A Horseman in the Sky Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

A 'Horseman in the Sky' by Ambrose Bierce presents an impossible dilemma surrounding the Civil War in America. This lesson plan focuses on the short story and uses text lessons to explore the piece. A small group activity is focused on analysis.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • summarize A Horseman in the Sky by Ambrose Bierce
  • discuss the conflict that is presented in the story
  • analyze key themes of the work


45 to 90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


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.


Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.


Pre-Activity Instruction

  • Begin by distributing the copies of A Horseman in the Sky by Ambrose Bierce to each student in the class.
  • Ask the students to read the short story in its entirety. Encourage active reading of the story by asking students to annotate as they go.
  • When all students have read and annotated the short story, divide them into small groups.


  • Write the following terms on the board for the class to see in the color noted: 'Summary' written in yellow, 'Conflict' in red and 'Theme' in blue.
  • Give each group three sheets of construction paper, one in yellow, another in red, and the third in blue.
  • Tell the students to create headings at the top of each sheet using the terms and colors written on the board (e.g. they should write 'Summary' at the top of the yellow sheet of construction paper and so on).
  • Once each group has labeled each sheet, have them work together using the annotated copies of the short story to address each topic in relation to A Horseman in the Sky by Ambrose Bierce. In short, the 'Summary' sheet should provide a brief two or three sentence summary of the story, the 'Conflict' sheet must list the primary conflict in the story and the blue sheet should include a brief discussion of themes present in the story.
  • When all groups have completed the sheets, collect them before asking students to return to their desks.

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