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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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Student Activities for The Scarlet Letter Include:

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne continues to be a compelling story of betrayal, revenge, sin, and forgiveness that still resonates with students today. Many students, especially female students, find themselves appalled with the community’s treatment of Hester Prynne, and intrigued by the boundaries she and her little Pearl push in a puritanical society. Check out some of the great storyboards that you can incorporate into your classroom as you guide your students through this timeless story.

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




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The Scarlet Letter Summary

Written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, The Scarlet Letter stands out from contemporary works. While transcendentalist authors like Emerson and Thoreau were exploring the possibilities of human nature and intuition, Hawthorne was exploring the limitations and potential destructiveness of the human spirit, rather than its possibilities. The novel opens with a preface from the narrator, who tells the reader that while working in the Custom House in Salem, Massachusetts, he came across some documents that tell the story of Hester Prynne’s ordeal in the newly-settled Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Hester is on trial for having an affair. The proof? Her three-month old baby, Pearl. Hester’s husband is thought to have been lost at sea since he left England two years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. Nevertheless, she is still technically married, and either way, she is not remarried to anyone else. Therefore, in the Puritan town of Boston, Hester has committed a grave sin. To make her sin worse, she refuses to name the baby’s father, which infuriates the town leaders even more. Her punishment is that she must wear a scarlet "A" (for her sin of adultery) on her chest for the rest of her life. Ironically, since Hester is the best seamstress in town, the letter she has sewn is beautiful, suggesting her sin might not be as ugly as the Puritans make it out to be.

While Hester is standing on the scaffold, being sentenced, she sees a man in the crowd whom she recognizes, her long-lost husband. He calls himself Roger Chillingworth, and he wants her to hide his identity from the other townspeople. He says that she has shamed him, and he wants to plot his revenge for the man who stole his wife’s heart. Meanwhile, a local minister named Arthur Dimmesdale, the beloved minister of the town of Boston, finds himself tormented and sickly. His secrets are beginning to eat away at him: he is Hester’s lover, and Pearl’s father. Chillingworth poses as a doctor and claims to want to get close to the minister to help him get well. Chillingworth soon begins to suspect that there are dark secrets that might relate to his wife’s affair.

Pearl grows into a peculiar young girl who does not follow the rigid rules and expectations of the Puritan society in which she was raised. Hester begins to worry that her sin has been embodied in Pearl, and that she might be "otherworldly". The townspeople initially disapprove of Pearl’s behavior and the fact that Hester, the sinner, is raising her alone. Hester sews and goes about her business quietly, isolated from the others by the scarlet reminder of her sin.

Eventually, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl meet together in secret. Hester and Dimmesdale plan their escape to Europe together. Unfortunately, Chillingworth has figured out their connection and booked a ticket on the same ship. The plan is to leave the in four days, after Dimmesdale’s big Election Day sermon. Dimmesdale’s health has been deteriorating, so time is of the essence. At the conclusion of his sermon, he tears open his shirt as he collapses and dies. Rumor has it, there was an “A” over his heart.

Chillingworth loses his victim and dies. Hester and Pearl move to Europe, where Pearl lives off of a hefty inheritance left to her by Chillingworth. Hester later returns to Boston where her scarlet letter has earned her respect with the women of the community. She lives out her days and is buried near Dimmesdale, thus completing the circle of their love and their sin.


Essential Questions for The Scarlet Letter

  1. How do goodness, revenge, and guilt manifest themselves in characters’ physiognomy?
  2. What are the limitations and potential destructiveness of the human spirit throughout the novel?
  3. Is any sin “worse” than other sins?
  4. How can a single mistake define a person for the rest of his/her life?

The Scarlet Letter Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | The Scarlet Letter Summary


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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 novel in sequence, using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.


Example The Scarlet Letter Plot Diagram

Exposition

In 17th-Century Puritan Boston, Hester Prynne is on trial for adultery. She has a 3-month old baby named Pearl, and Hester refuses to name the father. As punishment, Hester must wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest for the rest of her life.


Conflict

Hester’s long-lost husband “Roger Chillingworth” has finally made it to Boston, and he is angry. He dedicates himself to finding out who Hester’s lover is so that he can exact his revenge. He swears Hester to secrecy. Meanwhile, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is suffering from an unknown ailment which seems to come from an internal struggle. Chillingworth poses as a doctor to help the ailing minister.


Rising Action

Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale reconnect when Pearl is seven, and they decide to run away together to Europe, after Dimmesdale’s final sermon, to be given on Election Day. Dimmesdale is slowly becoming more ill with each passing day, and holds his hand over his heart in pain. Chillingworth discovers the family’s connection and plan. Hester finds out that he has booked himself a ticket on the same ship with them.


Climax

Arthur Dimmesdale delivers his Election Day sermon with fervor and new-found energy - many say it’s the best sermon he has ever given. He ends it by calling Hester and Pearl up to the scaffold with him, where he indirectly with words, but directly with actions, acknowledges his part in Hester’s adultery and his guilt for not stepping forward as Pearl’s father seven years before. He tears open his shirt and reveals an “A” engraved into his skin, and then he dies.


Falling Action

The townspeople cannot believe what they have seen; some even outright deny that Dimmesdale had the “A” on his chest. Chillingworth dies within a year of Dimmesdale and leaves his entire inheritance to Pearl, making her very rich. Pearl and Hester leave New England for Europe soon after.


Resolution

Many years later, Hester Prynne returns to Boston and again lives in the little cottage she and Pearl once shared. She still wears the scarlet letter even though she doesn’t have to, and women in the town come to her for advice and respect her. She dies in Boston, and is buried near Dimmesdale.


(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 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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Physiognomy in The Scarlet Letter | Character Map Graphic Organizer

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 The Scarlet Letter, a character map helps students remember each member of the novel and their important traits. Plus, it helps for tracking physiognomy, and it encourages students to utilize the text to support their ideas.

The Scarlet Letter Characters

Hester PrynneThe protagonist of the novel; convicted of adultery; has a daughter as a result of her affair; must wear a scarlet letter “A” for the rest of her life
Reverend Arthur DimmesdaleThe revered minister of the town of Boston; the secret father of Hester’s daughter; is suffering physical ailments from his guilt
Roger ChillingworthThe antagonist of the novel; Hester’s long-lost husband, thought to have been lost at sea; masquerades as a doctor and doesn’t allow Hester to reveal his identity; becomes Dimmesdale’s personal physician
PearlHester and Dimmesdale’s daughter; lively and energetic, which goes against the acceptable behavior of the town; seems almost otherworldly
Mistress HibbinsGovernor Bellingham’s sister; purported to be a witch; likes to go into the woods
Governor BellinghamGovernor of Massachusetts; brother of Mistress Hibbins; oversees Hester’s Trial

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Literary Conflict in The Scarlet Letter


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Literary conflicts are often taught during ELA units. Building on prior knowledge to achieve mastery level with our students is important. An excellent way to focus on the various types of literary conflict is through storyboarding. Having students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict it using the storyboard creator is a great way to reinforce your lesson!

Much of the conflict in The Scarlet Letter stems from the sin that Hester and Dimmesdale commit in their Puritan society, and how they have to learn to live in that community with their guilt, and their sin.

Examples of Literary Conflict in The Scarlet Letter

MAN vs. MAN

The town leaders become concerned that Hester is an unfit parent for Pearl because of her wild behavior, and they want to take Pearl away from her.


MAN vs. SELF

Dimmesdale experiences such intense guilt at making Hester carry the burden of their sin alone that he begins to look sickly and unwell.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

Hester’s sin of adultery flies in the face of the Puritan ideals and laws of Boston at the time, resulting in her life-long punishment of wearing a scarlet “A” on her chest.


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


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in The Scarlet Letter.


  1. Identify conflicts in The Scarlet Letter.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



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





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The Scarlet Letter Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the book, and support their choices with details from the text. This book is particularly rich in symbolism, so as a classroom activity, students can track the rich symbolic and thematic writing Hawthorne uses throughout The Scarlet Letter.


Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

Sin

The novel centers around the sin of Hester Prynne in her Puritan society. The sin of adultery, even though her husband is thought to have been lost at sea, is not something that can be discussed or argued about in 17th-century Boston. Hester’s sin follows her for the rest of her life, and she begins to fear that the sin of passion she shares with Dimmesdale has been embodied in her daughter Pearl, who is full of passion and light, very much unlike the standards of Puritan Boston.


Guilt

Dimmesdale is haunted by his guilt from not coming forward as Pearl’s father for seven years. His internal struggles become external problems, and even the townspeople notice. When Chillingworth arrives, posing as a doctor, the townspeople believe divine providence has sent him to Boston to help their dear Reverend overcome his illness.


Isolation

Hester and Pearl live in isolation during their time in Boston. They live in a small shack, and they are shunned by the townspeople for many years. They are mocked by children, avoided by adults, and Hester is often the topic of the weekly sermon at church. Her only connection to the town is through her seamstress work.


Rosebush

The rosebush is the one, beautiful piece of nature that blossoms against the gray of the prison in the center of town. When Hester walks out of the prison door to her punishment on the scaffold, the rosebush reflects her beauty in a sea of gray, her uniqueness in a town of judgment and frowns.


Scaffold

The scaffold serves as stage for many of the novel’s key moments: it is the scene of Hester’s punishment, where she stands alone holding baby Pearl, enduring the town’s shame. The reader sees Dimmesdale connected to Hester and Pearl; their first time together as a family. Chillingworth is watching this same scene and hiding in the shadows, plotting his revenge. Finally, the scaffold is where Dimmesdale delivers his final sermon, rips open his shirt, and reveals the letter “A” engraved into his chest, thus confessing his sin of adultery and crushing the dream he and Hester had of escaping to a new life in Europe.


The Letter “A”

The letter A, for “Adultery”, is, at first, a source of shame and guilt for Hester. As time wears on and Hester works among the people, however, it comes to mean “Able”, because she is a quiet, prudent worker who does a lot for those in need. While Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl are united on the scaffold in the middle of the night, a meteor in the shape of an “A” lights up the sky, signifying to the reader that this is the family we have been waiting to be revealed. Finally, it is said that when Dimmesdale rips open his shirt, as he dies after his Election Day sermon, the letter “A” was engraved into his chest, signifying his part in the affair with Hester, and his guilt for allowing Hester to carry their burdensome secret alone.


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The Scarlet Letter Vocabulary Lesson Plan


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


The Scarlet Letter Vocabulary Words

  • ignominy
  • wan
  • mirth
  • ethereal
  • bequeath
  • inexplicable
  • abate
  • uncongenial
  • entreaties
  • sagacious
  • irks
  • venerable
  • impropriety
  • inimical
  • enumerated
  • pall
  • insurmountable
  • acrid
  • obviated
  • quaff
  • epoch

(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 Scarlet 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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Scandal Activity | The Scarlet Letter

In Hester Prynne’s time, her mistake was the talk of the town for many years to come. Coupled with the scarlet letter she must wear on all of her clothing, people do not quickly forget what she did, and what she is known for. Many celebrities, politicians, and other historical characters are known for their scandals as well, and many will always be remembered for their scandal(s). Have students pick a celebrity or politician that is known for a scandal. In a storyboard, have them give background for the person, the scandal, and have them choose a letter that best represents what that person will always be known for.


An Example Scandal Board

Celebrity/Historical Figure: President Richard Nixon
Cell 1Richard Nixon was elected as the 37th President of the United States from 1969-1974. He was an outspoken anti-communist, which helped boost his popularity at the time. He unsuccessfully ran against John F. Kennedy in 1960, but eventually won the Presidency in 1968.
Cell 2Initially, Nixon was known for ending both the Vietnam War in 1973, and military conscription. This made him incredibly popular with the people who were “warred out”.
Cell 3Nixon won reelection by a landslide in 1972, due in large part to the first successful American moon landing in 1969 and the ending of the draft. It seemed he was unstoppable.
Cell 4In June 1972, a break-in at the Democratic National Committee Watergate Building in Washington, D.C. led back to members of Nixon’s reelection campaign committee. They were trying to obtain secret information on the DNC. Reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, broke the story to the press after obtaining information from an FBI informant known as “Deep Throat”.
Cell 5While it is still unknown if Nixon had foreknowledge of the break-in, the scandal overshadowed most of his work in office. He fired aides, released tapes that seemed doctored, and eventually admitted he had misled the country about the White House’s involvement in the scandal. He delivered his resignation speech to a national audience live on TV.
Cell 6While Richard Nixon did a lot of important things for the country, his role in the cover-up of the Watergate Scandal ultimately overshadowed the legacy he had tried to establish. I am giving him the letter “R” for “Resignation” because he will always be known as the only U.S. President to resign from office.

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•   (English) The Scarlet Letter   •   (Español) La Letra Escarlata   •   (Français) La Lettre Écarlate   •   (Deutsch) Der Scharlachrote Brief   •   (Italiana) La Lettera Scarlatta   •   (Nederlands) The Scarlet Letter   •   (Português) A Carta de Scarlet   •   (עברית) האות השנייה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الحرف القرمزي   •   (हिन्दी) खिताबी पत्र   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Алая Буква   •   (Dansk) Det Flammende Bogstav   •   (Svenska) The Scarlet Letter   •   (Suomi) Scarlet Letter   •   (Norsk) The Scarlet Letter   •   (Türkçe) Kırmızı Mektup   •   (Polski) Szkarłatna Litera   •   (Româna) Litera Stacojie   •   (Ceština) The Scarlet Letter   •   (Slovenský) Scarlet Letter   •   (Magyar) A Skarlát Betű   •   (Hrvatski) Grimizno Pismo   •   (български) Червеното Писмо   •   (Lietuvos) Scarlet Letter   •   (Slovenščina) Scarlet Letter   •   (Latvijas) The Scarlet Letter   •   (eesti) Scarlet Letter