The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Lesson Plan
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
About this book
Many of the heroes in current teen movies are modeled after classic characters like Tom Sawyer, and it's through a novel study that students can analyze the way humor was presented to an audience long ago like it's presented to them today. The murder trial is a super event that keeps the plot going. My students love this part of the story! Some even enjoy the romantic bantering between Tom and Becky as this is becoming more relevant to them as well.
Students will analyze and explore main characters: Tom, Becky, Huck, Injun Joe, Muff Potter, and Aunt Polly. Students will make connections between the setting and ideas in the novel to the real St. Petersburg, Missouri, back in the mid-1800s. Students will evaluate the idea of social exclusion, as it relates to Tom, Huck, Injun Joe, and Muff Potter.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Set Up and Prepare
Allow students time to finish the novel, perhaps a month. Research Mark Twain, his life and his beliefs. Twain does a superior job in entertaining the reader with this novel, but is this really his purpose in writing the story? Discuss "sarcasm" and "hypocrisy." Ask the students to find examples of these terms in the novel while reading.
Have the students work in small groups to complete 4 character charts, one for each of the following characters: Tom, Huck, Muff Potter, Injun Joe. After describing each character, have the students compare them. Are any accepted by society? Why or why not? What does each character have to do to be accepted? Ask the students to explore the social issues that each character brings to the novel, especially how Huck is free to do things that Tom wants to do but can't because of Aunt Polly. Also be sure to mention the society's problem with Muff's drinking and Injun Joe's race. Ask students to explore, maybe in small groups first then through a whole group discussion, how these issues still exclude people in today's world.
Supporting All Learners
Many readers are concerned with the use of the "n" word in this novel. There are other words in the English language that have taken on an altered meaning and level of seriousness within the last century, and I try to use a few of those as an example to the students that Mark Twain meant no harm. Now, in today's context, if I were to read aloud a passage, I would skip over the word as it's more offensive than a curse word. Depending on your teaching situation, you may need to notify parents or administration that you are going to handle the vocabulary in a sensitive way with the students. However, the fact that the word is in the novel helps introduce some of the exclusion themes and how people are treated in the story.
A great writing activity can be inspired from the part of the novel where the boys attend their own funeral. Have students write their own obituary, exploring long-term goals that each might have. Also, kids could write their own spells modeled after the ones said in the graveyard. All this writing could make a neat Halloween display.
Show students where Mark Twain really lived.
The Mark Twain Museum has some great links
Have the students pick one of Tom's adventures. Ask them to rewrite the mishap in a modern context. For example, after playing hooky and messing up his clothes, instead of whitewashing a fence, the students can have him come up with another punishment and modernize the gifts the kids give Tom to play along. Encourage them to be creative and to work towards publishing their new adventure.