“The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”: Two Teaching Activities for Middle School

The Importance of Family

Jamie and Claudia Kincaid both want to run away from home, but their personalities are so different that the conflicts that arise are central to the plot of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Lesson plans seeking to express these themes need to take a close look at these conflicts and then at the ways in which the two become closer during the story.

Here are some discussion questions you can ask your students as a warm-up to this activity. This will work best after your class is familiar with the entire novel.

  1. How do Jamie and Claudia interact at the beginning of the novel?
  2. Why does Claudia even invite Jamie along in the first place?
  3. When Jamie and Claudia argue during their time running away from home, what do they argue about? How are these arguments usually resolved?

Now, have your class make a two-circle Venn diagram. Label one side “Before running away” and the other side “While running away.” On the “Before” side, have your students list characteristics of Jamie and Claudia’s relationship before they leave home. On the “While” side, list differences between their relationship at home and on the road. In the middle, list characteristics that remain the same — the fact that they still argue would be one, for example.

At the end of the novel, Jamie and Claudia are ready to go home. Claudia’s desire to leave her nuisance of a family behind has evaporated. After looking at the Venn diagram, what has changed within Claudia? What lessons has she learned?

Here are some extension writing prompts you can use with your students:

  1. Have you ever run away? Why did you do it? How long did you actually stay away? How did things turn out?
  2. Do you feel more like Jamie or Claudia in this story? What do the two of you have in common?

The Power of Flattery

When you are flattering someone, you are complimenting him — but usually for a reason: you want him to do something for you. This happens in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Lesson plans on the novel can start with the maxim “Flattery will get you nowhere,” which comes from a jaded mind that has been tricked too many times by false compliments.

As a warm-up activity, ask your students to describe a time when they have complimented someone (truthfully or falsely) in order to get something from that person. This could be a journal entry, a paired discussion followed by whole-group or sharing, or just a whole-class exercise.

Mrs. Frankweiler compares flattery to a powerful machine that can “move the world.” Give each of your students a piece of butcher paper, posterboard, or even a piece of manila paper, and ask them to draw what this sort of machine would look like. What would be the parts of a “flattery machine”? Give students 15-20 minutes to draw their machines and label the various parts.

For further extension, this WebQuest on Konigsberg’s novel is a wonderful activity that brings technology into the lesson.