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Teaching "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe with Multimedia


This lesson allows students to compare and contrast interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" through art, music, and film to the original text. Students will be asked to observe, analyze, interpret, and evaluate various interpretations as well as create a visual interpretation of their own.

This lesson focuses on Common Core State Standard 8.RL.7: Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.

The Text

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" is in the public domain, so it's easy to find and use even if it's not in your school's adopted textbook. While you can also easily find and/or download audio readings on the internet, I believe it's much more effective to model the reading of this story out loud for students, even gifted ones. It's a fun story to perform, and I encourage you to "ham" it up as much as possible. Stopping to check for understanding as you read is also essential.

As we read, I ask students to divide their paper into quarters and to take notes on...

  1. Poe's use of irony (especially dramatic irony) and its effect (humor, building suspense, etc.)
  2. Words or phrases that show the narrator's state of mind and/or character
  3. The effect of the point-of-view (i.e. what do we and what don't we know?)
  4. Connections to other texts we have read in class

We discuss their findings at the end of our reading of the text.

Visual Art: Illustration of "The Tell-tale Heart" by Harry Clarke.

Illustration for "The Tell-tale Heart' by Harry Clarke, 1919.

Illustration for "The Tell-tale Heart' by Harry Clarke, 1919.

Visual Art Analysis and Evaluation

Show the illustration by Harry Clarke and pose guided questions like the following:

  • What plot event of "The Tell-Tale Heart" is depicted in this illustration? Is this illustration an accurate depiction of the events described in the story? How is it similar? How is it different?
  • How would you describe the tone of this illustration? How is the tone set? For example, what colors are used? Do you think this tone matches the tone set by Poe in the story? Why, or why not?
  • What other elements (theme, character, setting, etc.) does this work of art attempt to capture from "The Tell-Tale Heart", and how does the artist attempt to capture these elements?
  • Evaluate: Does this work of art accurately capture the original elements E.A. Poe's story? Why, or why not?

Make sure to allow time for discussion.

Music: "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Alan Parsons Project

Music Analysis and Evaluation

Play the song by Alan Parsons Project and either show the lyrics on your Smartboard/projector or make copies of the lyrics for students. Pose some guided questions like the following:

  • From whose point-of-view is the song narrated? Cite some lyrics to support your answer.
  • How does the singer sound? Does this interpretation match the characterization established in the short story? Why, or why not?
  • Pay close attention to the rhythm of the song. Listen to the drums. What element (or sound) from the story is the rhythm attempting to simulate? Does this choice by the artists make the song more or less effective? Why?
  • What other elements (theme, character, setting, etc.) does this song attempt to capture from "The Tell-tale Heart", and how do the musicians attempt to capture these elements?
  • Evaluate: Does this song accurately capture the original elements E.A. Poe's story? Why, or why not?

Make sure to allow time for discussion.

Animation: "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Animated Short Film Analysis and Evaluation

At this point, I usually hand out the "The Tell-tale Heart" Media Analysis Guide. Students can track responses to the illustration, song, animated film, and full-length film on this handout. Students are also asked to evaluate which they enjoyed the most (the short story, illustration, song, animated film, or black-and-white film) and to explain why.

The animated film is narrated by James Mason and includes some wonderfully creepy gothic visuals.

Film: "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1960)

Film Analysis and Evaluation

Students continue to complete the Media Analysis Guide as we view the film. This short film drastically changes several elements of the short story, and a good discussion can be had questioning why these changes were made for audiences of the time before "ratings" existed.

Students are also asked to cast their own modern version of the story for film. They then describe how they would film their favorite scene from the story, and they storyboard that scene for filming. These questions are located on the back of the Media Analysis Guide.

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Interpret "The Tell-Tale Heart" Graphically

Example of graphic story. Apologies that the scan cut off the edges!

Example of graphic story. Apologies that the scan cut off the edges!

Best Poe Story?

Create a Graphic Version

Finally, students get to create their own interpretations of "The Tell-Tale Heart" through graphic drawings. I ask them to draw a retelling (stickmen are fine as long as visuals are accurate) of "The Tell-Tale Heart" with no less than six boxes. The first box should give exposition or basic situation. The next three should be the rising action. The fifth should be the climax. The sixth should be the resolution or falling actions. Each box should have text in the form of dialogue or captions which make it clear which part of the story is being interpreted. Depending on time constraints, you can keep this relatively simple or require more (color, use of text elements, direct quotations from the story, etc.)

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?

— E.A. Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart"


Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on April 02, 2015:

Very wonderful and awesome presentation of Allan Poe's Tell-Tale-Heart. I appreciate your work and your way of instructing students very much. Thanks for sharing it here.

Keith W Johnson (author) on March 21, 2015:

Thank you! Poe is one of my favorite authors, and it is very fun to help foster my students' appreciation of him however possible.

Korneliya Yonkova from Cork, Ireland on March 21, 2015:

Poe is really amazing author and i am happy that his works could be visualized. Thanks a lot for sharing this hub! :)

RustyW from Pennsylvania on March 19, 2015:

A well written piece, though I tend to feel that the best way for someone to learn about an author is by buying and reading his or her work in its original format...which is often in a book. If, however, the piece was originally fitted for a visual dramatization, then watch it in that format, etc. etc. But I truly enjoyed your piece, and found it to be very informative...thank you.

Keith W Johnson (author) on March 14, 2015:

I would have, but I teach in SC where we are changing standards so held off. In fact, I pulled the CCSS off the document I shared since I know some states are pulling away from CCSS.

Keith W Johnson (author) on March 14, 2015:

I agree we can sometimes overanalyze things. My goal is to balance appreciation of style or craftsmanship (through analysis) with enjoyment. Thanks for your thoughts!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 14, 2015:

This was and still us one of my favorites of Poe's. He knew how to hold the reader.

Sometimes I think we overanalyze works of others...not being critical of your work...I know you are instructed to teach literary masterpieces...I just think sometimes we dissect works to such an extent that the beauty of the piece can be lost.

Now before you throw things at me, I was a teacher for 40 years...

This is a well constructed plan and no doubt students will become you have technology too which is a hook for kidoes obviously today.

Thanks for sharing

Voted up++++ and shared ps

Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on March 13, 2015:

Excellent lesson plan with a logical sequence. It would be beneficial if you included the CCSS.

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