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Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Context for this Lesson

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Focus Questions 
What are the forces and people that impact the life of Calpurnia Tate, a young girl interested in science growing up in rural Texas in 1899? 


Let’s form a standing circle. In a moment, I am going to read a series of statements for you to respond to. Have everyone walk to the center of the circle. This is our “yes” space, and where you will move if you agree with the statement. Now have everyone walk to the edge of the circle. This is our “no” space. Imagine there is a line from where you are standing leading to the center of the circle. This imaginary line is a continuum, so if you only partly agree with the statement, you can place yourself anywhere on this imaginary line from here to the center. Any questions? Let’s get started.

  • I get to decide what I do after school and on the weekends.
  • I get to decide how I spend my summer vacation.
  • I get to decide what I want to be when I grow up.
  • My parents/guardians influence the decisions I make about who I want to be.
  • I always think about how my decisions impact others.

Transition: Now that we’ve thought about how we make decisions in our lives, we are going to learn about a character in our new story, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, who has some big decisions to make.


Share the Story

Calpurnia Tate is a girl who lived in the late 1890s on a pecan plantation in Fentress, Texas - near Lockhart. She thinks she wants to be a scientist when she grows up, just like her grandfather. But, her family (and society) expect her to learn how to sew, cook and clean so that she can be a good wife and mother. It’s up to her to decide what she’s going to she going to fit in, or fight back. And if she fights back, what will others think of her?

Journal Entry (read aloud):

October 13, 1899. Today mother made me learn how to knit a pair of socks. I had been preserving a particularly nice specimen of a Viceroy butterfly to add to grandfather’s library when she made me come into the parlour. I was not excited about knitting. I was so clumsy with two needles! Sitting in front of the fire, listening to the rhythmic shuttling of the wool back and forth wasn’t the worst way to spend a rainy afternoon. But the worst was when mother told me that I would have to make a pair for all my brothers, father and grandfather. That’s a tremendous amount of socks. All I could see was my whole life, socks stretching all the way to the infinite horizon, a yawning valley of knitting tedium. I finally convinced mother that I was too tired to knit anymore and ran as quickly as I could to find grandfather in his library to see if there was anymore important work to be done. Transition: Now let’s take a closer look at Calpurnia and what might be going on inside of her as she tries to decide what to do.


This figure outline is Calpurnia from our story. Based on what we know so far, who are some of the people or external forces in Calpurnia’s life that could be influencing her? What might they be saying to her about her choice? Write these responses on the outside of the figure outline. Be sure to connect people to lines of dialogue. Also separate folks on either side of role into folks who are “for” the choice and folks who are “against.” Looking at these external forces and people, how might Calpurnia be feeling? Write these responses on the inside of the figure. Which of the people or forces on the outside connect to that emotion? Draw a line to connect these based on responses.

Transition: Now that we’ve thought about what’s going on in Calpurnia’s mind and how she might be feeling, we are going to explore some of these ideas on our feet through a paired improv activity.


Have students pair up and decide on who is A and who is B. Person A will play Calpurnia and Person B will play Calpurnia’s mother. Play out a moment when Calpurnia is standing up to her mom for what she wants to do with her life. (Mother wants her to know how to knit, sew, cook, etc. Grandfather is teaching her about science, literature, etc)

Transition: I heard some really excellent conversations happening around the room. Let’s go ahead and bring the Calpurnias up here for a quick Q & A.


Here we are folks at Loose Lips Lockhardt, the most popular radio broadcast in this part of Texas. Today we’ve got Ms. Calpurnia Tate, or Callie Vee as her friends and family know her. She caused quite hubbub at her house with her recent decision about how she plans to spend her summer. So let’s find out,

  • how are you going to spend your summer?
  • Was this an easy decision to come to? Why or why not?
  • Was there anyone you talked to who agreed/disagreed with your decision?
  • How did it feel when they agreed/disagreed with you?

Reflecting on the Lesson 

  • Who are some of the characters that are impacting how Calpurnia is thinking and feeling?
  • Based on what we know about Calpurnia and her life so far, what do you think might happen in the story?
  • How might Calpurnia’s story be different if it took place today?

This lesson introduces students to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, the story of a young girl who dreams of being a scientist as she grows up in rural Texas in the late 1800's.