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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

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Student Activities for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Include:

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.

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




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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.


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?

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. 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 work 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 Adventures of Tom Sawyer Plot Diagram

Exposition

Tom Sawyer lives in St. Petersburg, Missouri with his Aunt Polly, cousin Mary, and brother Sid. Tom is a mischievous twelve-year-old with a vivid imagination. He routinely skips school and chores in favor of playing pirates, robbers, and other adventures with his friends.


Conflict

During one of Tom’s midnight adventures with his friend Huck, the two witness Injun Joe murder Dr. Robinson. When they discover that Muff Potter has been arrested for the murder, they are too afraid to reveal the truth.


Rising Action

When Injun Joe disappears, Tom returns to his old ways. He and his friends run away to Jackson’s Island and return days later to attend their own funeral. Later, they spy Injun Joe returned in disguise with a secret treasure. Fascinated, Huck stays in town to watch Joe, while Tom goes on an outing with Becky Thatcher to McDougal’s cave.


Climax

Huck overhears Injun Joe’s plans to kill the Widow Douglas. He runs for help just in time to save her. Shortly afterward, Tom spots Injun Joe in the cave.


Falling Action

The Widow Douglas takes in Huck and cares for him while he is sick. Tom and Becky escape from the cave, and Judge Thatcher seals it up, unwittingly trapping Injun Joe and causing his death by starvation.


Resolution

Tom and Huck uncover Injun Joe’s treasure in the cave. Between their adventures, heroism, and newfound wealth, the two have become a celebrated pair in St. Petersburg.



(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 Adventures of Tom Sawyer.


  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 Adventures of Tom Sawyer Characters

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!


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Characters

  • Tom Sawyer
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • Becky Thatcher
  • Sid Sawyer
  • Aunt Polly
  • Joe Harper
  • Injun Joe
  • Muff Potter
  • Mr. Dobbins

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Vocabulary Spider Map


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Another great way to engage your students is creating a storyboard that uses vocabulary. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

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.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Vocabulary

  • contemplate
  • inspiration
  • expedition
  • dismal
  • rendezvous
  • intolerable
  • vengeance
  • repentance
  • melancholy
  • trifle
  • quiver
  • pariah
  • reckon
  • heave
  • skiff
  • tavern
  • presently
  • titter
  • unkempt
  • labyrinth

(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 Tom Sawyer 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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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Text Connections


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Text Connections
Text to Text Connection that reminds you of something in another book or story
Text to Self Connection that reminds you of something in your life.
Text to World Connection that reminds you of something happening in the world.

Asking students to make connections to the text is one way to encourage active reading and improve reading comprehension. Text connections can also spark meaningful discussions about a novel and its themes and can act as precursors to some essays. For this activity, have students use three storyboard frames to connect The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to themselves, another text (or film), and the world around them. Ask them to explain the connection in the text box below each frame.


Example The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Text Connections

TEXT TO SELF

I felt like Tom did at Muff Potter’s trial when I told on one of the older kids in my neighborhood. I knew that he had egged the Browns’ mailbox, but I was afraid he would find out if I told them. I did it anyway, and Mr. Brown made him clean it up!


TEXT TO TEXT

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is similar to the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Tom and Ferris both skip school in favor of adventure. Their adventurous spirits get them into trouble but also make them likable and, in the end, bring them success and social approval.


TEXT TO WORLD

Tom Sawyer has a lot to do with social expectations. Our world today still has many rules for what makes a person “good” or “bad”. Tom and Huck seem “bad” because they disobey their elders, skip school, and play tricks on people; however, their hearts are in the right place. Many children today are punished or labeled “bad” simply because they have a lot of energy, even though they may be very kind-hearted people.


(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 connections you have made with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Include a connection for text to text, text to world, and text to self.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Create an image for each connection using scenes, characters, items, and text boxes.
  3. Write a description of how the text relates to another text, the world, and you.


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





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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Themes, Symbols, and Motifs


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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 to Look For and Discuss

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 to Look For and Discuss

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.


(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 Adventures of Tom Sawyer. 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 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.



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





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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Author Connection

Mark Twain is well-known for his witticisms and critical commentary on human nature. Even The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, frequently labeled a children’s book, contains many satirical episodes and poignantly human moments. Get students to connect to some of Twain’s thoughts on human existence through this Storyboard activity. First, have students select a famous Mark Twain quotation, either from the novel or some other source. Then, have them depict a scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that connects to Twain’s commentary. Finally, have students explain how the scene reveals the same underlying truth as Twain’s quotation. The list below contains some suggested Twain quotations.


  1. “Always tell the truth; then you don’t have to remember anything.”

  2. “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

  3. “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”

  4. “Always obey your parents. When they are present. This is the best policy in the long run. Because if you don’t, they will make you. Most parents think they know better than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgment.”

  5. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it -- namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.

  6. “Homely truth is unpalatable.”

  7. “When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop - that is, with a marriage; but when he writes about juveniles, he must stop where he best can.”

  8. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Author Connection

    “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”


    Tom shows the most courage when he faces his fears by defending Muff Potter in court and testifying against Injun Joe. It is not that he is unafraid, but that he does the right thing in spite of his fear.


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