“The Tell-Tale Heart” Lesson Plans, Summary, and Analysis

The following manuscript was discovered in the files of Usher High School.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain.  I loved the old man.  He had never wronged me.  He had always given me great lesson plans for “The Tell-Tale Heart” and other short stories.  For his “Tell-Tale Heart” lesson plans or “Tell-Tale Heart” summary I had no desire.  I think it was his eye!  Yes, it was this!  He had the eye of a bird, a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it.  Whenever it fell on me, my blood ran cold; and so — very slowly — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and free myself of the eye forever and now that I think about it, I will steal the old vulture-eye’s “Tell-Tale Heart” lesson plans.

The manuscript suddenly ends but attached to it were these “Tell-Tale Heart” lesson plans, summary, and analysis.

Summary of “The Tell Tale Heart”

Don't get buried under floor boards of stress trying to come up with a great "Tell-Tale Heart" unit. I made one with common-core aligned lesson plans, graphic organizers with answer keys, common core aligned rubrics, a quiz, everything you see on this page, and my charm and wit. All for only $4.95.

Don’t get buried under floor boards of stress trying to come up with a great “Tell-Tale Heart” unit plan. This one has common-core aligned lesson plans, graphic organizers with answer keys, common core aligned essay rubrics, a quiz, everything you see on this page, and my charm and wit. This unit is made by real teachers, not a bunch of publishing company suits sitting in a hotel room pretending to be teachers.

The story begins with the narrator telling us he’s not mad. He’s in denial because he immediately tells us he hears voices from The Underworld.

He then mentions why he kills this old man. It’s not because he wants the old man’s money or because he dislikes the old man. It’s because of the old man’s eye.

The narrator peers into the old man’s room for seven consecutive nights but is unable to complete the murder because the old man’s eye is shut. On the eighth night, the eye is open. Adding to the horror of the narrator is the beating of the old man’s heart, which seems abnormally loud. The narrator, unable to hold off any longer smothers the man and kills him.

The narrator insists he’s not mad.

He then relates how he cuts off the man’s head, arms, and legs. He hides the body under the floor boards.

The police arrive. The man calmly sets up chairs directly over the dead body under the floor boards. He sits calmly and the police are satisfied with the narrator’s responses. But the police won’t leave.

The man hears the beating of the man’s heart and starts to pace. Unable to take it any longer, he confesses to the crime.

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If you’re looking to do a Poe Unit but don’t want the suspense of wondering if your lesson plans are Poe-worthy, then check out the Poe bundle, which contains complete teaching units for “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” We also threw in a non-Poe unit plan that captures the essence of Poe, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. You get all 5 units for just $12.95.

“Tell-Tale Heart” Analysis

Here are some items you may wish to discuss as you read or after you read “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

  1. Edgar Allan Poe is a master of suspense. Discuss how he uses foreshadowing, pacing, and dangerous action to create suspense.
  2. The narrator is clearly insane, yet claims he isn’t.
  3. Sensory Details and Imagery. The description of the eye is chilling, but it’s the sound imagery that sets this classic apart.
  4. Sound Devices. Poe uses repetition and other sound devices masterfully to create a suspenseful mood.
  5. The man’s heart and the man’s eye are obvious symbols. Can you identify others?
  6. Point of View. The narrator is obviously unreliable. How would the story be different with a reliable narrator?

Lesson Ideas

  1. Analyzing suspense in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I use this lesson for quite a few stories. It’s best completed with a 4-column chart that includes a column for evidence and a column for each of the three primary methods of creating suspense (pacing, dangerous action, and foreshadowing). Here’s a sample from the teaching guide: Suspense-in “The Tell-Tale Heart”
  2. Point of View Lesson Plan. It’s the insane narrator that makes this tale so chilling…well that and the whole murdering the old man while he sleeps, cutting him up, hiding him under the floor boards, and hearing his heart beat while the police are sitting over the dead man. Imagine the story from a different point of view. You can rewrite the opening from a third-person point of view. It’ll probably sound different and boring.
  3. Imagery and Sound Devices Lesson. Imagery is often associated with sight. Limiting the study of imagery to sight eliminates four entire senses. Poe, in addition to being a master of suspense, is a master of sound devices. It’s time for a chart.
  4. Symbolism in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Symbols include the eye, the heart, the watch, the lantern and the bedroom. I don’t pretend I don’t love charts, because I do. Charts and graphic organizers help students think critically and analyze. They also make great pre-writing for literary analysis and other writing assignments. Teach symbolism with a chart. Identify the symbol in one column and analyze it in another column.
  5. Themes in “The TellTale Heart.” Themes in the Tell-Tale Heart involve versions of reality, cleverness and deceit, the home, mortality, and time. This is a simple assignment: (1) List themes in “The Tell-Tale Heart”; (2) Find specific evidence in the story to support each theme; (3) Write a theme analysis using the collected evidence.
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