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Activity Overview


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


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Themes

Social Hypocrisy

The book depicts a tug of war between the yearnings of Tom’s boyish heart and the dictates of civilized society. Twain associates civilization with folly and hypocrisy. The authority figures in the novel continually try to force Tom and his mates into their narrow vision of propriety. Many of society’s shows of “civilization” - Sunday School recitations, the school Examination, the funeral - are undercut by their ironic outcomes. The schoolmaster's drunkenness, for example, is "unmasked" during the Examinations, exposing his strict, upstanding persona as fraud.


Freedom vs. Responsibility

Tom spends much of his time trying to escape adult responsibilities. By playing hooky, avoiding chores, and running away to Jackson’s Island, he finds the carefree happiness that his boyish heart craves. While he shirks many of society’s demands, however, he does take responsibility for telling the truth in Potter’s trial and for saving Becky from the cave.



The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Motifs & Symbols

The Whitewashed Fence

Perhaps the most famous symbol in the novel, the whitewashed fence is a reflection of Tom's character. Depressed by the thought of spending his Saturday painting, he cleverly twists the scenario to his advantage and cons his friends into painting for him. The fence thus symbolizes his avoidance of responsibility as well as his sharp wit.


The Treasure

Injun Joe’s treasure is a symbol of excitement, danger, and adventure. The treasure is the real-life embodiment of Tom’s imaginings. He and his friends enjoy playing pirates, robbers, and other dramatic scenarios, which seem childish and unrealistic. In the end, however, the $12,000 treasure is proof that Tom’s games have a basis in reality and that even real life can be an adventure.


Tom’s Sycamore-bark Letter

The sycamore-bark letter Tom writes to Aunt Polly during his absence on Jackson’s Island reveals Tom’s good heart and his love for his family. His clear efforts to write the letter and sneak away from the island to deliver it prove that, underneath it all, Tom truly loves his aunt. Although he does not end up leaving the letter for her to read, its sentiments seem all the more genuine when she finds it in his pocket later.


Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 6-12

Difficulty Level 5 (Advanced / Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual, Partner, or Group

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/6/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/6/4] Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/6/5] Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/4] Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone)
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/9-10/5] Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise


Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)



Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



Rubric

(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)



Themes, Symbols, and Motifs (Grades 9-12)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and/or motifs in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.
Proficient Emerging Beginning Needs Improvement
Identification of Theme(s), Symbol(s), and/or Motif(s)
All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story. Symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story. Motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.
Most themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete. Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or incomplete. Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete.
Most themes are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most symbols are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most motifs are missing, incomplete, or incorrect.
No themes, symbols, or motifs are correctly identified.
Examples and Descriptions
Quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motifs that are being identified. Descriptions mostly accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s), and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are minimal, incorrect, or unrelated to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions contain inaccuracies in their explanations, or do not highlight their significance to the story.
Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.
Depiction
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are accurate to the story and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are mostly accurate to the story. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are inaccurate to the story. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.
English Conventions
There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the story.
There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the story and some proofreading.
There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the story.
Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.




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