell them about the stories and histories they’ve been taught so far. Are there other groups that have been left out?

“I don’t know what to write!” You could say, Can you think about a time you helped someone else? It doesn’t have to be something big, but instead a time when you stood up for someone or helped someone who didn’t have the same freedoms, love, community, shelter, food (etc) as you?”

Ideas for Modifications/Differentiation

  • Provide a graphic organizer to help students brainstorm ideas for stories.
  • Provide a graphic organizer to help students create stories with story arcs.


In pairs or as a whole class have students share their stories.

Activist Extension:

Students brainstorm groups in their community who are oppressed and then research existing organizations and efforts led by those groups to better understand the group’s needs. After researching students come up with different ways to support those groups.

For example, students want to help homeless communities in their neighborhoods, so they research homeless advocacy groups to find out what they need. Then, students are able to create a plan for how they can help those communities.

Other Resources:

  • Watch and share videos Choctaw storytellers online such as Grayhawk Perkins:
  • Visit to learn more about the Choctaw culture.
    The song “Amazing Grace” is a traditional African American spiritual. It has been translated into Choctaw and is often sung as part of their culture. Create a listening station where families can listen to both versions of the song.

  • Ask families to get brainstorm stories from their family histories that they would want to share. Hold a storytelling event with both families and students.


Dia! Family Book Club Lesson Plan
Crossing Bok Chitto Study Guide- Cincopuntos

Author page: