The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

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William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But William had read about windmills in a book called Using Energy, and he dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him misala—crazy—but William was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.

Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, William had a goal to study science in Malawi's top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family's farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the eighty-dollar-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died.

Yet William refused to let go of his dreams. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only two percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity—electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, William forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.

Soon, news of William's magetsi a mphepo—his "electric wind"—spread beyond the borders of his home, and the boy who was once called crazy became an inspiration to those around the world.

Here is the remarkable story about human inventiveness and its power to overcome crippling adversity. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual's ability to change his community and better the lives of those around him.

Curriculet Details
78 Questions
81 Annotations
3 Quizzes

This free digital curriculum for elementary school students contains interactive videos exploring main idea and cause and effect, as well as annotations describing visualizing and genre. Annotations also explains some of the scientific concepts found in the novel. Students will explore the themes of perseverance and teamwork. The Common Core aligned questions, answers and quizzes in this free online unit will increase student engagement in the book while supporting reading comprehension.

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You are about to read a memoir of a 14-year old boy from Malawi, Africa. A memoir is similar to an autobiography. The difference is an autobiography tells about a person's entire life. A memoir tells about a portion of a person's life. Here is a video of William Kamkwamba, the author, talking about his idea of harnessing the wind.  (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter One

The Masitala village is in the country of Malawi. (This annotation contains an image)
Which line from the passage leads you to believe that the narrator, William, believes in the magic? 
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up? 
Use the Define feature and read the definition for swath. Which of the following words is an synonym of swath as it is used here? 
William uses great description to help you visualize his grandfather's visit.  
How is this folktale connect to William's own childhood experience at age six? 
Magic is a very real part of everyday life for many in Malawi and other parts of Africa. In the video below, elders share legends and talk about several mountain peaks in Malawi. (This annotation contains a video)
William believes he could be captured and needs to protect himself. Summarize the three ways he can protect himself. 
Many villages in Africa have a chief that the villagers look up to. They see him as the wisest man who can make decisions or handle disputes when they need a mediator. The chief happens to be the father of William's friend. 
How are American children and William similar? 
In poor areas around the world, electricity is not a consistent utility. In some areas, like William's village, power is not available. This utility is something you probably take for granted. Think about when your power goes out during a storm. You know eventually it will come back on, but the time that it is off feels like an eternity. William's village never has it! 
Why did William include the paragraphs about what his group of friends did in town? 
Folktales are stories passed down orally through the years. They usually teach a lesson. See if you can find the lesson in the folktale Papa tells.  
What was the lesson in the Leopard and the Lion folktale? 

Chapter Two

When reading a non-fiction story, it is important to determine the main idea and supporting details. This video will remind you how to use this reading skill. Think about the main idea of the Banda story.  (This annotation contains a video)
What is the main idea of this chapter? 
Have you ever been to a wedding or party and witnessed someone like William's dad dancing? He seems like he is in a world of his own enjoying the music without a care to anyone around him. It is interesting to view this scene through the dancer's point of view instead of the spectator's point of view. 
Why did William include this event about his father at the concert? 
When reading you are asked to cite evidence to support your answers. Below is a video explaining how to use this reading strategy.  (This annotation contains a video)
Why is William's father referred to as "The Pope"? Cite evidence from the passage to support your answer. 
William's mother was unsure if the change in her husband would be permanent. He was acting completely different. If he had shared his dream with her, do you think she would have believed him? 
Why did John want William's father to move back to the village? 
This line from William makes it seem like he is in the room with you talking about his story. 
Phiri had great strength. What was the downside to this power? 
While school is mandatory in America for all children until the age of 18, it is not like that around the world. During the time of this memoir, Africa's education system was different depending on your race. Black children were required to attend school from age seven until the equivalent of seventh grade or the age of sixteen. This law was enforced only weakly and not at all in areas where schools were unavailable.  
Which of the following was not a rule Shabani gave William in regards to the magic? 
Did you predict that William would be cheated or did you think the magic would work? 

Chapter Three

What do the events surrounding Uncle John's death reveal about William? 
Listen to a gospel group sing the song, paying close attention to the words. (This annotation contains a video)
Think about the words to the song "This World is Not My Home." How does the song relate to William and his father's struggles with Uncle John's death? 
Here is a video of one of the riots.  (This annotation contains a video)
Why did Khamba seem unusual to William? 
A panga is a large machete. 
What sentence leads you to believe that Charity is grateful for Mayless' help? 
William's ability to make two unique knives shows he is creative and inventive. 
What was the main idea of this hunting story? 
Do you have a fort or secret club that you and your friends created? Do you have to pay dues? 
Why does William tolerate the boys' bullying? 

Chapter Four

Dogs are looked at differently in Africa than in the Western World. You look at them as pets, maybe even as a best friend. William's society looks at them as workers and nothing more. 
What do you learn about William in this section? 
William and Geoffrey were making a simple circuit. This video shows you how you can make one too.  (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following crops are sustenance farmers growing? 
This expression means you might as well enjoy the benefits the experience has to offer. 
How were things different for William's village in December 2000? 
Climate change continue to be a problem in Malawi. Here is a video of a farmer describing the problem.  (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter Five

Why is William experimenting with radios and bikes? 
William explains the effect of cutting down the trees. Cause and effect is an important reading strategy. Below is a video reviewing cause and effect.  (This annotation contains a video)
Why did William prepare hard for his exams? 
Up until now, the chief has been giving advice and solving problems. Now, you see another side of his job. He has to make sure his people survive by providing them with food. 
The effect that William's dad is predicting is Malawi is headed for disaster. Which event below was a cause for this? 
Up until this point William was a boy living his life without much care about the troubles in his country. Seeing people spend money on what a month ago was chicken feed shocked him into realization. 
According to William's dad, why should they work hard on the ridges? 
William is writing about Geoffrey and Khamba to display the seriousness of the food crisis. 
How did the president of Malawi respond to the food crisis? 
When reading a memoir it is important to remember that you are reading about events through the eyes of the author. If the president had written these words he would surely have a different take on his actions.  
Quiz for Chapters 1-5 

Chapter Six

Remember December is their best time to plant crops for the most productive harvest. 
Compare mealtime at William's home with supper in your home. 
William's father is doing whatever he can to take care of his family. Selling the food they had was a gamble, but it proved to be profitable. 
William's father is so angry "...his nostrils flared like an angry ox." This expression is a form of figurative language called a ____________________.   
Annie did not follow the regular courtship rules. Therefore, she has disgraced her family and will not be allowed back in the home. 
Why is William standing in line? 
The government increased the price of the grain and is not weighing it correctly. This will affect the amount in William's bag, but any food is better than none. 
At the beginning of this story, the trading area was a place where William would go to watch the hustle and bustle of business. How has this changed? 
When reading it is important to identify the themes, or the underlying meaning behind the story. This video will further explain the concept of theme. (This annotation contains a video)
Why is the chief not feeling well? 
William wants to leave because his hunger is so great, he cannot stand the sight of the food. He knows he will not be allowed to eat what he sees. 
Summarize the events that led to William and Charity having Christmas meat. 

Chapter Seven

The education system is different in Malawi than in America. Here is a website if you would like to read more about the system.  (This annotation contains a link)
If it was finally raining, why were the people still starving? 
People are so desperate and hungry, they are taking what they need. They do not care that the effect of their dishonesty will mean less food for William's family. 
Why did the farmers take all of their money from the banks? 
The boys are preparing themselves for the teasing that older children usually do to new students. They have a long time to talk since their walk to school is forty minutes. 
William's secondary school is equivalent to America's middle school. How does middle school in America differ from William's experience? 
Twelve hundred kwacha equals 23 cents in American money. This is because the economy in the area is so poor. While 69 cents a year may not seem like much to you, it is completely out of reach for William's family. 
What theme is emerging in the story? 
The human body can survive up to three weeks without food. However, that is a statistic for an otherwise healthy, well-fed human. The people in Malawi have gone so long without a decent meal, they do not have a timeline for death. 
Why did William add that the "orphan...was forty-years-old"? 
While the interview may have been frustrating to William and his family it solidified the notion that they were getting no help from the government. 

Chapter Eight

Despite the famine and the relentless rain, William is still trying to get food. Which word best describes his character? 
Mizeck and Charity have always bullied William into doing things. Do you think they will bully him into killing his dog? 
Why are Charity and William going into the bush? 
William is feeling nauseous when he thinks of leaving Khamba. Charity is in good spirits. The difference in the two boys is evident in this reaction. 
What causes cholera to spread? 
William's family is being as generous as they can with their meager food supply.  
Look at this painting below and think about how it is similar and different from the world in which William in living.  (This annotation contains an image)
Compare the painting above with life in Malawi.  
William is being sarcastic calling the president a "funny guy". The emergency declaration should have been made months before. 
Which line below explains why William and Geoffrey are using secret codes? 
This is the turning point in the story. You realize that they will survive. They have outlasted the famine. 
How does the reaction from William's dad differ from the other villagers? 

Chapter Nine

Several organizations were beginning to send books to Malawi to help their education system.  (This annotation contains an image)
Why is William studying science? 
Learn more about the science of magnets.  (This annotation contains a video)
William compares studying magnetism to ________________. 
This line from the textbook changes William's life. 
Explain how a windmill means freedom for William's family. Cite evidence from the passage to support your answer. 
Here is a picture of William in his house working on his windmill.  (This annotation contains an image)
Why did Geoffrey's attitude towards William's ideas change? 
The tickle is actually the current. If William felt nothing he would have switched around the wires. 
Would William's first windmill have worked without Geoffrey's help? 
This section of the memoir may be getting difficult to read due to the technical terms William is using. When you have difficulty understanding what you are reading, it is good to reread the section to make some sense of the words. If you still are not understanding it try to determine the main idea. In this case, the page is about the parts William is finding in the scrapyard and how he will use them on his bigger windmill. As long as you understand the main idea, you can move on in your reading. 

Chapter Ten

What is William's attitude towards schooling? 
It seems unfair that someone who wants an education has to sneak and deceive to get it.  
Why was dropping out of school William's "...greatest fear coming true"? 
William's father allowed him to have the working radios years ago, but is not convinced enough about the windmill idea to give up a broken bike! 
What does William's dad think about his project? 
This statement lets you know that Gilbert is helping William with his plans whenever he can. 
How did the scrapyard replace school for William? 
Quiz for Chapters 6-10 

Chapter Eleven

Here is a view of the Dowa Highlands.  (This annotation contains an image)
Read this non-fiction passage about another inventor, Thomas Edison. (You do not have to take the quiz.)  (This annotation contains a link)
Compare Thomas Edison and William's innovativeness. Cite evidence from both sources in your answer. 
What theme is emerging in the novel? 
Rope and pulley is a simple machine that William probably learned about in his science books from the library. 
Picture the scene that William is seeing while perched on top of the tower. What is he referencing when he states "Their jaws hung slightly open, as it there were seconds left on the clock and I had the ball"? 
Imagine how great a feeling it was for William at this moment. All of the time spent and taunting received was worth it. 
How did William's father feel when he had to admit that his son dropped out of school? 
Are you surprised by the size of the light? It is providing William something he has never had before, nor has any of his family. 
How has the attitude changed amongst the females in William's family? 

Chapter Twelve

Did you know they had cell phones in this section of Africa? Below is an article describing seven ways cell phones changed Africa.  (This annotation contains a link)
Charging cell phones was not a need for William because he did not own one. Why did he learn to charge them? 
William is creating all of these innovative projects with a very minimal toolset. Most of the tools you would expect a builder to use were not available to William. This did not deter him. 
Why did William say "'s a good thing I'm too poor to buy proper wire"? 
Do you remember earlier in the book when William read about magnets? All of that research is paying off now. 
Why did William describe this time as a "painful period"? 
Mister Godsten's attitude towards William has changed, along with the rest of the village. 

Chapter Thirteen

Why was William not allowed to go to school? 
William has been optimistic throughout the most troubling times in this book. Now when schooling seems to be out of reach, he is getting a little discouraged. 
Why did people think William's windmill looked like a transmitter? 
Pay attention to the time that is elapsing in this section of the book. The previous page says that William tried various invention "over the course of the next year". This page is stating that he dug up pipes for "two whole days". William was devoting alot of time to his inventions. 
What is the main idea of this section? 
Below is a map of Africa with a key showing the countries at highest risk for malaria.  (This annotation contains an image)
Picture the scene that William is describing. Explain what he means when he says "Seeing your mother like this is like having God steal the sky from over your head." 
As William's words say, the main problem with the chief is that he is fearing for his life. He is fearful the president's thugs will come back for him. This is affecting his health. 
Why was their a riot? 
Magic has not been mentioned as a cause or solution to problems for awhile in the story. Now it is back in the forefront and William is involved. 
Why is William relaying these stories of witchcraft to you? 
During the good times the villagers marveled at the windmill. Now that times have changed, they are looking for anything to blame for the poor weather conditions. 
You can tell from William's description that he does not believe in this cure for diarrhea. Did you know that this disease can kill you? Because the people believed in the cure they did not get proper medical attention and died from dehydration.  
Think about how William has describe his area's reaction to HIV and AIDS. How does the title of his play reflect that attitude? 
Watch this video and then try the experiment yourself.  (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter Fourteen

Why do you think the man is visiting William? 
The reporters are in awe of William's windmill just as William is in awe of the reporters. 
Which word is a synonym for validation? 
Why is Dr. Mchazime working so hard to get William in school? 
Below is a link to Hacktivate with Mike's blog about William.  (This annotation contains a link)
What did William find unique about his new school? 
Two people sleeping together in a small bed will sleep at opposite ends. Kennedy's stinky feet were in William's face all night. 
Who did William meet on the plane to Arusha? 

Chapter Fifteen

William is now dreaming of bigger dreams for his life. 
What did William find to be the most amazing part of TED? 
Here is a video of William's speech on stage at TED in 2007.  (This annotation contains a video)
What line from the passage explains why Tom is helping William? 
With William's windmill idea becoming world knowledge, he now has the money and the equipment to help his whole village. 
How did William get into class at ABCCA if it was five thousand dollars per year? 
William makes many references to the Bible in this story. His family's faith helped him through tough times, and continues to help him today. 
What amazed William about New York City? 
Quiz for Chapters 11-15 


Below is a link to the African Leadership Academy's website.  (This annotation contains a link)
What are the major lessons and insights this book has given you?