K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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  • One, two, three... go Poe!: In this lesson, students will be able to compare and contrast three short stories they have read by Edgar Allan Poe. The assignment will be divided into three parts: (1) They will have read and discussed or completed other classroom activities on each of the three stories. (2) They will work in small groups to brainstorm and create comparison/contrast charts that will be shared with the class. (3) Students will create their own graphic organizers based on the ideas shared in step two and then create a draft and final paper.
  • Mystery: Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective: This is a three part lesson on mysteries using the novel Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald Sobol.
  • Maya Angelou: Study and response to "Still I Rise": Students read biographical information on Maya Angelou and her poem, "Still I Rise." Students identify support and elaboration in poem, then respond by either writing a letter to the author or his/her own poem in response.

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • define characteristics of various genres such as short story, poem, and novel and identify examples for each.
  • learn the following literary terms: setting, characterization, plot, conflict, mood, theme, symbolism, author’s style, figurative language.
  • relate social problems in Poe’s day to issues in present-day society.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

8 hours


  • The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
  • A & E Biography series: Edgar Allan Poe video or another suitable biography of Edgar Allan Poe
  • Tell-Tale Heart crime sheet
  • bibliography of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary works and access to copies of a sampling of these works
  • computers with internet access


It would be beneficial before beginning this unit for students to have a basic understanding of short story elements, figurative language, and characteristics of the mystery/horror story.

  • List some of the literary selections you have read and have students categorize them according to literary genre.
  • Assess students’ understanding of literary terms.


  1. Begin with the reflection question: What patterns or relationships do you see emerging in Edgar Allan Poe’s literary works?
  2. Create a KWL chart to assess what students already know about Edgar Allan Poe.
  3. View the video Edgar Allan Poe from the A&E Biography series or another biographical video on Poe; share student responses to Poe’s experiences. Research additional biographical details through Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, a sampling of newspaper articles, and/or web resources.
  4. As a class, brainstorm a list of influences and events from Poe’s life that had a major impact and that might be reflected in his works.
  5. Discuss student knowledge of criminal investigations and terminology. Read The Tell-Tale Heart using the Tell-Tale Heart sheet as a guide. On the crime sheet, fill in the motive for the crime, evidence of premeditation by the murderer (how he plans ahead), commitment of the crime step-by-step, diagram showing how the murderer disposes of the body, and on-the-scene description of the murderer’s confession by one of the policemen. Analyze the story for any evidence of the possible influence of Poe’s own life experiences.
  6. Divide into small groups. Read an assigned story/poem by Edgar Allan Poe other than The Tell-Tale Heart. Analyze the literary work in terms of the influence of Poe’s life experiences. Suggested questions for discussion include:
    • What literary techniques does the author use in the selection?
    • What is the author’s attitude toward the sanity of the main character and/or toward the actions of this character?
    • Would you have predicted the conclusion of this story/poem based upon Poe’s biographical details?
    • What did you like/dislike about this story?
    • Were you surprised by the actions of the character(s)?
    • How did the author want you to feel about the effect of the mood?
    • How is The Tell-Tale Heart both similar to and different from the selection read by your group?

    What generalizations can you make about the effect of Poe’s life on the selection read by your group? Summarize and be prepared to share with the class.

  7. Have groups share generalizations.
  8. Have students write an obituary that might have appeared after Poe’s death in a newspaper from one of the cities in which he lived.
  9. As a class, create a chart summarizing the conclusions of the entire class as to the influence of Poe’s life on his literary works


  • Using the original class KWL chart, ask students to complete the “L” column with additional knowledge gained from the study of Edgar Allan Poe.
  • Critique a Poe selection that was not previously used in group work; judge this selection according to the criteria used during the group work in reference to biographical influences and author’s style.

Optional extensions and alternative assessments

  • Pose the following discussion questions:
    • What generalizations can you make about the biographical influences of other authors on their literary works?
    • Draw a conclusion about the literary elements characteristic of Poe’s short stories. Place special emphasis on the mood/atmosphere.
    • What related conclusions might you draw about the social problems facing people in Poe’s era as compared with the problems facing people today?
  • Have students research the life of another author and then read a sampling of works by this author. Present the conclusions and generalizations that you make about the correlations of the author’s life to his/her works. Suggested authors include:
    • William Sydney Porter
    • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    • Beatrix Potter
    • Roald Dahl
    • Emily Dickinson
  • Have students create a short story using characteristics of Poe’s literary style. Be sure to consider all elements of a short story as well as the use of figurative language.
  • Assess the personal/social problems evident in Poe’s times as observed in the study of his biography and literary works. Consider which of these same problems are still faced by people today. Research local/regional sources which might provide help in enabling individuals to cope with these problems.
  • Have students choose one of the following presentation vehicles:
    • role-playing
    • musical interpretation
    • art exhibit
    • short video or HyperStudio stack
  • Hold a panel presentation with question-answer session included at end.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 8
          • 8.RL.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
          • 8.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 4: The learner will continue to refine critical thinking skills and create criteria to evaluate print and non-print materials.
    • Objective 4.01: Analyze the purpose of the author or creator and the impact of that purpose by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard, and/or viewed.
      • evaluating any bias, apparent or hidden messages, emotional factors, and/or propaganda techniques.
      • evaluating the underlying assumptions of the author/creator.
      • evaluate the effects of the author's craft on the reader/viewer/listener.
    • Objective 4.02: Analyze and develop (with limited assistance) and apply appropriate criteria to evaluate the quality of the communication by:
      • using knowledge of language structure and literary or media techniques.
      • drawing conclusions based on evidence, reasons, or relevant information.
      • considering the implications, consequences, or impact of those conclusions.
  • Goal 5: The learner will respond to various literary genres using interpretive and evaluative processes.
    • Objective 5.01: Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
      • using effective reading strategies to match type of text.
      • reading self-selected literature and other materials of interest to the individual.
      • reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher.
      • assuming a leadership role in student-teacher reading conferences.
      • leading small group discussions.
      • taking an active role in whole class seminars.
      • analyzing the effects of elements such as plot, theme, charaterization, style, mood, and tone.
      • discussing the effects of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flashback, allusion, irony, and symbolism.
      • analyzing and evaluating themes and central ideas in literature and other texts in relation to personal and societal issues.
      • extending understanding by creating products for different purposes, different audiences, and within various contexts.
      • analyzing and evaluating the relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts, and/or experiences.
    • Objective 5.02: Study the characteristics of literary genres (fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry) through:
      • reading a variety of literature and other text (e.g., young adult novels, short stories, biographies, plays, free verse, narrative poems).
      • evaluating what impact genre-specific characteristics have on the meaning of the text.
      • evaluating how the author's choice and use of a genre shapes the meaning of the literary work.
      • evaluating what impact literary elements have on the meaning of the text.