Lesson: The Pit and The Pendulum

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Lesson Objective

Students will be able to recognize plot elements in short stories and analyze characters- their traits, motivations, conflicts, points of view, relationships, and changes.

Lesson Plan

Do Now

Students will complete one of the reading comprehension exercises in the do now packet.



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?

Direct Instruction:

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.

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?


Guided Practice:

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. (a student reads and then picks another student to read once he/she is finished)

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?

Independent Practice:

Students will answer the comprehension questions below

Describe the narrator in detail. What is your first impression of him?
What specifically is it about the old man that troubles the narrator? Why does it trouble him?
What does the narrator do every night? Why?
How does the narrator feel after he commits the murder? Is he worried about being caught?
Why does the killer confess?
Name 3 details, descriptions, or actions that the author uses to create an atmosphere of horror.
How does the short story reflect the time period of the 1840’s

Why does poet start the story trying to convince the reader the main character is not mad?

Does Poe reflect his own bit of insanity in Tell Tale Heart

Is Poe trying to send a message that no matter how carefully you commit the crime someone will always know what you have done?

What lesson about life does this story teach?


Lesson Resources

The Pit And The Pendalum   Reading Passage


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