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The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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 Birthmark By Nathaniel Hawthorne Include:

“The Birthmark” is a dark and eerie tale of one man’s unhealthy obsession with perfection, leaving the readers with many thoughts on science, life, and love.

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




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The Birthmark Summary

In the story of “The Birthmark”, the narrator introduces Aylmer, a brilliant scientist, and his wife Georgiana. Aylmer loves his wife, but she has a small birthmark on the side of her left cheek that he despises.

Aylmer becomes obsessed with Georgiana’s birthmark. He seems to be the only person who finds the mark disturbing. His wife along with the rest of the townspeople find Georgiana to be beautiful. Yet, Aylmer says that her almost perfect face is what makes the mark so shocking. Eventually he wears Georgiana down and she agrees to allow him to attempt removing it.

The couple moves to his apartment where he performs his scientific experiments. As Georgiana studies the various aspects of her husband's profession she finds herself captivated by what he can do. Although, she reads his journals and finds out that all his experiments never quite reach their full goal.

Without hesitation Aylmer comes up with a potion which he believes will cure Georgiana and make her perfect. She drinks the potion and the mark fades; however, she too fades with the mark. Upon her death the readers is left with the blunt reality that man is flawed and the sin of perfection leads to death.


Essential Questions for “The Birthmark”

  1. What is perfection? Do you think it exists in the world?
  2. What are some things in life that you cannot take back?
  3. How do good authors use allegories to make their point known to their readers?

The Birthmark By Nathaniel Hawthorne Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | "The Birthmark" Summary


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A common activity for students is to create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of a plot, but to reinforce major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard that captures the concept of the narrative arc in a story by creating a six-cell storyboard which contains the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in a sequence using Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example "The Birthmark" Plot Diagram

Exposition

In the story of “The Birthmark”, the narrator introduces Aylmer, a brilliant scientist, and his wife Georgiana.


Major Inciting Conflict

Aylmer loves his wife, but she has a small birthmark on the side of her left cheek that he despises.


Rising Action

Aylmer becomes obsessed with Georgiana’s birthmark. He seems to be the only person who finds the mark disturbing. His wife along with the rest of the townspeople find Georgiana to be beautiful. Yet, Aylmer says that her almost perfect face is what makes the mark so shocking. Eventually he wears Georgiana down and she agrees to allow him to attempt removing it.


Climax

The couple moves to his apartment where he performs his scientific experiments. As Georgiana studies the various aspects of her husband's profession she finds herself captivated by what he can do. Although, she reads his journals and finds out that all his experiments never quite reach their full goal.


Falling Action

Without hesitation Almyer comes up with a potion which he believes will cure Georgiana and make her perfect.


Resolution

She drinks the potion and the mark fades; however, she too fades with the mark. Upon her death the reader is left with the blunt reality that man is flawed and the sin of perfection leads to death.


(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 Birthmark".


  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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Key Vocabulary in "The Birthmark"


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that uses vocabulary from “The Birthmark.” Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the short story and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Example Vocabulary Words from “The Birthmark”

  • ephemeral
  • elixir
  • visage
  • endowments
  • swain
  • sneer
  • ardent
  • tyrannizing
  • odious
  • stigma
  • quaff
  • eminent
  • fastidious
  • brazen
  • exemplifications

In the vocabulary board, students can choose between coming up with their use of the vocabulary board, finding the specific example from the text, or depicting it without words.

(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 Birthmark” 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 Birthmark TWIST Analysis


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that asks your students to find Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, and Theme. This activity is called a TWIST (an acronym for the above literary elements). In a TWIST students focus on a particular paragraph or few pages to look deeper at the author’s true meaning.



Using any paragraph of “The Birthmark”, students can examine, depict, explain, and foreshadow what will happen in the story while getting a good idea of the tone of the story.


TWIST Example for “The Birthmark”

The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of 6 earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, Aylmer's sombre imagination was not long in rendering the birthmark a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana's beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight.

Nathaniel Hawthorne The Birthmark

T

TONE

Disgusted: Aylmer has a grotesque fascination with Georgiana’s birthmark. Instead of seeing it as a mark of uniqueness, he sees it as an imperfection.
W

WORD CHOICE

Degregating, ineludible, sin, sorrow, death, decay, sombre, frightening, trouble, horror
I

IMAGERY

“The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of 6 earthly mould...” The sight of the birthmark reminds Aylmer of Georgiana’s near perfection.
S

STYLE

The narrator uses particular imagery and word choice in his description to illustrate Aylmer’s disdain and disappointment in Georgiana’s lack of perfection.
T

THEME

Since Hawthorne was a Puritan writer it is important for the reader to look at the morals and theme that Hawthorne as a Christian was trying to express. A possible interpretation for this short passage is that man is flawed and sinful. The lack of perfection he sees in Georgiana is in fact the imperfection in man.

(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 Birthmark”. 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.



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





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"The Birthmark" 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 story, and support their choices with details from the text.

As a classroom activity, students can track the rich symbolic writing Hawthorne uses throughout “The Birthmark”. In the example storyboard below, the creator has focused on Hawthorne's use of Puritan ideology through symbols and themes in "The Birthmark".


Symbols and Themes to Discuss

IMPERFECTION: Man is Flawed

Throughout the story, the theme of imperfection is implied in multiple ways. First, imperfection is suggested with Georgiana’s birthmark, then later with Aylmer’s journal entries about his not-so-perfect experiments. Finally, in the end when Georgiana dies as a result of the quest for perfection, it is found that there is no such thing.


SCIENCE: Man’s Pursuit for Knowledge

Within literature, a universal theme is man's pursuit for scientific advancement and knowledge and its effects. In the story of “The Birthmark”, Aylmer's quest to rid his wife of her imperfection through science shows the reader how naive and narrow-minded man can be. Just because someone has the power or knowledge to do something doesn’t always mean it should be done.


BIRTHMARK: The Crimson Stain

The birthmark is a symbol of man’s imperfection or flaw - which also symbolizes man’s mortality. Looking at the story from a Puritan perspective, the birthmark could be an allegorical symbol relating to man’s fall from Eden. The allusion is that Alymer looks at Georgian as being almost perfect, without the birthmark she would be the epitome of Godly perfection. From the Christian perspective, all men are made in the image of God; however, after Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, man was inevitably flawed. The birthmark is a concrete symbol of this flaw.


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•   (English) The Birthmark   •   (Español) La Marca de Nacimiento   •   (Français) La Marque de Naissance   •   (Deutsch) Die Geburtsmarke   •   (Italiana) il Birthmark   •   (Nederlands) de Birthmark   •   (Português) A Marca de Nascença   •   (עברית) כתם הלידה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) والشامة   •   (हिन्दी) पैदाइशी निशान   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Родинка   •   (Dansk) den Modermærke   •   (Svenska) Födelsemärke   •   (Suomi) Syntymämerkki   •   (Norsk) The Birthmark   •   (Türkçe) The Birthmark   •   (Polski) Narodziny   •   (Româna) Semn din Nastere   •   (Ceština) Mateřské Znaménko   •   (Slovenský) Birthmark   •   (Magyar) a Anyajegy   •   (Hrvatski) Roditeljski Znak   •   (български) Знакът за Раждане   •   (Lietuvos) Apgamas   •   (Slovenščina) Materino Znamenje   •   (Latvijas) Dzimumzīme   •   (eesti) Sünnimärk