The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

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

The Purloined Letter Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Purloined Letter Include:

The short story “The Purloined Letter” is one of the first modern detective stories. It pits the cunning detective, Dupin, against a bafflingly elegant puzzle. Poe’s early “tales of ratiocination” laid the groundwork for later fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Nancy Drew.

The Purloined Letter Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | "The Purloined Letter" Summary

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

Students can create a storyboard that captures the concept of the narrative arc in a story by creating a six-cell storyboard which contains the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell have students create a scene that follows the story in a sequence using Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Plot Diagram Example of “The Purloined Letter”


The Prefect of the Paris police goes to see C. August Dupin, a private investigator who recently helped him solve “The Murders of Rue Morgue”. His new case is about a stolen letter!

Major Inciting Conflict

A letter was stolen from a powerful lady; the main suspect is Minister D, a man with whom Dupin has bad blood.

Rising Action

The Prefect searches the minister's apartment and comes up empty. When he returns to see Dupin, the private eye gives the prefect the letter.


Dupin explains how he was able to think like the thief and recover the letter.

Falling Action

Dupin supplanted the letter with an identical one, which reads, “So baneful a scheme, if not worthy of Atreus, is worthy of Thyestes.”


Dupin is able to solve the case and get revenge for a wrong committed against him by the minister.

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

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of "The Purloined Letter".

  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.

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

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"The Purloined Letter" | Elements of Detective Fiction

Most genres of literature typically follow a pattern. Whether looking at romance, drama, or detective fiction, each category will have elements in common. Looking at most detective fiction, for example, will prove this; the reader will see that there are certain universal elements throughout the genre.

A great lesson plan, after reading the story, is for students to complete a scavenger hunt using the storyboard creator. Give them a list of common archetypes in detective fiction 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 genre by the end. Check out this example below:

Elements of Detective Fiction

  • A seemingly perfect crime to be solved
  • A complex plot filled with suspects towards whom circumstantial evidence points
  • Bungling or dim-witted police
  • Great powers of perception & observation by the detective
  • A startling and unexpected resolution in which the detective reveals how he/she has realized the identity of the perpetrator
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"The Purloined Letter" Vocabulary Activities

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

Example Vocabulary Words from “The Purloined Letter”

  • prefect
  • purloined
  • snuffbox
  • infer
  • exalted
  • ransack
  • rigorous
  • bestow
  • explicit
  • susceptibility
  • illustrious
  • astute
  • prodigious
  • egregious
  • fathom
  • promulgation
  • palpable
  • commensurate
  • ennui

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

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

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in "The Purloined Letter" 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.

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

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A Synopsis of “The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe

The story begins in the home office of private investigator C. Auguste Dupin, while he and his friend, an unnamed narrator, entertain the Prefect of the Paris Police, Monsieur G. The Prefect has come to Dupin again in need of help. Monsieur G has a case which he cannot solve, involving a purloined (stolen) letter. Without hesitation, Dupin is able to tell the Prefect exactly where the letter is, solely based on the description of the case.

According to the Prefect, a young lady (it is implied she is royalty) was in possession of a letter which contained damaging information. As she read it in her suite, an “exalted personage” from whom she wished to hide the letter, and a certain “Minister D”, entered the room. While the letter almost went unnoticed, Minister D saw it and discerned that it contained damning information. The minister switched the letter with a similar one of no consequence, and has since been blackmailing her.

At the direction of this powerful lady, Monsieur G has repeatedly searched every inch of the Minister’s house and office, with no results. Without hesitation Dupin tells the Prefect that the letter is indeed still in the minister's apartment. With a large reward at stake for its return, the Prefect leaves Dupin to go search again. After a month the Prefect returns to Dupin’s and says he cannot find the letter. At which point Dupin produces the letter and explains how he retrieved it.

Knowing the minister, Dupin placed himself in the minister's shoes. He knew that he would keep it close to him and that he was intelligent to know where the police would look for it. Therefore, he hid it in plain sight, slightly disguised as a letter of his own. Dupin then went to speak with the minister, purposely leaving behind his tobacco box, so that he could return. When he did, he had arranged a commotion outside the minister’s window at the same time, so that he could swipe the letter and replace it with another, much like the minister did.

Essential Questions for “The Purloined Letter”

  1. What are ways that an author can build suspense?
  2. What are the qualities that make a good detective?
  3. How does Poe's use of setting, symbolism, personification, and simile impact the story overall?

Don’t Let the Fun Stop There! Check Out Our Other Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. By using a storyboard that just depicts the rising action, have students demonstrate how Poe built suspense.
  2. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.

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•   (English) The Purloined Letter   •   (Español) La Carta Robada   •   (Français) La Lettre Volée   •   (Deutsch) Der Gerissene Brief   •   (Italiana) La Lettera Rubata   •   (Nederlands) De Gestolen Letter   •   (Português) A Carta Roubada   •   (עברית) המכתב הפראי   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الرسالة بورلويند   •   (हिन्दी) पर्ललाइन पत्र   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Зачеркнутое Письмо   •   (Dansk) Den Purloined Letter   •   (Svenska) Den Purloined Letter   •   (Suomi) Varastettu Letter   •   (Norsk) Den Purloined Letter   •   (Türkçe) Purloined Mektubu   •   (Polski) Purloined Letter   •   (Româna) Scrisoarea Sustrasem   •   (Ceština) Odcizený Dopis   •   (Slovenský) Purpurovaný List   •   (Magyar) Az Ellopott Levél   •   (Hrvatski) Purloined Letter   •   (български) Пурпурното Писмо   •   (Lietuvos) Purloined Laiškas   •   (Slovenščina) Purloined Pismo   •   (Latvijas) Purloined Vēstule   •   (eesti) Purloined Kiri