Tom Sawyer Unit Plan

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

This unit plan will help you teach your 6th-12th grade students about the character Tom Sawyer created by Mark Twain. Find activities and discussion questions to test their analytical skills.

Why Tom Sawyer?

Perhaps no story resonates more with the American psyche than the stories of that lad from Missouri who takes the reader on exciting adventures amidst small-town 19th century life. He appeared in four novels penned by Mark Twain, as well as three additional unfinished works. Furthermore, the character of Tom Sawyer is in essence a reflection of the author's boyhood, so it is autobiographical in nature. You can use this unit plan with your middle and high schoolers, as it provides ideas for studying this iconic character.

Getting Started

  • Since the Tom Sawyer character is basically a representation of Twain himself, you could consult this Mark Twain Lesson Plan to discuss Twain. An activity analyzing the themes in his short story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County is available as well.
  • Twain is considered one of the greatest writing geniuses ever when it came to incorporating satire into a storyline. Refer to this Mark Twain's Satire Lesson Plan to learn the difference between Horatian Satire and Juvenalian Satire.
  • In addition, Twain is considered one of the best ever at the utilization of witticisms in his novels. Consult this Mark Twain Epigrams Lesson Plan, which includes a hands-on activity for students to draw cartoons featuring epigrams.


  • Twain was known for the extensive use of vocabulary words which may seem complicated or unfamiliar to your students. This Tom Sawyer Vocabulary list will be of assistance.

Discussion Questions

  • How does the character of Tom Sawyer represent the appeal of returning to one's childhood? How does he represent the desire to avoid the often overwhelming burdens of adulthood?
  • In the preface, Twain claimed that most of the stories in the first book actually took place, either on his own or as a combination of other people he knew. How true-to-life do you think the stories really were, and in what ways do you think the author exaggerated the details?
  • How do the Tom Sawyer novels deal with the subjects of racism and the unfairness of society?
  • How would you compare and contrast the way religion was a part of American life in the 1800s, versus the way it is in modern times?
  • How do you view steamboats, which were a major mode of transportation down the Mississippi River in the 1800s, and the fact Tom Sawyer was fascinated by them? Consult this Steamboat Lesson Plan.
  • In addition, you can consult these The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Discussion Questions.

Activities and Games

  • The lifestyle of Tom Sawyer in the 1840s was much different than that experienced by modern students. Have your students select a memorable scene from one of the novels, and act it out in the form of a short skit to present to fellow students.
  • You could discuss with your students that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was banned for many years and use the activity and extension activity in the Tom Sawyer Lesson Plan related to this topic.
  • For even more ideas, refer to these Tom Sawyer Activities & Games.

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