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The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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

Student Activities for The Fall of the House of Usher Include:

Continuing his tradition of the creepy, weird, and Gothic style, Edgar Allan Poe does not disappoint in this short story about a strange family who finds its end in the most macabre of ways. Likely, the "fall" the title is referring to is both the actual structure of the Usher family’s house, and the fall of the Usher family itself, as both heirs die and end the family name. For those looking for the quintessential Gothic tale, "The Fall of the House of Usher" highlights many important Gothic features, especially in the description of the house itself. The fact that the house, Roderick, and Madeline all seem to be affected by this crumbling, diseased-like atmosphere paints a bleak and supernatural picture that some have argued mirror the human psyche. Similar to other popular Poe tales, he uses Roderick Usher to explore his common themes of terror, death, and the fragility of the human mind.

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




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Essential Questions for "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe

  1. How are elements of Gothic literature reflected in characters and setting?
  2. How can fear paralyze a person’s mind?
  3. What kind of mood can language and setting create?

The Fall of the House of Usher Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | "The Fall of the House of Usher" 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 Fall of the House of Usher" Plot Diagram

Exposition

The narrator arrives by horseback at the House of Usher. Roderick Usher wrote a letter to the narrator to come and visit him for a short time to help him overcome an agitation of his soul that he has been experiencing. The narrator observes that house seems sickly, and Usher himself is pale and sickly. The state of the house seems to be coinciding with the state of Roderick Usher.


Conflict

Usher reveals that his twin sister Madeline is dying. She passes a few weeks later, and Usher decides to keep her body in a vault in one of the walls while he makes plans for her burial. He also wants to protect her from being studied by the doctors. The narrator notices that Madeline’s cheeks and chest are still flushed. Usher’s appearance and demeanor worsen after Madeline’s death.


Rising Action

Shortly after Madeline was placed in the vault, the narrator begins to hear strange noises in the house. One night, in the middle of a terrible storm, Usher comes to the narrator’s bed chamber and they open the window to a terrifying atmosphere with low-hanging clouds and fog that surround the house. The narrator begins to read to Usher to calm him down.


Climax

As the narrator reads through the story, the sounds he describes in the story begin to echo in the house. When he reaches the point where Ethelred, the hero, slays the dragon, there is a scream in the house. Usher tips over his chair and begins rocking back and forth. Usher whispers that he’s been hearing sounds from his sister’s coffin and he fears he might have buried her alive. The door flies open, and Madeline is standing there, covered in blood.


Falling Action

Madeline leaps upon Roderick and dies. Roderick also dies, likely from shock and fear. The narrator flees the house.


Resolution

As the narrator watches, he sees the house collapse and disappear into the ethereal fog and waters. Eventually, the house is completely gone.

The Fall of the House of Usher Summary

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of "The Fall of the House of Usher".


  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.



Plot Diagram Template

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Using OSCAR for "The Fall of the House of Usher"


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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

For this character map, try using "OSCAR" so that students can analyze multiple aspects of a character. OSCAR is an acronym for:

OSCAR Example for Roderick Usher

DEFINITION EXAMPLE
O
Other Character's Comments

What do other characters say about the character?
"Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual."
S
Speech

What does the character say about others or themselves? How can we infer meaning and traits from what a character says?
"In this unnerved, in this pitiable, condition, I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR."
C
Physical Characteristics

What does the character look like? What descriptive words are used to describe them?
"We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher!"
A
Author's Attitude

How does the author feel about this character?
The narrator mentions that Usher is convinced that his family mansion had obtained a "dint of long sufferance" over his spirit.
R
Reader's Reaction

How do you, as the reader, feel about the character?
The way that Usher is described is creepy, and weird. He thinks his house is making him sick, and he seems oddly connected to his sister.

The other character you can use this map with is the narrator. While Madeline never speaks, utilize the concepts of direct and indirect characterization with your students to decide what kind of character she is. Your students will have a lot of fun imagining what she looks like before and after her temporary entombment!


OSCAR Character Map for The Fall of the House of Usher

Example

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


Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.


  1. Identify the major characters in "The Fall of the House of Usher" and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a Storyboard That character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for OSCAR: Other Character's Comments, Character's Speech, Physical Characteristics, Author's Attitude, and Reader's Reaction.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.


OSCAR - TEMPLATE

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Analyzing Theme Activity "The Fall of the House of Usher"

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes and Ideas to Discuss

Terror

One theme found in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is terror. The terror arises not only on the part of the reader through the creepiness of the setting, the state of Usher, and the ghastly sounds coming from the vaults; it also comes from Usher’s realization that he probably buried his sister alive. As she appears in the doorway in the middle of a horrific storm, covered in blood and in her final gasps, the narrator, now terrified by what he has just witnessed, runs outside only to see the entire house break and fall into the tarn. The fact that his friend and his sister are dead are bad enough; the house is clearly connected to them and they to the house, and once this connection is broken, the narrator bears witness to its utter destruction.


Death

Another theme found in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is death, a popular theme found in many of Poe’s works. Poe first explores an almost Romeo and Juliet-like moment when the narrator notices that Madeline is still flushed in death. This is a glaring hint for readers that Madeline might not, indeed, be dead, and that there may be consequences for burying her alive. Indeed, she escape, and uses her last bits of strength to find her brother and fall onto him. The sight of his sister, along with the weeks of emotional and mental unrest connected with her illness and the house, cause Usher to die as well. The house, connected to the last vestige of the Usher family, dies too, breaking down the crack on the exterior wall and falling into the tarn.


The Fragility of the Human Mind

An additional theme found in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is the fragility of the human mind. Many have posited that this story reflects the interconnectedness of the human mind with the environment around it. Roderick, Madeline, and the family house all seem to have a connection with each other. As one gets more ill (Madeline), the others fall into similar states of disrepair. The human mind is also often affected by the people and settings around it. Other people and places have an impact on the mind’s mood, interpretations, and emotions. It often does not take much to crack, much like the crack that has appeared in outside wall of the House of Usher. Poe once said that his poem, "The Haunted Palace" that Roderick sings was meant to imply, "a mind haunted by phantoms - a disordered brain."


Motifs & Symbols to Look For

The Crack in the House

An important symbol in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is the crack in the exterior wall that the narrator notices upon his arrival at the house. This is often said to represent the crack in the foundation of the Usher family, which will come when death officially separates the twin heirs. The crack is what splits the entire house apart after their deaths, and what brings the house itself crumbling down into the tarn. The fall of the actual house is also the end of the Usher family line.


The Usher House

Another important symbol in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is the house itself. The mansion is in a state of gloom. The windows resemble vacant eyes; the landscape is decaying; the whole scene gives the narrator a feeling of dread. The House reflects the imminent death of Madeline from a mysterious malady, and the state of her brother Roderick, who knows he is going to lose his twin sister and the last connection to their family.


"The Haunted Palace" Poem

An additional symbol in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is the poem that Roderick Usher has written, titled "The Haunted Palace." In this poem, Usher recounts a king who once lived in a "fair and stately palace." Eventually, however, "evil things" assailed the estate, destroying it and the king, leaving only phantoms of happiness behind. Much like Roderick, his family, and the mansion were once proud and among the living, but they are being taken over now by the evil forces of death.


The Fall of the House of Usher Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Example

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Vocabulary Activities for "The Fall of the House of Usher"


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from "The Fall of the House of Usher." Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the story, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Example Vocabulary Words from "The Fall of the House of Usher"

  • sublime
  • tarn
  • arabesque
  • cataleptical
  • invalid
  • pervade
  • melancholy
  • manifest
  • dilapidated
  • insufferable
  • lapse
  • goad
  • grapple
  • annihilate
  • sojourn

Vocabulary in The Fall of the House of Usher

Example

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in "The Fall of the House of Usher" 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

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Focusing on Gothic Style

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is a classic example of Gothic style. Get your students familiar with the Gothic style of writing and architecture first!

Gothic Writing

Setting Story is set in a bleak or remote location.

Plot The plot typically involves macabre or violent incidents.

Characters Characters are usually in a state of psychological or physical torment.

The Supernatural Often an otherworldly element is present and driving the plot.


Gothic Architecture

Tall, Sweeping Structures Very vertical, usually draws the eye upwards, to emphasize grandeur; inside usually features vaulted ceilings
Flying Buttresses Exterior architectural support that was just as ornate as the structure itself
Pointed Arches and Ribbed Vaults Ribbed vaults allowed for more windows, and pointed arches could reach higher while supporting more weight
Ornamentation Stained glass and carefully carved statues were typical features. These included Biblical scenes, figures, and even gargoyles


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Prefer a different language?

•   (English) The Fall of the House of Usher   •   (Español) La Caída de la Casa Usher   •   (Français) La Chute de la Maison D'Usher   •   (Deutsch) Der Untergang des Hauses Usher   •   (Italiana) La Caduta Della Casa Degli Usher   •   (Nederlands) De val van het Huis van Usher   •   (Português) A Queda da Casa de Usher   •   (עברית) נפילתו של בית אשר   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) سقوط بيت أشر