The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Lesson Plans

Mark Twain’s classic story of a mischievous small-town boy, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has entertained readers for nearly 150 years. Though set in a bygone era, Tom’s desires for fun and freedom still resonate with young readers today. Twain’s witty prose and the story’s exciting climax help explain why this novel remains a staple in today’s classrooms.

Student Activities for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Essential Questions for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

  1. How does Twain portray adults in the novel? Do you think he is accurate?
  2. What social institutions does Twain criticize in the novel?
  3. How does Tom mature throughout the novel?
  4. Is Tom “bad” or “good”? How does your opinion compare with the opinion of the St. Petersburg community?
  5. In what ways can society’s expectations both help and hurt people?

Short Summary of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Although published in 1876, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is set before the Civil War, sometime in the 1840s. While Twain certainly does not view this period as faultless, he depicts boyhood in this simpler time with an idyllic sort of freedom. Tom Sawyer lives in a rural community with easy access to woods, water, and caves - the perfect ingredients for an adventure. No factories, railroads, or mail-order-catalogues sully the quiet pleasures of the St. Petersburg community, a place where an old doorknob is enchanting enough to win the heart of the prettiest girl in school. The country setting also provides an ideal locale for Twain to showcase his criticism of the ignorance and hypocrisy of small-town America.

Twain’s social criticism makes his novel a satire, a form of writing that uses humor to criticize something. At various points, Twain employs hyperbole, understatement, irony, and comic juxtaposition to build humor. The result of these comic episodes is often a subtle critique of respected social institutions, including church communities, schools, temperance societies, and the courtroom. Younger students often struggle to pick up on this humor. Providing them with background on the characteristics of satire may help them more readily recognize this device in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

More Activity Ideas for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

  1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a classic example of a Bildungsroman novel. Have students keep track of the different elements of Bildungsroman literature through storyboarding! Students can create a storyboard chart with illustrations and descriptions of each Bildungsroman stage.

  2. Create a storyboard to depict one chapter or section at a time.

  3. Create a storyboard that shows precise causes and effects of events.

  4. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.

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