© 2015 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
Teaching Guide

Teaching The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

White fences make good neighbors.


You know the scene where Tom tricks a bunch of kids to whitewash his fence for him? This teaching guide isn't like that at all. We want to help. Plus, you'll still be doing the heavy lifting yourself.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity on narrative technique and childhood treasures.
  • a lesson updating Tom Sawyer for a modern audience. 
  • discussion questions on some more controversial topics, like religion and race.

With Shmoop, teaching Tom Sawyer is even more of an adventure.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

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.

With your purchase, you'll get unlimited access for 12 months. And if you like what you see, you can subscribe to all 200+ Teaching Guides for just $19.84/month.

Instructions for You

Objective: Everyone knows and loves the fence-painting scene in Tom Sawyer. But let your students know that Tom isn't the only—or even the first—popular character in literature who has tricked someone else into doing his work. In fact, the fence-painting trope is common in literature and fables from across cultures.

Here's how it goes down: Character A will get Character B to perform a task for Character A, making the task seem like it's for Character B's benefit. Ta-da!

In this activity, students will compare and contrast the fence-painting scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with other stories that have manipulative characters. They're going to look at stories from other cultures and time periods to see how the fence-painting trope has repeated itself throughout history. Just make sure the students don't get too many ideas…

Length of Lesson: One class period

NOTE: We've provided an optional extension activity which, if you choose to use it, will require a touch of homework and part of another class period for discussion.


Step 1: Hand out copies of "The Man Who Shouted Teresa," "The Scorpion and the Frog," and "How Anansi Became Owner of All the Stories" along with a copy of Shmoop's Fence-Painting graphic organizer

Step 2: Go over the questions in the top row of the organizer, especially the last one. Your students might find that one a little tricky because it seems like it has an obvious answer: "Duh, the character wants to trick the other character(s)." Not so fast. Emphasize that they should think about what the character wants to accomplish in addition to tricking the others.

NOTE: These answers won't all be the same. Tom, for example, has fun with his trickery, but it's only a means to an end—he wants the fence painted without having to do it himself. The man who cried "Teresa," on the other hand, was either crazy or wanted to mess with people's heads just for the fun of it. See the difference?

Step 3: Have your students read the three stories. You can have them do this independently or as a class read aloud. 

When they're done reading (or while they're reading, as some might prefer) they should fill out the graphic organizer. 

Step 4: After they're done reading and charting their answers, lead a small class discussion as a wrap-up. You can prompt the discussion with these questions:

  • Which character do you think was most similar to Tom Sawyer? Which was most different? Why?
  • What reactions did the other characters have when they learned they were duped?
  • What do these stories tell us about human nature and how we're easily manipulated?

If you like, you can have your students answer the last question in a free-write in their notebook or on a piece of paper, because that question's bound to prompt some higher-level thinking.

Optional Extension Activity

Step 5: Time to apply this lesson to real life. For homework, have your students search for an advertisement—print or television—where the company uses the "fence-painting" technique to sell a product. 

If the advertiser tries to make the consumer feel like the consumers need the product and that the company is making the product as a favor to the consumer—well, that's a fence-painter! Have them write a paragraph describing the advertisement or commercial and bring it into class the next day. If the ad is in print (or online) they could also clip it, print it, or save it (or a link to it) so they can share the actual ad as well. 

Step 6: Have students share their paragraphs in class.

(Common Core Standards for English Language Arts Grade 7: R.L.7.1, 2, 3; R.L.7.10; W.7.9; W.7.10; SL7.1; SL7.4; L.7.1)

Instructions for Your Students

Are you jealous of Tom Sawyer for being able to pull off that fence-painting heist? Well, guess what? He's not the only character in literature who's done it. He's not even the first. Folktales, fables, and short stories from other cultures show a tradition of tricksters who manipulate others into doing their bidding. Today, you're going to look at a few of them and see how much they have in common with our favorite mischievous boy.

Step 1: Your teacher's going to hand you copies of three stories: "The Man Who Shouted Teresa," "The Scorpion and the Frog," and "How Anansi Became Owner of All the Stories". Don't panic about the workload—the stories are all super short and easily digestible.

Step 2: Now take a look at Shmoop's Fence-Painting graphic organizer. You're going to fill it out after you read the different stories, so make sure you understand the questions before you get started.

One quick note about the last question: when you think about the character's ultimate goal, think about why the character is tricking the other character(s) to do something. What's in it for him?

Step 3: Sally forth! Read the three stories and fill out your chart. Feel free to reread Chapter 2 of Tom Sawyer if you need to refresh your memory, too—you don't have to have it memorized. And of course, you can also check out the Shmoop Chapter 2 Summary.

Step 4: When you're finished, you're going to have a large group discussion, so be thinking about these questions:

  • Which character do you think was most similar to Tom Sawyer? Which was most different? Why?
  • What reactions did the other characters have when they learned they were duped?
  • What do these stories tell us about human nature and how we're easily manipulated?

Optional Extension Activity

Step 5: Uh, yeah. The words "Optional Extension Activity" don't exactly sound like a barrel of laughs, but don't worry, if you have time for it, this will be fun. It involves TV, magazines, and online ads. So what's the damage?

Tonight, read a magazine, watch TV, or go online (you've done that before, right?) keeping your eye out for an advertisement in which the advertisers use a "fence-painting" technique to sell the product. The commercial/advertising should try to convince you of two things: (1) that buying the product is in your best interest and (2) that the company is doing you a favor by manufacturing this product. (Any commercial that talks about all the great things the company does is a good candidate.)

When you find your ad, write a paragraph—just a paragraph!—describing the commercial/ad and explaining how it uses the "fence-painting" technique. As always, use details to support your answer. And hey—if there's an easy way to bring your ad to class, feel free. Visuals are always nice. 

Step 6: Present your paragraph in class and discuss the ads everyone found. 

Here's a bonus question, just as food for thought: now that you know what "fence-painting" looks like, do you think you're better equipped to notice it when it happens to you? Or will you still be taken in when a Tom Sawyer enters your life?

Already have a license?
CLICK HERE to sign in!


I am buying...
I am buying...
For teacher(s).
Price: $14.92
Good things come
in affordable packages.
Teachers, want access to all Teaching Guides for your own use at a low monthly rate?
Subscribe for only as long as you need.

Common Core Standards  


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    
back to top