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Tell-Tale Heart


Language Arts  



Title – Tell-Tale Heart
By – Valerie R. Bos
Primary Subject – Language Arts
Secondary Subjects –
Grade Level – 8th grade
Overall English concepts/content: Students will read and analyze Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” as a soft introduction to descriptive language and as an engaging Halloween activity.

Questions considered: What components of a scary story do students predict will be in the story? How reliable is our narrator regarding his sanity? How does Poe use images and phrases to create an atmosphere of horror? Why does the killer confess? Does the heartbeat really tell the tale of the murder?

Standards addressed: QCCs 27, 30, 35, 40, 41, 57, 62, 63; NCTE/IRA 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 11, 12

Connections to past learning: Students have been studying figurative language for approximately four weeks, and some students are already familiar both with Poe as a writer and with his other stories and poems. Students have previously read using the popcorn strategy and they enjoy using art to accompany the texts that they read.

Use of multiple ways to respond: Illustrations, short-answer questions, and descriptive writing

Attention to diversity: Having students read the story aloud benefits ESOL students and students with special needs by exposing them to the story through both reading along and listening. Stopping frequently while students read the story aloud allows students to ask questions and provides the teacher with many opportunities to check for understanding. Students also work with the story’s plot, language, and characters by answering questions, illustrating a memorable scene, and providing a written description. The additional requirement that students include two kinds of figurative language permits all students to review their knowledge of this material.

Use of technology: N/A

Complementary texts: N/A

Student outcomes/aims:
·          Students perform a close reading of The Tell-Tale Heart,” focusing on making predictions, recognizing author’s purpose, understanding plot, characters, and mood (QCCs 27-30, 35; NCTE/IRA 1, 2, 3)
·          Students will participate as active members of the classroom community during whole-class literature discussions (QCCs 40, 41; NCTE/IRA 11, 12)
·          Students will use their understanding and knowledge of the story to respond appropriately and with detailed evidence to written questions about the story (QCCs 40, 41; NCTE/IRA 3)
·          Students will respond creatively to “The Tell-Tale Heart” in the illustration activity and will provide an explanation of their drawing, including figurative language, written in Standard American English (QCCs 57, 62, 63; NCTE/IRA 3, 6, 10, 12).

Materials needed: Anticipation guide, copies of the short story, story map, questions, illustration instruction sheet, markers, crayons, and blank paper.

1.          Opening activity: I will begin by distributing the anticipation guide and explaining the instructions for Part A. Students will have five minutes to brainstorm at least five things that they look for or expect to find in a scary story. Examples include: spiders, dark nights, full moon, vampires, and things underneath your bed. Then we will conduct a short whole-class discussion of their answers, discussing the following questions: What did they write down and why? Do they believe that these things add to the atmosphere of a scary story? Are they themselves scared by any of these things?

2.          Teaching content: Next, students work on Part B of the anticipation guide. I will go over the five statements, reading them aloud and explaining them. Students are instructed not to call out their answers, but must decide silently whether they agree or disagree with the statements and place a check mark in the appropriate column. Next, we will turn to our literature books (pg. 389) and read the biographical column on E. A. Poe. (I will ask one or more students to read this information aloud to engage them and keep their focus.)

·          Building content knowledge: We will discuss Poe briefly: Who was he? What kinds of stories, etc. did he write? Why is he considered the father of horror? Which current writers can students name whom Poe might have inspired? With what other items by Poe are students familiar?

·          Use of content in context: Now we begin reading “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I will start reading through the first paragraph or so (our introduction to the madman) in order to set the tone and model for students the voice and manner in which they should read. Students will continue reading the story aloud according to the popcorn strategy. (While also relinquishing some power to the students, which I believe is important occasionally, the popcorn strategy also helps me continue to learn students’ names, since the student reading must call on someone else by naming him/her to pick up reading.)

·          Building interpretation and practicing content: During our reading aloud, I will stop students and ask them questions about the story. Some stopping points and possible questions that I’ve identified include: 1) after “how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” What is our first impression of the narrator? To whom is he speaking? What does he say about his senses? 2) after “rid myself of the eye for ever.” What is it about the man that bothers the narrator? Why? How does he describe the eye? What plan does he concoct? 3) after “I looked in upon him while he slept.” What does the narrator do each night? Why? How does he describe his nightly spying? Do we believe him? Is he an honest, trustworthy source or is he exaggerating? What in the story supports your opinion? When does the narrator sneak into the man’s room? For how many evenings? How does the narrator act towards the old man during the day? Why doesn’t he just kill the man during the day, when the eye is open? 4) after the paragraph that ends “hearkening to the death watches in the wall.” What happens on the eighth night? How does the old man react? How does the narrator react? What does the narrator say he’s usually doing each night? How does this fit in with what we already know about his mental state? 5) after “the soldier into courage.” What does the narrator feel upon seeing the old man’s terror? What does his momentary sympathy say about him? How might we incorporate this feeling into our established impression of the narrator? What does the narrator do to the old man? What effect does the old man’s eye have upon the narrator this time? 6) after “I had been too wary for that.” What happens here at the climax of the story? How does the narrator kill the old man? What do the steps that he takes to hide the crime say about him? About his mental state? Do we believe that he is not insane? Has your opinion of him changed? 7) after “beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.” Why does the narrator no longer fear being caught? How does he react when the police arrive? Do you think that his confidence will wane? 8) at the end of the story. What happens to shake the narrator’s calm? Why does he confess? Would the crime have been discovered eventually? When? By these particular police? Why or why not? Does the narrator really hear a heartbeat? Whose? Could it be his own that he hears?

·          Review of Content: Now that all students are familiar with the story, I will distribute the story map sheet for students to work on individually. On this sheet, they must place the events of the story in the correct order. Students will have approximately 10 minutes to work by themselves before we review as a class. I want to make sure that everyone understands the story’s plot and events before moving on to the questions and the illustration activity.

·          Assessing content in context: Here we will move into the questions that I’ve written for students to answer. Depending upon which day this part of the lesson falls, students may either have the entire class period to work on these questions (while using their texts) or I may assign the questions for homework. Regardless, I’m looking for detailed answers that include evidence taken from the story. Of course, I want students to write in complete sentences, use correct punctuation, and do their best with spelling, but I’m a little more focused on asking them to continue working with citing evidence from the text, as this is a new skill to them and one which the other Language Arts teachers continue to reiterate in their classes, also.

3.          Closing activity/Assessing content: After students finish answering their questions, they will begin working on the illustration activity. The purpose of this activity is two-fold: 1) I wish to push their interpretations of at least one memorable scene from the story into a deeper level: what pictures do the words create for the reader? 2) I want students to become more aware of the power of descriptive language to paint pictures in the reader’s mind, and I them to use their knowledge of figurative language (onomatopoeia, alliteration, simile, metaphor, personification, and idioms) to begin experimenting with using their own words to create pictures and scenes for the reader. During this activity, students must draw a memorable scene and provide a written description of that scene, using language that they create and including two kinds of figurative language. Students will not be graded on their artistic ability but rather the clarity, appropriateness, and creativity of their description, as well as whether or not it includes the required figurative language. Students will have class time and time at home to work on this assignment. Both the questions and the drawing activity are due Friday.

Here are the supplementary materials:

Anticipation Guide for “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Name __________________

Directions: Part A – Below, describe 5 things that you expect to find in scary stories.

Directions: Part B – First, read the following statements and decide whether you agree or disagree with them, placing a check mark in the correct column. After we’ve read the story, go back and decide if the author agrees or disagrees with these same statements.

You Agree          You Disagree          Statements          Author Agrees          Author Disagrees
                    1.          People who are insane always know that they are insane.                    
                    2. Sane people sometimes imagine that they hear things.                    
                    3. If you commit a major crime, sooner or later you will be caught.                    
                    4. When you’ve done something wrong, it’s agony to wonder if you’ll be caught.                    
                    5. All people share the same fears (i.e., the same things frighten all people.)                    

Questions for The Tell-Tale Heart

1.          Describe the narrator in detail. What is your first impression of him?

2.          What specifically is it about the old man that troubles the narrator? Why does it trouble him?

3.          What does the narrator do every night? Why?

4.          How does the narrator feel after he commits the murder? Is he worried about being caught?

5.          Why does the killer confess?

6.          Name 3 details, descriptions, or actions that the author uses to create an atmosphere of horror.

The Tell-Tale Heart Drawing Activity

You work for a newspaper as the staff’s artist. One of your coworkers comes to you with a great story on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and asks you to illustrate it. For this news assignment, you must do the following:

-          Choose a memorable scene from the story (example: the murder scene, the confession scene, etc.) and illustrate it in color.
-          Give an explanation of the picture – what is happening in this scene? Be as specific as possible.
-          Finally, you must include two kinds of figurative language, which you come up with on your own, to make your description more interesting (choose two: alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphor, simile, idiom, and personification)
-          The newspaper’s deadline is tomorrow, November 1.

Good luck!

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