Get Spooked with This Poe Unit!
Get Spooked with This Poe Unit!
Editor’s note: Sixth-grade teacher and Scope advisor Fran Squires explores literary elements, mood, author's craft, and research skills with students with her creative Edgar Allan Poe project.
What you’ll need:
- Poe story, poem, or play. I used Scope's play adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart
- The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe
- Norman George's audio recording of "The Black Cat"
author's craft, character, figurative language, finding text evidence, summarizing, mood, presenting information, listening
4-5 class periods and three weeks of independent work
Each year in the fall, I do a big unit on Edgar Allan Poe. The highlight is the culminating project which requires students to create a Poe-themed work of art. Students research a Poe story or poem and make a tie or a fascinator (decorative headpiece) representing the work. We kick off the unit by reading "The Raven" and Scope's play The Tell-Tale Heart as a class. The play is a fun and engaging way to delve into Poe's unique style and explore literary elements. I then give students three weeks to work independently on their Poe projects. The unit culminates on Halloween when students present their projects to the class and vote on the most creative one. We also listen to an audio recording of "The Black Cat" while eating Halloween treats.
Step 1: Choose the work
Have students choose a Poe work that has not been covered in class. I have copies of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe available in my classroom, but I also encourage students to go to the library to do further reading before they choose a work for their project.
Step 2: Research
Over the next three weeks, students read and do independent research on the Poe work of their choice. I check in with students periodically to see that they are making progress and answer any questions they have. This research component is not only an opportunity to learn about Poe's writing, it's also a chance for students to develop their research skills. Here's what I look for in a successful research project:
- the ability to plan and conduct in-depth research
- the use of a variety of reputable sources
- the identification of literary themes and elements, author's craft, and figurative language
In addition to finding their own sources for research, I direct students to these sites:
Differentiation: You can modify the activity for students who need more support. Have them create their projects based on one of the works covered in class and incorporate information from classwork and discussions. You can also have them work in groups rather than independently.
Step 3: Create the art
Students must submit a sketch or a written proposal for three tie or fascinator ideas based on their reading and research. I then work with each student to choose which idea to develop. Their final art should:
- include at least one quotation from the work
- include at least two symbols that reflect elements of the work
- reveal important insights of the work, such as themes, literary elements, and author's craft
- portray those insights in an original and creative way
- demonstrate an intellectual curiosity
To demonstrate what I'm looking for, I show the class a piece of artwork that a student made from a prior year.
This fascinator is inspired by “The Raven” and includes the quote “Nevermore, Nevermore.” Behind the double doors is a silhouette of the narrator's lost love, Lenore. The artwork is affixed to a brain symbolizing the fact that the protagonist cannot get the loss of Lenore off his mind.
One of Fran's students models a fascinator inspired by Poe's short story, "The Black Cat."
Step 4: Present
- I pass out a rubric of the project components for students to refer to as they listen to the presentations.
- Students present their work to the class by providing a summary, discussing why they chose the work, and explaining the significance of the work as well as the quotes and symbols that they included.
- After each presentation, we have a brief question and answer session.
This tie represents the acrostic poem “A Valentine.” Poe wrote the poem for a woman who was already married, so he kept his admiration a secret by cleverly disguising her name within the poem. The hearts and eyes on the tie symbolize the reader's search for the name of Poe's secret love: Frances Sargent Osgood.
Step 5: Peer assessment
- After the presentations are over, the pieces are displayed on tables for students to study further.
- Students evaluate each other's work according to the rubric.
- On the back of the rubric, they write down which project was the most successful and why.
- I tally up the votes and give the student who made the winning project a certificate of creativity and a prize, such as a Poe T-shirt, Poe-themed necklace, or magnetic poetry. The runners-up also get prizes.
A student models a Poe T-shirt prize
Step 6: Listen to "The Black Cat"
For a final bit of fun, I turn down the lights and we listen to Norman George's fantastic reading of “The Black Cat.” I pass out Halloween-themed goody bags with creepy candies such as "eye of newt" treats.
I love this project because it not only allows students to stretch their creative muscles and build important skills, but it also lets them direct their own learning. Exposure to literature and poetry is always a plus, and this project helps students discover that there’s more to Poe than “The Raven.”
Fran Squires is a Scope teacher advisor and an Advanced Level Language Arts Teacher for 6th grade at Pine View School in Osprey, Florida. She was the NCTE National Language Arts Teacher of the Year for 2014-2015.