The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst

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 Scarlet Ibis Include:

“The Scarlet Ibis” is a touching story, full of symbolism and meaning. It is told through the narrator’s eyes, as he looks back on his childhood, and the remarkable life of his younger brother, Doodle. It is a story of two brothers, and how the pride of one person can be an incredible and destructive force.

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

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“The Scarlet Ibis” Summary

In the story, the narrator recalls the life of his remarkable brother, Doodle. Set in the South in the early 1900s, a young boy named William Armstrong is born. From the beginning, the doctors did not believe he would survive; he suffered from a small heart, among other birth defects, leaving him physically weak. However, when he smiled at his brother, and eventually learned to crawl, the family was given hope that "Doodle" might be okay.

As Doodle got older, he still could not walk, so his older brother pulled him around in a little cart. At times, the narrator was cruel to Doodle, as he was ashamed and embarrassed to have a little brother who was different. Although, the narrator becomes fond of his brother, he is still embarrassed Doodle was crippled so he decided to teach him to walk. After months of practice, Doodle and his brother demonstrated his new ability to his parents who were overjoyed. From that day forward the narrator works Doodle doggedly to teach him more strenuous activities such as swimming, running, fighting, and climbing. Throughout this process the narrator states his pride as being the motivator; it was his pride that would not let Doodle go to school being different. As the summer neared its end, Doodle had only made a small amount of progress, but his brother's pride was too great to let him concede.

One afternoon the family heard a strange noise in the yard, and Doodle rushed outside to find a rare scarlet ibis perched in the bleeding tree, having been blown off course by a storm. The bird eventually fell from the tree and died. For some reason, Doodle had a profound connection with the bird, and was intent on burying it. The next day, the boys went for their daily exercise lessons, but Doodle was too weak to practice. As they boys headed home in the midst of another storm, Doodle fell behind and called out for his brother not to leave him. Stung by his pride and selfishness, the narrator ran faster, leaving Doodle to catch up. After a moment he turned back, only to find Doodle beside a bush, dead, bloody, and in a position that resembled the fallen scarlet ibis.

Essential Questions for “The Scarlet Ibis”

  1. In what ways do we allow our feelings to affect others?
  2. Have you ever been ashamed of one of your family members? Is it okay to feel that way?
  3. What are some attributes that can be positive and negative in a person, and why?

The Scarlet Ibis Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Scarlet Ibis Summary

Copy Assignment

A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a novel. 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 novel 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 Scarlet Ibis" Plot Diagram


The setting is in a southern US state, on a small plantation where the narrator and his new baby brother live.

Major Inciting Conflict

The narrator's little brother, Doodle, is born with disabilities and health conditions. The narrator is unable to accept his brother's physical challenges.

Rising Action

Once the narrator realizes he is ‘stuck’ with Doodle, his pride convinces him to teach Doodle to be “normal”. Once he successfully teaches Doodle to walk, he believes it is possible to teach Doodle other things, and pushes him harder. One day during the summer, the family finds a scarlet ibis that dies in their yard. Doodle for develops a connection with this bird and wants it buried.


On the last day of training, Doodle shows that he is too weak to continue training. The narrator is upset, and as they decide to go home, a thunderstorm rolls in. The narrator begins running home, Doodle, however, cannot keep up and calls out, “Brother, don’t leave me.”

Falling Action

The narrator turns to go back to his brother, and finds him dead under a bush, in a similar position to the ibis.


The narrator recalls how his selfish pride killed Doodle.

The Scarlet Ibis Plot Diagram


(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 Scarlet Ibis.

  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


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

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TWIST it up with "The Scarlet Ibis"

Copy Assignment

Another great way to engage your students, is through the creation of storyboards that examine Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, and Theme. This activity is referred to with the acronym “TWIST”. In a TWIST, students focus on a particular paragraph or few pages, to look deeper at the author’s meaning.

Using the first paragraph of “The Scarlet Ibis”, students can depict, explain, and foreshadow what will happen in the story, while getting a good idea of the author's voice.

TWIST Example for “The Scarlet Ibis”

It was in the clove of seasons; summer was dead, but autumn had not yet been born, that the ibis lit in the bleeding tree. The flower garden was strained with rotting brown magnolia petals and ironweeds grew rank amid the purple phlox. The five o'clocks by the chimney still marked time, but the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle. The last graveyard flowers were blooming, and their smell drifted across the cotton field and through every room of our house, speaking softly the names of our dead.



Grief: Memories of those who have died, perhaps a child.


dead, not born, bleeding, stained, rotting, brown, ironweeds, rank, untenanted, empty cradle, graveyard, drifted, dead


“…the oriole nest in the elm was untenanted and rocked back and forth like an empty cradle.” This image of an empty nest, suggests a missing child.


The author uses foreshadowing in the following lines: “summer was dead, but autumn was not yet born”; “…last graveyard flowers were blooming”; “speaking softly the names of our dead”.


The narrator speaks in a past tense, using words and imagery that sound like the theme could be the passing or memory of a loved one.

The Scarlet Ibis TWIST


(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 Scarlet Ibis". 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


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

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Using Quotes to Find “The Scarlet Ibis” Themes and Symbolism

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Valuable aspects of any literary work are its themes, symbols, and motifs. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to grasp without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.

“The Scarlet Ibis” Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For & Discuss


The theme of pride is related through the narrator's dialogue. Some important passages are: “There is within me (and with sadness I have watched it in others) a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love much as our blood sometimes bears the seed of our destruction…”; “All of us must have something to be proud of”; “Pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life, and death.” These phrases shows the reader how pride is double edged. It teaches Doodle to walk for the narrator's selfish reasons, but it is also the indirect cause of Doodle's death.

The Scarlet Ibis

A symbol stands in for something else. In this story, the scarlet ibis represents Doodle. Like the ibis, Doodle was born and maintained a reddish hue. The color red is a universal symbol that can mean anger, love, danger, or warning. In the story, the color represents a warning of the death that will come.

The death of the bird and the death of Doodle mirror each other: the bird’s legs and neck are positioned like Doodle's body; they are both found underneath a tree or bush that references red in its name; both are lost in a storm.

The ibis also symbolizes rarity; it had traveled a long way, it was out of its element, and it was not meant to survive, much like Doodle. When Doodle fervently buries the bird, the imagery suggested that Doodle has a deep connection with the bird. Its rarity, coupled with the color red, suggests that their fates were connected.

The Scarlet Ibis Symbolism & Themes


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

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “The Scarlet Ibis”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “The Scarlet Ibis” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

Template: Theme


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

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•   (English) The Scarlet Ibis   •   (Español) El Ibis Escarlata   •   (Français) L'Ibis Scarlet   •   (Deutsch) Der Scharlachrote Ibis   •   (Italiana) La Scarlet Ibis   •   (Nederlands) The Scarlet Ibis   •   (Português) O Ibis Escarlate   •   (עברית) The Scarlet Ibis   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) وأبو منجل القرمزي   •   (हिन्दी) लाल रंग की पक्षी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Scarlet Ibis   •   (Dansk) The Scarlet Ibis   •   (Svenska) Scarlet Ibis   •   (Suomi) Scarlet Ibis   •   (Norsk) The Scarlet Ibis   •   (Türkçe) Scarlet Ibis   •   (Polski) Szkarłatny Ibis   •   (Româna) Scarlet Ibis   •   (Ceština) The Scarlet Ibis