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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Overalls are in, but y'all are going to need more than a fashion statement and a bad Southern accent to teach the heck out of Huck. So join us we go rollin' down the river—the Mississippi River, that is.

In this guide you will find

  • activities like mapping the Mississippi so students can understand the scope of Huck's journey.
  • quizzes making sure students understand what's going on behind the thick regional dialect of all them characters.
  • essay questions connecting Huck Finn to other Southern classics like Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockin'-bird.

With this guide, students will want to come back to Huck Finn again and again, ya hear?

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Huck Finn might have had one of the worst childhoods in the literary world. With no mother to speak of and a drunken father who just wants his money, Huck is literally a child without a home. The irony of this character development is that Mark Twain was quite the family man, blessed with a large and loving family.

So what's with the contradiction? If family was so important to Twain, why not give Huck a family similar to his own? In this lesson, students will examine Twain's own family experiences and how they may have informed the theme of family in Huckleberry Finn.

Length of Lesson: 1-2 class periods

Materials Needed:
Online access to:

Step 1: Huck's real family is no bueno, so Shmoop is pretty glad when he says, "peace out" on that situation. Only then, Huck has no family—also no bueno. You might think that with an orphaned main character, family wouldn't be much of a theme, but the idea of family is actually super important in the novel. For the rest of the book, Huck bounces from family to family, he invents fake families, and he begins to create a family with Jim and Tom. To explore this theme more fully, wander over to Shmoop's analysis of Huck's family.

You can do this on your SmartBoard or projector if you have one, or you can have students look around on individual laptops, tablets, etc. 

Once everyone has had a good look, follow up with a class discussion of these family-related questions:

  • What do you think family means to Huck? Do you agree with his ideas about family? Why or why not?
  • Does his lack of "family" seem to bother Huck? Why or why not?
  • Who tries to step in and parent Huck? Does it work? Why or why not?
  • What do you think is the most promising family connection Huck makes? Why?
  • Why do you think Huck chose to strike out on his own in the end rather than nurturing any of those connections?

Step 2: Next up, explain to the class that family wasn't just important in the novel, it was important in Mark Twain's life as well. Have students explore Twain's family by making a Clemens family tree. Check out our family page for all the deets on Twain and his offspring.

NOTE: If you have a 45-minute class, you may need to break here and have the students finish the Clemens family tree for homework. If you have a longer class time, keep on going!

Step 3: After the students have created a tree for Twain, as a class make a family tree for Huck. Then note the differences in the two trees: While Twain had a lot of people who loved him, Huck is basically alone in the world.

Step 4: Okay, so Twain's tree is leafy and full while Huck's is a few bare branches. Does that mean Huck had it rough while Twain's life was all sunshine and roses? Unfortunately not. Twain was a man with his share of woes. Show the class Shmoop's breakdown of Twain's personal low points.

Then divide your students into small groups (3-4 people) and toss out a few of these questions:

  • Based on this information, what do you think family meant to Mark Twain?
  • Though they seem quite different on the surface, are there any connections between Twain's and Huck's family experiences?
  • Why do you think family was so important to Mark Twain?
  • Why do you think he chose to write about the theme of family from the perspective of an orphan? What message is Twain trying to get across?

Step 4: Let's carve this comparison in stone—er, paper. Have students write a few paragraphs about how the theme of family in Huckleberry Finn is tied to events in Twain's own life. Be sure to have students support their ideas with specific examples and text evidence. Here's a prompt:

Based on what you've learned about Mark Twain's life and our class discussions about the similarities and differences between the family trees of Mark Twain and Huck Finn, write a few paragraphs (3 or more, please) on the theme of family in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. How does this theme play out in the novel, and how is it tied to events in Twain's life? Be sure to support your ideas with specific examples and evidence from the text. 

NOTE: Be sure to let students know how "polished" you'd like their writing to be—i.e., if rough drafts/freewrites are acceptable, or if you're looking for final copy format here. 

TEKS Standards: §110.33. English Language Arts and Reading, English III b: 5D, 9A, 9C, 13A, 13B, 15A(iii)(iv)(v), 18, 19

Instructions for Your Students

Huck Finn might have had one of the worst childhoods in the literary world. With no mother to speak of and a drunken father who just wants his money, Huck is literally a child without a home. The irony of this character development is that Mark Twain was quite the family man, blessed with a large and loving family.

So what's with the contradiction? If family was so important to Twain, why not give Huck a family similar to his own? In this lesson, we will examine Twain's own family experiences and how they may have informed the theme of family in Huckleberry Finn.

Step 1: Huck's real family is no bueno, so Shmoop is pretty glad when he says, "peace out" on that situation. Only then, Huck has no family—also no bueno. You might think that with an orphaned main character, family wouldn't be much of a theme, but the idea of family is actually super important in the novel. For the rest of the book, Huck bounces from family to family, he invents fake families, and he begins to create a family with Jim and Tom. To explore this theme more fully, wander over to Shmoop's analysis of Huck's family.

Then try out a few family-related questions:

  • What do you think family means to Huck? Do you agree with his ideas about family? Why or why not?
  • Does his lack of "family" seem to bother Huck? Why or why not?
  • Who tries to step in and parent Huck? Does it work? Why or why not?
  • What do you think is the most promising family connection Huck makes? Why?
  • Why do you think Huck chose to strike out on his own in the end rather than nurturing any of those connections?

Step 2: Unlike Pap, Mark Twain was a grade-A family man. Explore Twain's family by making a Clemens family tree. Check out our family page for all the deets on Twain and his offspring.

Step 3: We believe that one good tree deserves another, so pair up your Twain family tree with one for Huck. Then note the differences in the two trees: While Twain had a lot of people who loved him, Huck is basically alone in the world.

Step 4: Okay, so Twain's tree is leafy and full while Huck's is a few bare branches. Does that mean Huck had it rough while Twain's life was all sunshine and roses? Unfortunately not. Twain was a man with his share of woes. Check out this breakdown of Twain's personal low points.

It's time to form a classroom family—or at least it's time to group up. In a group of three to four answer the following questions:

  • Based on this information, what do you think family meant to Mark Twain?
  • Though they seem quite different on the surface, are there any connections between Twain's and Huck's family experiences?
  • Why do you think family was so important to Mark Twain?
  • Why do you think he chose to write about the theme of family from the perspective of an orphan? What message is Twain trying to get across?

Step 5: Let's carve this comparison in stone—er, paper. Here's your prompt:

Based on what you've learned about Mark Twain's life and the similarities and differences between the Twain and Finn family trees, write a few paragraphs (3 or more, please) on the theme of family in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. How does this theme play out in the novel, and how is it tied to events in Twain's life? Be sure to support your ideas with specific examples and evidence from the text. 

NOTE: Be sure you know how "polished" your teacher is expecting this writing to be—i.e., if rough drafts/freewrites are acceptable, or if final copy format is the expectation here. 

And remember you can always use Shmoop's essay lab to both plan and draft your paragraphs.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Photos    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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