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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Tell-Tale Heart

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Hear that? It's your heart racing, nervous at the prospect of teaching the master of creepiness, Edgar Allan Poe. Either that, or it's a heart you buried under your floorboards. In which case…please back away slowly.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity unpacking the narrative technique of in medias res.
  • another activity exploring the insane history of the insanity defense.
  • resources on related Poe-try and stories, from "The Raven" to "The Masque of the Red Death."

And much more.

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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.
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Instructions for You

Objective: Students explore the definition of "in medias res" and how the narrative technique has been used in practice, in particular in Homer's Odyssey. Students answer critical questions about how in medias res applies as a narrative technique to "The Tell-Tale Heart" (which starts very much in medias res), participate in classroom discussion, and write (and perform) a play using this technique.

Step 1: As homework, students explore the Encyclopedia Britannica and other definitions of in medias res (such as this one), and conduct additional outside research on the narrative term and examples of its practice.

Step 2: While reviewing the websites and conducting research, students take notes on and answer critical questions (found below in the student instructions).

Step 3: In class, teacher reviews the definition of in medias res before leading students in a discussion of the concept in "The Tell-Tale Heart" and students' responses to study questions.

Step 4: Students work in small groups to untangle Poe's story, and instead make a bulleted timeline of events in the story in chronological order.

Step 5: With their group, students write their very own in medias res versions of another Poe work, such as:

Students can create written versions or a film/play.

Prompt: Keeping in mind our class discussion and your own research on the practice of in medias res in "The Tell-Tale Heart," recreate another Poe story or poem so that it starts up and carries on in medias res. You can be as creative as you wish with your adaptation – and present it as a story, poem, traditional play, short film, etc. – as long as your representation remains faithful to the story line of the original.

Step 6: [Optional] Students share their original work in class and answer questions about the experience of changing a story to be told in medias res. Teacher facilitates discussion, if so desired.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th Grade Reading 1.1, 1.2, 2.3, 2.5, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.10, 3.11; Writing 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.9, 2.2; Listening & Speaking 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.9, 1.11, 1.14, 2.4, 2.6. 11th & 12th Grade Reading 1.1, 1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.6; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.9, 2.2, 2.6; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.6, 1.8, 1.9, 1.10, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5.)

Instructions for Your Students

Suspense. Flashbacks. Memories. Did you notice how "The Tell-Tale Heart" dove right into the middle of the story and provided the back-story later? That technique is called "in medias res," and it's been used for ages – even way back in ancient Greek literature. In this activity, we'll be messing with some of Poe's stories or poems, untangling "The Tell-Tale Heart" and mixing up the order of events in one of his other works.

Step 1: As homework, read these two definitions of in medias res:

Also check out the Shmoop Odyssey summary for an example of old-school in medias res in action.

Step 2: While reviewing the websites, take notes the following questions:

  1. In your own conversational words, define "in medias res." Now define it as if you were texting a friend – with just the bare essentials.
  2. Aside from "The Tell-Tale Heart" and the Odyssey, what are some examples of starting a story in medias res in literature?
  3. Can you think of any examples of a movie starting in medias res?
  4. Based on your research and your experience with "The Tell-Tale Heart" and any other stories/movies you're familiar with that start in medias res, what does the technique of starting in the middle of a story add to the reading/viewing experience? Why do you think Poe chose to write his story this way?

Step 3: Discuss the concept of in medias res and your answers to the above study questions in class.

Step 4: With a small group, untangle "The Tell-Tale Heart." Make a bulleted timeline of events in the story in chronological order. Instead of starting in the middle of the story, you'll make "Tell-Tale" start at the beginning.

Step 5: Now that you know how to untangle a Poe story, you're going to remix another one of his pieces. With your group, select one of the following Poe works:

With your group, create an in medias res versions of the Poe story or poem.

Prompt: Keeping in mind our class discussion and your own research on the practice of in medias res in "The Tell-Tale Heart," recreate another Poe story or poem so that it starts up and carries on in medias res. You can be as creative as you wish with your adaptation – and present it as a story, poem, traditional play, short film, etc. – as long as your representation remains faithful to the story line of the original.

As you're working on your project, think about and be prepared to discuss the following questions:

  1. Do you think the Poe story/poem you've worked on works best when told in chronological order or in medias res? Why?
  2. Why did you choose to start the story/poem where you did?

Step 6: [Optional] Share your work in class and answer questions from Step 5.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

RL.8.1
RL.8.2
RL.8.3
RL.8.7
RL.8.9
RL.8.10
RL.8.5
RL.8.6
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.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
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.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
RI.8.1
RI.8.2
RI.8.3
RI.8.6
RI.8.7
RI.8.8
RI.8.5
RI.8.9
RI.8.10
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.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
W.8.3
W.8.4
W.8.5
W.8.6
W.8.7
W.8.9
W.8.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
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.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
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.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
SL.8.1
SL.8.2
SL.8.4
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.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE TELL-TALE HEART?

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

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