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The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for The Devil and Tom Walker Include:

The short story “The Devil and Tom Walker” is a dark and eerie tale of a man’s unhealthy obsession that leads him to make a deal with the Devil. Although he believes he can change his fate by repenting his sins, in the end, the devil takes his due.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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A Quick Synopsis of “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving

The Devil and Tom Walker Summary: Tom Walker and his wife are miserly and bitter towards each others. The couple even goes as far as hiding money from each other. One day Tom takes a shortcut through a swamp to get home. While resting his staff hits a something on the ground. As Tom unearths it, he realizes it is a skull with an Indian tomahawk cutting it down the middle. A gruff voice says, “Let that skull alone!” Perplexed that someone could approach without his knowledge, he asks the man's identity. Tom soon finds out that he is speaking with the Devil himself.

The Devil takes a liking to Tom, and tells him about a buried treasure he may have if he agrees to make a pact with him. Reluctant, Tom returns home to consult his wife on the matter. After speaking with her, he finds himself disinclined to agree with her, especially since she was urging him to bargain away his soul.

Upset with her husband, Tom's wife leaves the house with all their possessions to make a pact with “Old Scratch” herself. Three days pass, and Tom leaves to find her. When he ventures to the swamp, he sees her apron hanging in a tree. However, all that is left inside is a heart and a liver. Indifferent to his wife's apparent death, Tom seeks out the Devil and agrees to the pact. As part of the conditions, Tom is required to used the pirate gold for nefarious business. After much debate, he agrees to start a business as a usurer, a moneylender.

Years go buy, and Tom has been made wealthy by squeezing the money out of his debtors. As time progress, he begins to feel choked by the bargain he struck. Worrying about the quality of his next life, he begins fervently attending church and repenting his sins. He seems very devout, even reading his Bible between business transactions.

One day, a debtor came to plead with Tom not to foreclose on his land, crying that he would be forced on the church, reasoning that Tom has made his money off of him. Tom replies: “The Devil take me if I have made a farthing!" There are three loud knocks at the door. Tom realizes he has left his Bible on his desk, and he is carried off by the Devil and they disappear in a flash of lightning.


Essential Questions for “The Devil and Tom Walker”

  1. How far would you go, or what price would you pay, to achieve what you want?
  2. What are some things in life that you cannot take back?
  3. How do good authors use suspense and imagery in their writing?

The Devil and Tom Walker Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | "The Devil and Tom Walker" Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example “The Devil and Tom Walker” Plot Diagram

Exposition

Tom Walker and his wife are described as miserly and bitter towards each others. The couple even goes as far as hiding money from each other.


Major Inciting Conflict

Tom Walker is approached by the Devil to make a deal with him. He offers Tom pirate treasure, buried nearby; this will make him very wealthy.


Rising Action

Tom goes home to think about the deal. His wife urges him to do it, and he spites her by refusing. She goes into the woods herself to take the deal and doesn't return. With his wife gone, Tom revisits the Devil's pact and becomes a usurer in Boston.


Climax

Tom becomes very wealthy, but begins to worry about his soul. He regrets the deal and tries to repent by reading the Bible and attending church, but he remains in his nefarious business. While Tom argues with a debtor, there come three loud knocks at his door!


Falling Action

The devil arrives to collect his due: Tom's soul.


Resolution

The people of Boston appointed a board to oversee Tom's estate. However, when they looked for all the money he had made, there was nothing left. Legend remains that to this day, the black horse and a figure in a white cap can be seen on the marsh, "which is doubtless the troubled spirit of the usurer."


The Devil and Tom Walker Summary - Plot Diagram

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of "The Devil and Tom Walker".


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



Story Outline Storyboard Template

Example

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Key Vocabulary in "The Devil and Tom Walker"


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that uses vocabulary from “The Devil and Tom Walker”. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the short story and an example of a visual vocabulary board.


Vocabulary Words From “The Devil and Tom Walker”

  • miser
  • incantations
  • usurer
  • terminate
  • precarious
  • prevalent
  • morass
  • articulate
  • deliverance
  • termagant
  • forlorn
  • askance
  • quagmire
  • extort
  • parsimony
  • deluge
  • propitiate
  • swarthy
  • obstinate
  • delve
  • freebooter
  • avarice
  • repose

In the vocabulary board students can choose between coming up with their use of the vocabulary board, finding the specific example from the text, or depicting it without words.

The Devil and Tom Walker Vocabulary

Example

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in "The Devil and Tom Walker" by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



Vocabulary Template Blank

Example

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TWIST in "The Devil and Tom Walker"


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that asks your students to find Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, and Theme. This activity is called a TWIST (an acronym for the literary elements). In a TWIST, students focus on a particular paragraph, or few pages, to look deeper at the author’s meaning.



Using any paragraph of “The Devil and Tom Walker” students can examine, depict, explain, and predict what will happen in the story while getting a good idea of the tone of the story.

TWIST Example for “The Devil and Tom Walker”

“Let that skull alone!” said a gruff voice. Tom lifted up his eyes, and beheld a great black man seated directly opposite him, on the stump of a tree. He was exceedingly surprised, having neither heard nor seen anyone approach; and he was still more perplexed on observing, as well as the gathering gloom would permit, that the stranger was neither Negro nor Indian. It is true he was dressed in a rude half-Indian garb, and had a red belt or sash swathed round his body; but his face was neither black nor copper-color, but swarthy and dingy, and begrimed with soot, as if he had been accustomed to toil among fires and forges. He had a shock of coarse black hair, that stood out from his head in all directions, and bore an ax on his shoulder. He scowled for a moment at Tom with a pair of great red eyes.

Washington Irving The Devil and Tom Walker
T

TONE

Surprised, Perplexed, Observing: Tom is startled because he is alone in the woods and was not expecting to see anyone, especially someone so uncommon looking.
W

WORD CHOICE

Gruff, Gloom, Not Seen, Black, Stranger, Dingy, Begrimed, Soot, Shock.
I

IMAGERY

“...he was dressed in a rude half-Indian garb, and had a red belt or sash swathed round his body; but his face was neither black nor copper-color, but swarthy and dingy...”
S

STYLE

The narrator uses particular imagery and description to illustrate the stranger to the audience.
T

THEME

The narrator speaks of the stranger as an apparition and places a grisly familiarity to the figure who is the devil. Knowing Tom's miserly ways and his encounter with this figure, the reader can infer that Tom will sell his soul to the Devil for wealth.

The Devil and Tom Walker TWIST

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Perform a TWIST analysis of a selection from "The Devil and Tom Walker". Remember that TWIST stands for Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, Theme.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TWIST.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.



TWIST Template

Example

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Character Evolution in "The Devil and Tom Walker"

Characters are an essential part of any story. Characters drive plot forward and help create and resolve conflicts. Characters are also the main reason a story exists. However, as a story is told, characters often change or evolve with the plot. Whether being hit by forces outside their control or due to figurative internal battles, many of a character's attributes are a result of the events that occur.

For students, it is important to track the evolution of a character so that they can fully understand what effects and influences can change a person. Using the character evolution lesson plan below, engage your students with a character evolution map!

Using Tom Walker, ask students to compare his traits before and after he makes his deal with the Devil. Students can track his beliefs, they way he acts, and what he says to illustrate their understanding.

As Tom gets older, he begins to worry about his actions, but does he actually change? Support your opinion with examples from the text.

The Devil and Tom Walker Character Evolution

Example

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Literary Elements in "The Devil and Tom Walker"


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Many short stories and screenplays are rich in figurative language and literary elements. These are used to enhance the symbols, motifs, and themes within the plot. “The Devil and Tom Walker” is no exception. The uses of simile, metaphor, personification, and onomatopoeia are abundant.

A great lesson plan, after reading the story, is for students to create a scavenger hunt using the storyboard creator. Give them a list of figurative language to find, and have them create a storyboard that depicts and explains the use of each literary element in the story! They will have an absolute blast and master the words by the end.


Elements of Figurative Language - Motifs of Greed and Devilish Behavior!

DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE
Metaphor An implied comparison between two things “Tom looked in the direction that the stranger pointed, and beheld one of the great trees, fair and flourishing without, but rotten at the core, and saw that it had been nearly hewn through, so that the first high wind was likely to blow it down. ”
Imagery The use of descriptive or figurative language to create vivid mental imagery that appeals to the senses "...he had his horse new shod, saddled and bridled, and buried with his feet uppermost; because he supposed that at the last day the world would be turned upside down..."
Allusion Brief and indirect reference to well-known person, place, thing or idea, usually of historical, cultural or literary significance "It was announced in the papers with the usual flourish that ‘a great man had fallen in Israel.’"
Simile A comparison using 'like' or 'as' "A miserable horse, whose ribs were as articulate as the bars of a gridiron, stalked about a field..."
Irony The contrast between what expected and what actually happens. "The Devil take me," said he, "if I have made a farthing!"
Personification Giving human-like characteristics to non-human objects or abstract ideas "...the stranger was neither Negro nor Indian...dressed in a rude half-Indian garb... a shock of coarse black hair, that stood out from his head in all directions, and bore an ax on his shoulder."

The Devil and Tom Walker Literary Elements

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows five examples of literary elements in "The Devil and Tom Walker".


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify use of literary elements in the text.
  3. Put the type of literary element in the title box.
  4. Give an example from the text in the description box.
  5. Illustrate the example using using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.



Literary Element Spider Map Template

Example

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Other Lesson Plans & Ideas

  1. Use storyboards that show specific cause and effects of events in the story.
  2. By just depicting the rising action, create a storyboard demonstrating how the author built suspense.
  3. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.

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Prefer a different language?

•   (English) The Devil and Tom Walker   •   (Español) El Diablo y Tom Walker   •   (Français) Le Diable et Tom Walker   •   (Deutsch) Der Teufel und Tom Walker   •   (Italiana) Il Diavolo e Tom Walker   •   (Nederlands) De Duivel en Tom Walker   •   (Português) O Diabo e Tom Walker   •   (עברית) השטן וטום ווקר   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الشيطان وتوم ووكر   •   (हिन्दी) शैतान और टॉम वाकर