Reading Sherlock Holmes

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SWBAT apply what they know in a close reading of a Sherlock Holmes short story.

Big Idea

How do Sherlock Holmes short stories define the detective story genre?

Lesson Overview

This lesson is part of a short unit on Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction.  At the end of this lesson students co-write an analytical paper that explores the ongoing popularity of Sherlock Holmes and how the structure of the stories established the detective genre. 


Using Reading Techniques to Identify Genre

40 minutes

We look at different structural elements of the Sherlock Holmes stories to understand how Conan Doyle wrote the stories and why they were so popular.

Slide 25 – 28 – Now we look at the structure of the stories.  I explain to students that a story’s title often reflects its genre.  We look at a sample of title of Sherlock Holmes stories and discuss the grammatical structure of the titles.  There is heavy reliance on adjective noun pairs that are both descriptive and vague. Discuss how the title “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” is ironic, almost satirical and how it appears in a later collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, perhaps when his creator was feeling a little “boxed” in by his famous creation.

Slides 29-32 – Discuss how the character of Sherlock Holmes has become an archetype of the detective genre, and how another famous TV detective shares some of the same deductive qualities. If students are familiar with the House TV series perhaps have them discuss the personality of the character and then make predictions about  Sherlock Holmes character.

Slide 33 – Discuss how the detective genre limits characters to specific roles, and how authors can manipulate and play with and against these specific roles.

Slide 34 – 35 – Discuss how the setting is shaped by genre.  Where do we imagine crime most often? Who commits crimes? How do authors play against these ideas?

Slide 36 – 37 – Discuss how the themes in Sherlock Holmes stories reinforce Victorian ideals of justice and the powers of science.  Might discuss phrenology and Victorian pseudoscience that tried to prove the superiority of European races.  Have students make predictions as to the way minorities well be portrayed in the stories.

Slide 38-39 – Have students look at a small excerpt of a Sherlock Holmes story and in groups analyze the descriptive detail, dialogue and vocabulary. 

Slide 40 – 41 – Briefly review the progression of mood and tension in short story.

Slides 42 – 49 – Have students take extensive notes on these slides as they will need to have access to the vocabulary words when writing their analysis.  If this is review for students have them practice identifying the structure of a detective episode they’ve recently watched.  If students are not familiar with the terminology or the material then, as a class, work at deconstructing a Sherlock Holmes story.  This would most likely take an additional class period.

Slides 50 – 55 –This is a great opportunity to discuss narrative voice and the way it shifts and changes our understanding of the story.  In small groups students should discuss the different perspectives offered and why Watson’s narrative voice might be optimal for A. Conan Doyle to use.

Assignment – Slides 56-59 – This is when I briefly talk about each of the stories the students are going to read, have students get into groups and then give them the writing prompt. Explain that this is a two-part analysis, focusing first on the popularity of Sherlock Holmes, then on the structure and the way that can build tension.

Group Reading of Short Story

45 minutes

Finally students will work together to read and write a response paper about a Sherlock Holmes story.  I've preselected the groups and the stories to make sure there are different skill levels represented.