Goodnight, Mister Tom – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

Last updated

Goodnight Mister Tom is a timeless classic that has delighted children and adults alike since it was first published in 1981.

In terms of its themes, few stories are more powerful or profound than this novel about the hardships and triumphs of an orphaned evacuee to rural England during World War II.

Despite being such an esteemed book, Goodnight Mister Tom can be one of the most accessible pieces to plan for when teaching literature – allowing you to support your students as they explore William’s journey from victimisation to embracing his new life with enthusiasm and hope.

Related: For more, check out our article on The World According To Humphrey  here.

Goodnight, Mister Tom

Story Outline

“Goodnight Mister Tom” is a heartwarming story set during World War II. The book follows the life of William Beech, a young boy who is evacuated from London to the countryside to escape the dangers of war.

He is placed in the care of Tom Oakley, a recluse who lives in a small village.

At first, William is shy and withdrawn, having suffered abuse at the hands of his mother.

However, as he spends more time with Tom and becomes involved in village life, he opens up and makes friends.

Tom becomes a father figure to William, teaching him how to read and write and helping him overcome his fears.

But when William’s mother tries to take him back to London, it threatens to tear apart the bond that has developed between them.

Ultimately, William must choose between his old life with his abusive mother or staying with Tom in the peaceful village that has become his new home.”

Goodnight, Mr Tom

William’s character development

William’s character development in “Goodnight Mister Tom” is one of the story’s central themes.

At the beginning of the book, William is a shy and withdrawn boy who has suffered from physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his mother. He is also illiterate and struggles with fundamental social interactions.

As William spends more time with Tom in the countryside, he opens up and makes friends. Tom becomes a father figure to him, teaching him how to read, write, and ride a bike.

Through his experiences in the village, William gains confidence and learns to trust others.

However, when William’s mother tries to take him back to London, it threatens to undo all of the progress that he has made.

At this point in the story, we see William’s resilience as he stands up for himself and makes a difficult decision that ultimately leads to his happiness.

Overall, William’s character development is a testament to the power of love and kindness in helping someone overcome trauma and become their best self.

Themes and Characters


  1. Love and kindness: The power of love and kindness to heal emotional wounds and help people overcome trauma.
  2. Family: The importance of family, both biological and chosen, in providing support and a sense of belonging.
  3. Resilience: The ability to bounce back from difficult situations and make positive changes in one’s life.


William Beech: A young boy who is evacuated from London during World War II due to the dangers of war.

He has suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his mother but learns to trust others through his experiences with Tom Oakley in the countryside.

Tom Oakley: A reclusive man who lives in a small village and takes William in as his foster son during the war. He becomes a father figure to William, teaching him how to read, write, ride a bike, and more.

Zach Wrench: One of William’s friends in the village who helps him come out of his shell by encouraging him to join a play at school.

George Fletcher: Another friend of William’s who helps him overcome his fear of swimming by teaching him how to swim.

Mister Tom – Character Profile

Tom Oakley plays a crucial role in “Goodnight Mister Tom” as the foster father and mentor to William Beech, the story’s protagonist.

When William is evacuated from London during World War II, he is placed with Tom in the countryside.

Initially, Tom is reluctant to take on such a responsibility, but he soon becomes attached to William and takes him under his wing.

Tom serves as a father figure to William, teaching him essential life skills such as reading, writing, and riding a bike.

He also provides emotional support and helps William overcome his fear of being punished for minor mistakes.

Through his interactions with Tom, William learns what it means to be loved unconditionally and gains self-confidence.

Furthermore, Tom’s backstory adds depth to the story. He has experienced loss and tragedy in his own life, making him more empathetic towards William’s situation.

His kindness towards William reflects how he wishes he could have been treated when he was younger.

Tom Oakley symbolises love, kindness and compassion in “Goodnight, Mister Tom”.

His role as a mentor and father figure helps transform William into a more confident and resilient person who can overcome his traumatic past.

Teaching Opportunities

Grammar: The story includes numerous examples of correct grammar usage that can be used for teaching purposes.

For instance, dialogue between characters has proper punctuation and sentence structure that students can analyse and discuss.

Spellings: The story takes place during World War II in England, so it includes many British English spellings that may be unfamiliar to students from other countries or regions.

Teachers can use this to teach spelling rules and conventions specific to British English.

Literary Devices: “Goodnight Mister Tom” contains several literary devices, such as imagery, symbolism and foreshadowing, that can be taught and analyzed with students.

For example, using descriptive language in the book’s setting helps create vivid images in the reader’s mind, enhancing their reading experience.

Vocabulary: The book contains a range of vocabulary words and phrases that may not be familiar to all students.

Teachers can use these words to expand students’ vocabulary by providing context clues or using them in activities like word searches or crossword puzzles.

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan 1:

Grammar Objective: Students can identify and use proper punctuation and sentence structure.


  • Copies of “Goodnight, Mister Tom” or passages from the book
  • Writing prompts


Introduce the importance of proper grammar and discuss common errors students make.

Read a passage from “Goodnight Mister Tom” aloud and model how to identify correct punctuation and sentence structure.

Have students work in pairs or small groups to find examples of correct grammar usage in the book.

Provide writing prompts that require students to incorporate correct grammar into their writing.

Review student work and provide feedback on areas that need improvement.

Lesson Plan 2:

Spelling Objective: Students will be able to spell British English words correctly.


  • Vocabulary list of British English words used in “Goodnight Mister Tom.”
  • Word search or crossword puzzle template


Introduce the concept of British English spelling rules and conventions.

Provide a list of vocabulary words from the book that features British English spelling, such as “colour” or “neighbour”.

Have students work individually or in pairs to complete a word search or crossword puzzle using the vocabulary list.

Discuss unfamiliar words with the class and provide context clues for understanding them.

Please encourage students to use British English spellings when appropriate in their writing.

Lesson Plan 3:

Literary Devices Objective: Students can identify and analyse literary devices used in “Goodnight, Mister Tom”.


  • Passages from the book that contain literary devices such as imagery, symbolism, or foreshadowing
  • Graphic organizer for analyzing literary devices


Define various literary devices such as imagery, symbolism, foreshadowing etc.

Read passages from “Goodnight Mister Tom” aloud or have students read them silently.

Have students identify examples of literary devices within each passage using a graphic organizer provided by you.

Discuss how these devices contribute to character development, plot progression etc., focusing on specific examples from the text.

Please encourage students to incorporate literary devices into their creative writing assignments.

Website Resources

The first resource, a TES page ( ), includes various teaching materials such as lesson plans, worksheets, and quizzes. There are also suggested activities for each book chapter, including creative writing prompts and discussion questions.

The second resource, from Literacy Shed Plus (, features a short film that introduces the story and themes of “Goodnight Mister Tom”. The website also provides various accompanying resources, such as lesson plans, vocabulary lists, and comprehension questions.

The third resource is Classroom Secrets ( which provides free teaching resources like worksheets, activities and PowerPoints. They cover various aspects of the book, including character analysis and plot summaries.

All three websites offer valuable resources for teachers looking to teach “Goodnight Mister Tom” in their classrooms. Teachers can use these resources to plan lessons, assess student understanding, or supplement existing curricula.


Q: What age group is “Goodnight Mister Tom” appropriate for?

A: The book is generally recommended for children ages 9-12 but can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Q: Should I know any sensitive topics in the book before teaching it to my students?

A: The book deals with child abuse, war, and death. It’s essential to prepare your students and handle these topics sensitively.

Q: How can I incorporate creative writing into my lessons on “Goodnight, Mister Tom”?

There are many opportunities for creative writing assignments based on the book. For example, you could have students write diary entries from the perspective of one of the characters or create an alternate ending to the story.

Q: How can I ensure my students understand and engage with the text while reading it?

A: You can use strategies such as guided reading questions or discussion prompts. Consider having students keep a reading journal to record their thoughts about each chapter or character.

Q: What other resources or materials could supplement my lessons on “Goodnight, Mister Tom”?

A: Besides lesson plans and worksheets, you could consider showing film adaptations of the book or inviting guest speakers who have experienced wartime evacuation firsthand.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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