Tell-Tale Heart Lesson Plans: Teach the Suspense, Literary Devices and Summary

Tell-Tale Heart Lesson Plans: Teach the Suspense, Literary Devices and Summary
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Suspense in Classroom

True!–nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been. Student teaching had sharpened my senses. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the lunch room and in the classroom. I heard Mr. Fireme, the principal, was headed to my room for an observation. It was time to break out my Tell-Tale Heart lesson plans and review the story.

Most of all I had to rid myself of Jimmy Badgerteach. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. One of his eyes, however, resembled that of a vulture. I made up my mind to send Jimmy to the Dean and rid myself of the eye for the entire period so I could unleash my Tell-Tale Heart lesson plans.

Write a Review of the Story

Teaching this short story does not have to be done in a vacuum. Use Poe’s short story to teach writing and analysis as well. Instruct each student do the following after reading the story:

  1. Write a brief summary, 100-200 words.
  2. Write a brief explanation of literary devices,150-200 words.
  3. List 3 or 4 Tell-Tale Heart lesson ideas in a bulleted list.
  4. Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.

A Quick Book Summary (5 out of 5)

The story begins with the narrator attempting to convince us he is not insane. He follows his declaration of sanity by telling us he hears voices in hell and that he killed an old man because of his eye. He is extremely nice to the man as the day of the murder approaches. He peers into his room each night and on the eighth night he leaps on the old man and smothers him with a mattress. The narrator then argues once again that he is sane. As evidence he explains how he dismembered the body and hid it under three planks in the floor.

The narrator feels pretty good about himself, even when the police arrive to investigate. He arrogantly sets the chairs on the planks under which the body is buried. He hears the old man’s heart beating, goes crazy, and confesses the crime.

Literary Merit and Devices (5 out of 5)

The following literary devices merit your discussion.

  1. Suspense - Poe creates suspense through the deft use of pacing, dangerous action, and foreshadowing.
  2. Irony - The narrator constantly expresses how he’s not insane, yet his actions indicate otherwise.
  3. Plot - “The Tell-Tale Heart” is the classic short story for Freitag’s Pyramid.
  4. Point of View - This story would be completely different if told from a 3rd person point of view or the point of view of the police officer.
  5. Mood and word choice- Words such as dreadfully, disease, sharpened, acute, mad, hearken, hell, etc in the first paragraph establish the story’s mood and foreshadow its horrific events.

Lesson Ideas While Studying This Great Short Story

  1. Creating suspense in this short story is done through the use of foreshadowing, pacing, and dangerous action. Use this Black Cat lesson plan to help your students analyze suspense in literature.
  2. Creative Writing Assignment - Teach point of view by instructing students to rewrite a scene from the police officer’s point of view or the prison psychiatrist’s point of view.
  3. Word Choice Assignment - (1) Provide a list of vocabulary words from the story with negative connotations. (2) Find synonyms with positive connotations. (3) Rewite the sections with changed words. The third paragraph from the end works well: satisfied, manner, singularly, pale, wished them gone, ached, distinct, definitiveness. Students will struggle at first. Here’s an example from the story’s first paragraph:
    • “True–nervous–really, really unusually nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am unusual? The illness had increased the awareness of my ability to hear, touch, taste, smell, and see–not ruined–not decreased their efficiency.”
  4. Mood Change - Do the above assignment and give a different mood to each student or group.


  • Classroom experience.

This post is part of the series: Edgar Allan Poe Lesson Plans

Feel like burying a hatchet in someone’s head? Has your class begun its descent into the Maelstrom? Does your class resemble the Rue Morgue? Then these lesson plans are for you.

  1. Teaching the Masque of the Red Death: A Teacher’s Guide
  2. “Masque of the Red Death” Lesson Plans: Point of View, Imagery and Symbolism
  3. Two In-Class Projects for Teaching “Masque of the Red Death” in High School
  4. A Teacher’s Guide and Lesson to The Tell-Tale Heart