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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Scarlet Letter

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If students have a big A on their chest these days it likely stands for Abercrombie. But in our modern world, Puritanical ethics and "slut-shaming" still reign, making this Letter one that still needs to be spelled out.

In this guide you will find

  • a unique activity analyzing Hester Prynne's character.
  • modern pop culture connections starring Emma Stone and Ellen Page.
  • discussion questions on everything from character names to the ABCs (but especially the As) of the novel's rich symbolism.

And much more.

With Shmoop's help, A is for awesome.

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  • 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: In 2010, director Will Gluck shot a film that sets out to adapt The Scarlet Letter to a modern day high school in Ojai, California. Don't worry—this one doesn't feature a sexed-up version of Hester Prynne as played by Demi Moore. (That was this film in 1995. Cue the drums.)

Nope, we're talking about the 2010 flick Easy A, where high school student Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) tells a fib about losing her virginity and then winds up being fodder for some vicious gossip. (Check out the film trailer here if you haven't seen it.) 

In this activity, your students will analyze the first ten minutes of Easy A. They'll screen the first scenes of the film, fill in a graphic organizer, and answer a set of study questions in preparation for a class discussion of the director's cinematic choices and techniques.

Length of Lesson: 1-2 class periods, depending on whether or not you decide to have students complete Steps 1 and 2 in class or assign them as homework in advance of the class discussion.

Materials Needed:

Step 1: Begin by having your students watch a ten-minute clip of Easy A. As they watch, they should fill in this graphic organizer

Step 2: When students are done viewing the clip and jotting down notes in the organizer, they should then answer these study questions, in writing.

  1. First things first. What's up with the title, Easy A? What do you think it means and what's its overall significance?
  2. Describe the film's setting. Why do you think the film's creators chose to set the film in Ojai, California? (Ojai is a relatively small town in Southern California. First inhabited by the Chumash Indians, it's known for its artsy rusticity and lush citrus groves.)
  3. Does the film's adaptation of the novel's historical setting (a mid-seventeenth-century Puritan settlement in New England) to a modern-day small town high school work? In other words, can we detect any traces of Puritan ethics, religious ideals, and/or cultural and social structures in the film? (Psst. If you need a quick refresher on the novel's setting, check out Shmoop's discussion of The Scarlet Letter setting here.)
  4. Which film characters, if any, align with characters from Hawthorn's novel? (Be specific and use evidence to support your ideas.)
  5. What role does the "Cross Your Heart Club" play in the film's storyline? Do the members remind you of any figures from the novel?
  6. Do you think the film's portrayal of the Christian kids is fair? Do you think Hawthorne's portrayal of the Puritans is unbiased?
  7. In Olive's online video confession (which works as a framing device for the story), she swears to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" about her fib and its consequences. How does Olive's public admission compare to the themes of confession, guilt, and blame in Hawthorn's novel? (If you need a refresher, check out Shmoop's The Scarlet Letter themes.)
  8. Describe the film's camera work during the scene where Olive is being gossiped about by everyone at school. How do these camera techniques contribute to our understanding of what it's like to be the center of rumor and gossip?

Step 3: At this point. everybody should be prepped and ready to go! Lead a class discussion of the film's adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, using the questions above as a guide. When you've finished with questions 1-8, you can finish up with the questions below:

  • Does anyone have any information on their graphic organizer that we haven't touched upon? If so, what is it? 
  • What other settings and circumstances would work well for a modern adaptation of The Scarlet Letter

Optional: Teachers may wish to screen the entire film and lead a more extensive discussion, in which case the same graphic organizer and study questions can be used as the basis for analysis.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th and 10th grade Reading 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.12; Listening and Speaking 1.1, 1.14, 2.4. 11th and 12th grade Reading 2.5, 3.1, 3.3, 3.4, 3.8, 3.9; Listening and Speaking Strategies 1.14, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

Just when we were sitting in our English classes thinking that the modern world has very little in common with Hawthorne's vision of Colonial America, Will Gluck directs a film that sets out to adapt The Scarlet Letter to a modern day high school in Ojai, California.

Yep, we're talking about the 2010 flick Easy A, where high school student Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) tells a fib about losing her virginity and then winds up being fodder for some vicious gossip. (Check out the film trailer here if you haven't seen it.) Of course, when Olive's English class reads The Scarlet Letter, Olive can't help but think of herself as a modern day Hester Prynne, which is why she starts wearing a scarlet letter around campus. Still, just how good is this film at adapting Hawthorne's novel, anyway?

In this activity, you'll watch the first ten minutes of the film, taking notes on the director's cinematic choices in a graphic organizer. You'll also answer a brief set of study questions about how the film borrows and departs from the novel. This will help prepare you for an in-class discussion, where you'll dazzle your classmates with your brilliant insights into the world of teen cinema.

Step 1: Check out this 10-minute film clip. While you're watching, fill in this graphic organizer.

Step 2: Good job. Now answer this set of study questions and you're on your way to being the coolest film critic in your class:

  1. First things first. What's up with the title, Easy A? What do you think it means and what's its overall significance?
  2. Describe the film's setting. Why do you think the film's creators chose to set the film in Ojai, California? (Ojai is a relatively small town in Southern California. First inhabited by the Chumash Indians, it's known for its artsy rusticity and lush citrus groves.)
  3. Does the film's adaptation of the novel's historical setting (a mid-seventeenth-century Puritan settlement in New England) to a modern-day small town high school work? In other words, can we detect any traces of Puritan ethics, religious ideals, and/or cultural and social structures in the film? (Psst. If you need a quick refresher on the novel's setting, check out Shmoop's discussion of The Scarlet Letter setting here.)
  4. Which film characters, if any, align with characters from Hawthorn's novel? (Be specific and use evidence to support your ideas.)
  5. What role does the "Cross Your Heart Club" play in the film's storyline? Do the members remind you of any figures from the novel?
  6. Do you think the film's portrayal of the Christian kids is fair? Do you think Hawthorne's portrayal of the Puritans is unbiased?
  7. In Olive's online video confession (which works as a framing device for the story), she swears to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" about her fib and its consequences. How does Olive's public admission compare to the themes of confession, guilt, and blame in Hawthorn's novel? (If you need a refresher, check out Shmoop's The Scarlet Letter themes.)
  8. Describe the film's camera work during the scene where Olive is being gossiped about by everyone at school. How do these camera techniques contribute to our understanding of what it's like to be the center of rumor and gossip?

Step 3: In class, discuss the film clip and your answers to the above study questions. And when you've finished 1-8, above, go ahead and consider the questions below:

  • Do you have any information on your graphic organizer that wasn't touched upon in the discussion? If so, what is it? 
  • What other settings and circumstances would work well for a modern adaptation of The Scarlet Letter

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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.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.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.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
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.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2

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