The Tell-Tale Heart Lesson Plan

Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Students often find Edgar Allan Poe's stories engaging but difficult to read. This lesson plan will support your instruction of Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart' by supporting the use of context clues for understanding, identifying theme in prose, and encouraging students to write creatively in Poe's style to create their own theme-related work.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • identify themes present in Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart
  • use context clue strategies to effectively guess at the meanings of unknown words
  • use new vocabulary in narrative writing to achieve a desired theme


45-60 minutes in the first session and 30-45 minutes in a second session

Curriculum Standards


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.


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.


Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.

Materials Needed

  • Printed copies of The Tell-Tale Heart
  • A bag or hat
  • Index cards


  • Set the scene by talking about the stories of Poe. Assess how much the class already knows, so they'll have an idea of what to expect.
  • Introduce the context clues skill by explaining the different types of context clues that appear in literature and provide examples of each:
    • Root words
    • Definition or synonym appears in the sentence
    • Antonym appears in the sentence
    • Example appears in the sentence
    • Definition can be determined through a logical approach
  • Distribute copies of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe and begin reading it aloud. Stop several times on the first page to model finding context clues.
  • Model through the second page, then begin asking students to attempt using the context clues approach with elbow partners.
  • Towards the end of the story, call upon students to guess at the meanings of words individually.

For the second session:

  • Have students read Poe's Tell-Tale Heart: Summary, Themes & Analysis to review the plot and to introduce them to several major themes of the story.
  • As a class, choose one theme to explore. To engage your kinesthetic learners, allow the class to vote by standing on either side of the room. One side represents the theme of madness, while the other side represents paranoia. To add some speaking and listening components, give students the opportunity to present convincing arguments to the other side for picking their theme. The winning theme will be featured in the stories written at the end of the lesson.
  • After choosing a theme, distribute index cards and ask students to find three words in the story related to the chosen theme. Tear the index card into thirds, write a word on each piece, then drop these in the hat or bag.
  • Walk around the room and have students take two pieces of paper each. They must use these words to create a short scene, written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, that fits the chosen theme.
  • Call upon students to read their spooky stories for the class.

Lesson Extension

  • Give students a set of predetermined words to go along with the words drawn from the bag and have them write longer stories. These could be published in a classroom Halloween anthology.

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