tips for teaching huckleberry finn featured

30 Tips for Teaching Huckleberry Finn

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If you are planning to teach Twain’s magnum opus, here are 30 tips for teaching Huckleberry Finn to help you make your unit a success.

1) Be prepared to defend including Huckleberry Finn.

When it comes to teaching Huckleberry Finn, answers like, “It is required reading,” or “It was in the book closet,” are not going to cut it.

If you are required to teach the novel, think about the machinations behind this requirement. What has made others believe that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an essential text? Reflect on the novel’s role as a keystone of American literary realism. Consider Huck Finn‘s exploration of racism as the ultimate American hypocrisy. Think about Twain’s ingenious craft.

Teaching Huckleberry Finn and controversy

If your are teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn voluntarily, make sure that you can express your rationale.  You may experience opposition.

Some argue that the continual use of the n-word (over 200 times) unnecessarily harms students or even encourages the racist attitudes that Twain opposed.  Others claim that the humor, dialect, and satire are too out-dated for today’s students.  Some take the position that the novel has been over-rated and point to the disappointing resolution, one-dimensional characters, or Twain’s deviation into the romantic notions that he himself criticized.

As more and more districts and schools drop Huckleberry Finn from the curriculum, it is more important than ever that teachers have a thoughtful justification. You should be enthusiastic rather than reluctant to defend your inclusion of the novel.

In defense of teaching Huckleberry Finn

The fact that the narrator and protagonist is a racist is the entire point. We love Huck but loathe his racism. His internal struggle with racism is the essential conflict. The fact that a book opposing and satirizing racism employs a racist narrator is a master stroke.

The book is an allegory of America during slavery, in 1884 (when the book was published), and today. Like America itself, Huck’s conscience must overcome foundational racism.

Jim is not a stereotype. His actions are perceived as foolish through the racist lens of the narrator. In addition, Jim must “Wear the Mask” of Jim Crow at times to beat the system that has enslaved him. Any critical reader can see through Huck’s narration and Jim’s performances.

The interaction of the Odyssey-like structure, scathing satire, symbolism, style, and other elements make The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a masterpiece.

If you are not sure about teaching this novel, I have written a post to help you make you decision and to justify your choice.

2) Teach Huck Finn at an appropriate grade level.

Teaching huckleberry finn grade level

I do not believe in teaching Huckleberry Finn below a high school level. At the time of publication, the adolescent point of view and informal dialects induced some to mistakenly label  as a “boys book.” However, the ambiguity, satire, point of view, and allegory require a mature reader.

Could an advanced middle-schooler decode the book and enjoy the adventures? Of course. (The book has an accelerated reader level of 6.6 and and Lexile rating of 990L.) Could said student fully appreciate the historical context, unreliable narration, satires, ambiguities, moral nuances, and theme complexity or navigate the controversies of the novel itself? I am not so sure.

3) Plan a reading routine before teaching Huckleberry Finn.

teachnovels man reading blog

My students (generally) thrive on routine. The reading routine reduces the anxiety of the students as they know how to be successful. Optimally, you will teach all long-form texts the same way. Decide what routines work best for your students and your teaching style, and stick to them.

I divide long-form texts into weekly readings and set a day of the week when the reading must be completed. Students know that they have a week to read and that on the predetermined day they will take a quiz, have whole-class discussion, engage in an activity, share-out, and close with informal writing. I may add a follow-up lesson or two on some weeks. The rest of the week is for the textbook, writing workshops, presentations, etc.

Huck Finn reading schedule example:

  • Section 1 chapters 1-8 (1-47)
  • Section 2 chapters 9-16 (47-94)
  • Section 3 chapters 17-22 (95-150)
  • Section 4 chapters 23-28 (150-195)
  • Section 5 chapters 29-35 (195-244)
  • Section 6 chapters 36-43 (244-293)

Page numbers refer to ISBN 978-0-553-21079-8

Teaching Huckleberry Finn featured

4) Explore the controversy.

Face the controversy head-on. Explain that this unit will explore uncomfortable issues regarding race in America. Discuss why the inclusion of the novel is controversial and point out that many school districts are dropping the book from the curriculum or using an edition that replaces the the n-word with the word slave.

Encourage students to reach their own conclusions on these issues. As a positive side-effect, discussing these controversies increases student interest.

Thinking about the racism in Huck Finn as a class

Related post: 11 Pre-reading Activities for Huckleberry Finn

5) Set expectations for sensitive material.

Teaching decisions

Of all the tips for teaching Huckleberry Finn, this may be the most critical. Do not wait for an uncomfortable or negative situation to arise; be proactive. Not every teacher will handle these issues the same way, but set your plan in advance:

  • Racist stereotypes
  • Dehumanization of African Americans (as property)
  • Use of the n-word (over 200 times)
  • Use of tobacco by a youngster
  • Abuse of alcohol / alcoholism
  • Murders
  • Accidental use of the word “orgies” by one character

Tell students how you want them to deal with the presence of the n-word. I tell students that I prefer that we read the word and not hear it. When I read aloud I say “n-word,” and I ask students to do the same. They may feel like I am being too sensitive, but I tell them that I am sensitive, and I appreciate their understanding.

I also point out that the Huck is an unreliable narrator when it comes to his perceptions of African Americans.  His interpretations of the behaviors of African Americans are influenced by his racist views.

6) Establish the context before teaching Huckleberry Finn.

teaching Huckleberry Finn and context

How much do your students know about the plantation system, slave codes, Jim Crow laws, the abolition movement, American geography, and other key topics in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Probably not as much as you would like.

One approach is to have students address writing (research) and listening and speaking standards by preparing a presentation on pre-reading topics. I found one such assignment from a teacher named Mr. Flanagan.

Consider assigning key topics to cooperative groups:

  • Slave codes
  • Plantation system (function)
  • Plantation system timeline
  • Slave codes
  • Mark Twain’s life
  • Jim Crow era
  • The abolition movement
  • Mississippi River basin (geography and peoples)
  • American history timeline (1840-1880)
  • Realism in literature
  • Superstitions (of America)
  • Objections to Huck Finn (chronologically)

7) Support developing readers and students with special needs.

To Kill a Mockingbird pre-reading activities

When teaching Huckleberry Finn supporting all students is paramount, but you must have reliable student data to do this. You may have to give a reading diagnostic yourself.

Forms of  support:

Chapter summaries: After reviewing the reading levels from your student data, decide which students need the support of chapter summaries (Sparknotes.com, Shmoop.com, etc.) Explain that they may want to read the summary before or after reading the given chapter, but they must still read the chapter.

Support services: If any of your students receive extra support, make sure that your colleagues have the reading schedule, copies of the book, etc. Assistance with the text is an excellent use of time during a support period.

Video: Professional productions or even Youtube student videos may help some students grasp the setting, characters, or plot events. These should be used sparingly and only to help students orient their imaginations.

Audio-books: Many websites will read the book aloud for the student. Perhaps the student can follow along for the first pass and then re-read on their own.

Reading groups: You or even a student may want to organize a weekly “book club” preceding the quiz.

Assessment accommodations: modified quiz scoring, modified quizzes (crossing off some questions or distractors), quiz aids (open book, open note, additional time, alternate venue, alternate quiz form [writing a summary of the reading or having an informal discussion with the teacher]), etc.

8) Give the students a preview of the culminating task.

teaching Huckleberry Finn final assignments
Photo by Innovation School

When teaching Huckleberry Finn, clue the students in to where the unit is headed. What will they be expected to do to show mastery? Is there anything they should do as they read to make life easier later? For example, if they will be presenting on symbols / recurring elements, students might pick a symbolic element before reading and “cheat” by taking notes as they read.

Recurring elements / symbols presentation topics:

  • Superstition
  • Clothing
  • Nature (especially Huck’s poetry)
  • The river
  • Propriety (rules of being proper)
  • The raft
  • Introspection (Huck’s)
  • Nobility / breeding
  • Prayer / religion
  • The island
  • Pranks
  • Romanticism (especially Tom’s ideas)
  • People as property
  • Violence
  • Social pressure
  • Frauds / lying / performance

I find this technique to be very effective. Not only does it improve the quality of the final tasks, it encourages the students to read more carefully. Students feel like they are being set up to succeed.

Related post: Huckleberry Finn Unit Plan for High School

9) Use reading quizzes.

anthem reading quiz cover 140

When teaching Huckleberry Finn (or any long-form literature), it is important that students practice reading independently, but when students are not prepared, a well-planned lesson becomes a shattered dream. The students who did read feel cheated and frustrated.

I have found that the best way to hold students accountable for the assigned reading is through reading quizzes (homework grades). The students who read feel victorious.

In the past, many of my students have tried to fake their way through literature circle role sheets, online responses, reading packets, focus questions, and the like. When this is the case, it is not surprising that engagement is low. A simple, 10-question quiz gets better results and means that I don’t have to wade through piles of packets that the students have copied from each other anyway. Give yourself (and the copying machine) a break. When the majority of the students read with fidelity, engagement follows.

Use the quizzes to communicate with parents / guardians. Having reliable data on the student’s reading level is critical to this conversation. If a student has a high reading level but cannot pass the quizzes, what is going on? If a student has a lower reading level and cannot pass, what can we start doing to help them?

10) Establish that the narrator and protagonist is a racist.

Teaching Huckleberry Finn and a racist protagonist

Is Huckleberry Finn truly a racist. Yes. Does he come to fully reject his racist beliefs by the end of the novel? No. Are we still supposed to be rooting for him? Yes. Students must come to recognize the profound effect of Twain using a racist protagonist to deliver his criticism of American racism. 

Twain could have made Jim the narrator or made Huck a staunch abolitionist.  Instead, Twain chooses the point of view of a racist boy to tell the the story of Jim’s emancipation.  Many experts consider Twain’s selection of Huck as the novel’s narrator the master stroke of his career.  We love Huck but loathe his racism.  Huck, like America itself, must learn to oppose racism in defiance of foundational biases. 

11) Have students dissect the narrative structure.

Teaching Huckleberry Finn and the narrative structure

Teaching Huckleberry Finn presents secondary students with the opportunity to develop a more nuanced view of narrative structure.  The novel does demonstrate a traditional plot structure, but it has been embellished with episodes, sub-plots, and parallel plots.  

Huck Finn lesson on structure:


Stories within Stories

Reading Lit. 5 Craft and Structure

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.

11-12.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact. 

Into: Review basic narrative structure. Huck Finn is more complicated as it is told in episodes. There is the main plot (getting to freedom) and a bunch of episodes along the way. Ask the students to identify other narratives that include subplots or episodes (The Odyssey, Orlando, comic books, TV shows, Harry PotterThe Twelve Labors of Hercules, Moll Flanders, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Phantom Tollbooth, and so on).

Through: In Huck Finn, even the subplots have subplots. Students (or groups) will choose one subplot to diagram. If the subplot has subplots, diagram these also and draw a line to show how the sub-subplot fits into the subplot. One student or group could make a huge diagram of the larger plot (getting to freedom) by taping the plot events on the wall. The end goal is to create a huge diagram on the wall that shows the order and connections of the subplots and main plot.

Student or group assignments:

  • “The Big Picture” (Getting to freedom)
  • “The Rise and Fall of Tom Sawyer’s Gang”
  • “Escape from St. Petersburg”
  • “Jim, Huck, and a Raft”
  • “The Family Feud”
  • “Punking Parkville” (Royalty 1)
  • “The Reverend and the Mute” (Royalty 2)
  • “Freeing Jim from Prison”

Reflect: Why did Twain choose to structure the novel in this way?  What are the effects on the reader? What are the advantages of structuring a story with subplots? What are the disadvantages?

or

Choose several of the subplots and briefly explain the purpose and/or theme of each.


If you find “30 Tips on Teaching Huckleberry Finn” helpful, consider using my complete The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn unit and teacher guide.

Huckleberry Finn Cover 200kb

12) Put Huck’s internal conflict under the microscope.

Twain said that the novel shows what happens when “a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers a defeat.”

What are the two sides of Huck’s mind? When does he come closest to betraying Jim? Why does he consider helping Jim sinful? How have Huck’s thoughts about helping Jim changed? How would the novel change if Huck wholeheartedly approved of helping Jim to freedom? How is this conflict ultimately resolved? 

13) Explore Huck’s relationship with “sivilization.”

Huck Finn's relationship with 'sivilization'

Huck Finn essentially decides that he wants a divorce from the society in which he lives. (This is a sentiment that Twain often shared.) What are the causes of this break? Is the failure of this relationship due mostly to Huck’s faults or to society’s? The students must use textual evidence to form their conclusions. 

Jim and Huck have both decided to break away. There reasons and situations are profoundly different, but are there any similarities?

Related post: Huckleberry Finn Discussion Questions

14) Have students analyze Twain’s characterization of Huck.

Huck thinks that he is absolute trash, but is he? What would Twain say of Huck’s qualities? Students should use textual evidence to analyze what makes him noble and what makes him “low-down and ornery.”

15) Analyze Twain’s characterization of Jim.

Jim (whose societal worth is purely material and is often portrayed as buffoonish by the narrator) is arguably the noblest, most thoughtful, most intelligent, and most caring character in the book. Jim must go along with people’s silly notions because, as a freedom seeker, he is at their mercy.

What evidence is there that Jim is often giving a performance?

  • He doesn’t reveal that Pap is dead (feigning concern for Huck when it is more likely that he wants to retain Huck’s assistance).
  • He suspects that Huck is about to turn him in but says otherwise and reminds Huck of their friendship. If Huck finds Jim’s spontaneous lauding of their friendship odd, he fails to mention it.
  • He goes along with Tom’s charade until there is a life-threatening inclusion (rattlesnakes).
  • He uses superstitions to direct Huck since he cannot do so overtly.
  • He argues thoughtfully (including pointing out the shortcomings of Huck’s analogy between the sounds of animals and different languages).
  • He knows that he can scold Huck for tricking him but not Tom.
  • He cleverly tests the King by feigning interest in French.

16) Have students examine Twain’s satire and irony in Huck Finn.

Teaching Huckleberry Finn and analyzing satire

Twain’s merciless satire gives no quarter in lambasting society, morality, racism, politics, honor, status, romanticism, propriety, and humanity generally. Students should look at individual examples of satire and the novel as a whole as they examine the treatment, target, and purpose.

Satire in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

  • Tom Sawyer (romantic notions)
  • Huck Finn (moral justifications)
  • The Grangerfords (honor)
  • Freeing Jim from prison (American slavery)
  • Townsfolk in Parkville (social pressure) (self-interest)
  • Arkansans (human nature)
  • Boggs (courage)
  • The murderers on the steamship (moralizing)
  • The lynch mob (human nature) (social pressure)
  • The duke and the king (human nature) (nobility)
  • Col. Sherburn (honor)
  • The ferry operator (greed)
  • Pap Finn (voting rights)
  • Emmeline Grangerford (obsessing on loss)
  • Tom Sawyer’s gang (childish understandings)

17) Have students present on the major themes.

Remind students that a theme topic is a word or phrase while a theme is always a complete sentence (e.g. love vs. love stinks). Have students identify all of the theme topics that they can find in Huck Finn (friendship, racism, and so on). Include the unimportant to the very important. Create a class chart of the theme topics.

Remind students that authors can develop themes in a variety of ways. The author might state the theme explicitly: e.g. “The message of this story is that you should always be yourself.” Usually the reader must think about the setting, plot events, symbols, motifs, etc. to make inferences to reach a conclusion about the theme.

Assign each student group one theme topic from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to present. Students should include analysis of key textual evidence.

Theme topics for Huck Finn:

  • Fraud / hypocrisy
  • Fate vs. chance
  • Human frailty
  • Societal failure
  • Freedom vs. civilization
  • Racism
  • Social rank vs. personal worth
  • Conscience / morality
  • Social pressure
  • Romanticism vs. realism
  • Friendship

18) Have students present on recurring elements and symbols.

In teaching Huckleberry Finn, have students present on how a recurring element develops a theme. Note that Twain weaves these themes and recurring elements through one another, so the presentations will overlap. Decide if you want the students to use citations from the text or to simply explain. This task could be expanded into a major presentation assignment.

Recurring elements and symbols in Huckleberry Finn:

  • Superstition
  • Clothing
  • Nature (especially Huck’s poetry)
  • The river
  • Propriety (rules of being proper)
  • The raft
  • Introspection
  • Nobility / breeding
  • Fraud / lying
  • Prayer / religion
  • The island
  • Pranks
  • Romanticism (especially Tom’s ideas)
  • People as property
  • Violence
  • Performance
  • Social pressure

19) Host a debate on the merits of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

A) Ask students to debate the merits of the final chapters.

Of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. If you read it, you must stop where… Jim is stolen from the boys [sic]. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating…” Literature nerds love to argue for or against the ending of this novel. Students must pick a side and conduct a debate. Is the ending a disappointment, or is the unsatisfactory ending part of what Twain had to say about America?

B) Have students debate whether or not schools should include the novel.

Position: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be removed from American schools.”

Ask students write an opinion essay where they agree completely, disagree completely, or qualify. They must demonstrate the elements of written argument: claim, reasons with evidence, addressing counterargument, and transitions. 

20) Spotlight Huck’s poetry.

Photo by SportsandHistoryReader521

Ask students or groups to find one passage from the novel so far that is poetic and to restructure the passage into a poem. They may change the words or structure if it enhances the poetic form or effect. Have the students share the poetry aloud.

“My souls, how the wind did scream along! And every second or two there’d come a glare that lit up the white-caps for a half a mile around, and you’d see the islands looking dusty through the rain, and the trees thrashing around in the wind; then comes a h-whack! – bum! bum! bumble-umble-umbum-bum-bum-bum – and the thunder would go rumbling and grumbling away and quit – and then rip comes another flash and another sockdolager. The waves most washed me off the raft sometimes, but I hadn’t any clothes on, and didn’t mind. We didn’t have no trouble about snags; the lightning was glaring and flittering around so constant that we could see…” (48)

What poetic elements are used in Huck’s language? What poetic elements are absent? How is his poetry different from Emmeline Grangerford’s? What would Twain say about the differences?

21) Examine Huck and Jim’s friendship.

Examining Huck and Jim's friendship

Teach that, at first glance, Jim and Huck are simply two outcasts who share interests in superstition and the outdoor life. However, upon inspection, their relationship is full of complexities:

  • Huck loves Jim but feels compelled to betray him.
  • Huck both sympathizes with and despises Jim’s desire for freedom.
  • Huck wants to help Jim but fails to appreciate how he puts Jim in harm’s way.
  • Huck plays the roles of Jim’s liberator and his captor.
  • Jim protects Huck out of love and self-interest. He is using Huck.
  • Jim is simultaneously Huck’s inferior and his superior as his surrogate father.
  • They cannot be true friends within the societal constructs.

Only on the island and the raft are societal rules and roles discarded. (This is symbolized by their discarding of their clothes.) They have true friendship in the natural state. They seem to have forgotten all of civilization’s teachings and even decide for themselves how the stars came to be. 

22) Use Huck Finn to spark creative writing.

Writing using symbolism

Three creative writing assignments in teaching Huckleberry Finn:

“The Adventures of Jim Freeman”

You have been hired by a publisher to write a short story as a sequel to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. For the sequel, they want Jim to be the main character, and they want him to be the narrator. The publisher wants you to imitate Twain thematically and stylistically. 

Original Satire

Demonstrate your mastery of satire by writing one in the form of a short story. Think about a person, place, thing, or idea that you feel deserves some mockery. What kind of treatment fits your target and purpose? Start by writing an outline of your satire (point of view, setting, characters, plot, target, treatment and purpose).

Alternate ending to Huck Finn

We learned that many critics dislike the final chapters. They feel that Huck forgets all that he has learned and that the plot veers into incredible coincidence and childish Tom-foolery. They want Jim’s emancipation to be triumphant, but since Jim is already free, the voyage has been for nothing. Write a better ending where the adventure has a powerful, satisfying conclusion.


If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing my complete The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn unit and teacher guide.

23) Have students trace the hypocrisies of racism in the novel.

To the society in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, slaves are both people and objects. Have the students identify examples where they are considered human and examples where they are objectified.

Examples of dehumanization in Huck Finn:

  • Mrs. Phelps is relieved that no on is harmed in a river boat accident even though a slave was killed. She later treats Jim as an honored guest after he helps save Tom.
  • The king scolds the duke for allowing the Wilks’ slaves to take the blame for a theft, but not for selling the slaves down the river or forcibly separating families and communities.
  • Several times the act of capturing freedom seekers is seen as a boon carrying no more moral weight than “picking up money in the street.”
  • When the doctor aiding Tom recognizes Jim’s heroic nature, he concludes that Jim must be worth a thousand dollars.

Students should analyze textual evidence in order to identify Twain’s theme and how he develops it through these hypocrisies.

24) Focus on citing evidence from Huck Finn.

The Common Core Standards place great emphasis on citing textual evidence. As a result, more and more standardized tests are asking students to demonstrate capable identification and citing of key examples.

I want students to practice citing textual evidence in two modes. First, I want the students to become comfortable in identifying and analyzing textual evidence in informal classroom activities. Perhaps the students are creating a chart to explore one element in a cooperative group. They should discuss the example, its meaning, and its value relative to other citations. Second, I want students to build on this skill independently in writing formal compositions and/or presentations that include MLA citations.

25) Have students explore the connections between literary elements.

Twain structures the novel as an American odyssey; the cumulative effect of the episodes, symbols, and recurring elements artfully weave his themes. The interacting elements of the novel connect the seemingly independent episodes.  Students must explain how the conflicts, plots, symbols, motifs, characterization, word choice, and point of view unify The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

26) Tom Sawyer, a major minor character

Tom Sawyer's role in Huckleberry Finn

Twain includes Tom Sawyer in the novel to capitalize on earlier commercial success, but there is more to it.

In teaching Huckleberry Finn, help students reach the conclusion that Tom Sawyer serves as a foil, a character used to highlight the characteristics of another character. Students should analyze how Twain uses Tom to highlight Huck’s more admirable traits. Why is it important to Twain that the reader mark their differences?

Twain makes Tom look pretty terrible in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Tom never questions his cruel treatment of Jim (or anyone else for that matter). His obsessions with romantic notions and propriety (including the propriety of slavery) leave no room for the kind of profound introspection demonstrated by Huck.

27) Consider American realism and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

2 lesson ideas:

A) Dialects and Twain’s Style

Reading Lit. 4, Craft and Structure: Word choice

Into: A dialect is “a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group.” This includes vocabulary, syntax, usage, and pronunciation. Ask students to identify some examples of dialect. Include specific instances like “G’day mate,” calling cookies biscuits, or dropping the final r sound.

Through: Twain decided that the speech AND the narration would be in dialect. (English teachers in 1884 did not appreciate this.) Twain prided himself on recognizing the linguistic differences found in the Mississippi River basin.

Note: If time allows, share a reading of “Everyone Has an Accent” (5 pages) from Teaching Tolerance.

Have students write a brief story that is completely in a dialect that they know well (perhaps one that they use). Obviously, spelling and grammar do not count. This can be accomplished individually, in groups, or as a class.

Reflect: Why would Twain make dialect a key feature of his novel? What is the impact of this choice? 


B) “It don’t make no difference how foolish it is. It’s the right way.”

Writing 4, Production and Distribution of Writing: Task, purpose, and audience. 

Into: Mark Twain was one of the first writers of American realism, a response to romanticism. In the novel, Tom’s views represent romanticism whereas Huck’s views represent realism. You can tell from Huck Finn that Twain thought romanticism was pretty silly. Examples of romanticism:

  • Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Lord Byron, The Corsair
  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  • Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
  • James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans
  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Through: What are romantic ideas and examples that Tom would appreciate? Create a chart as a class (emotion, glory, individualism, excitement, irrationality, imagination, coincidence, fate, the supernatural, melodrama, etc.; traditional elements like pirates, damsels in distress, hidden identities, dungeons, sword fights, noble heroes, the disfigured villain, etc.)

Students write an short story outline in the tradition of romanticism – a story that Tom Sawyer would appreciate. Include elements from the class chart. Students should summarize their narrative elements.

Note: This assignment could be a complete composition assignment by having students fully develop the point of view, plot, dialogue (maybe), transitions, sensory language, tone, tension, etc.

Reflect: What would some readers find appealing about romantic literature? What would some readers find appealing in realism?

28) Integrate performance when teaching Huckleberry Finn.

Get the students to make directorial decisions based on their expertise. 

Huck Finn project idea: Adapt a scene for the stage or screen

Speaking and Listening 1 and 4-6, Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

In a cooperative group, adapt one event from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the stage or screen. Work together to write a simple script and keep a record of the discussions, disagreements, and decisions. You may add to or change elements of the novel if it makes sense for the new medium, but stay true to the tone and themes. Before performing give a summary of your group’s creative choices.

29) Identify your key Common Core Standards in teaching Huckleberry Finn.

Reading Lit. 1, Key Ideas and Details: textual evidence

Whether students are using textual evidence to analyze Huck’s internal conflict on aiding Jim or dissecting Twain’s use of recurring elements (superstition, clothing, nature, chance, performance, nobility, etc.), students must make thoughtful inferences to decipher Twain’s subtler methods. 

Reading Lit. 2, Key Ideas and Details: Theme

At times Twain’s thematic development seems haphazard, but this is by design.  The themes wind, weave, merge, and flow toward his destination. The themes on hypocrisy, racism, fate, chance, human frailty, society, personal worth, morality, and friendship ultimately find their way to the delta.

Reading Lit. 3, Key Ideas and Details: interacting elements

The interacting elements of the novel connect the seemingly independent episodes.  Students must explain how the conflicts, plots, symbols, motifs, characterization, word choice, and point of view unify the text.

Reading Lit. 4, Craft and Structure: word choice

Students use textual evidence to analyze Twain’s use of dialects, ironic tone, and Huck’s poetic musings on the natural world.  

Reading Lit. 5, Craft and Structure: structure

Teaching Huckleberry Finn presents secondary students with the opportunity to develop a more nuanced view of narrative structure.  The novel does demonstrate a traditional plot structure, but it has been embellished with episodes, sub-plots, and parallel plots.  

Reading Lit. 6, Craft and Structure: point of view

Many experts consider Twain’s selection of Huck as the novel’s narrator the master stroke of his career.  We love Huck but loathe his racism.  Huck, like America itself, must learn to oppose racism in defiance of foundational biases. 

Reading Informational 2, Key Ideas and Details: main ideas

Students use informational texts to identify key ideas and details regarding Huck Finn’s context.

Reading Informational 7, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: multiple sources

Students research and compare different points of view on the novel’s value and legacy.

Writing 1, Text Types and Purposes: argument

Students synthesize information from multiple sources and points of view in order to present information and arguments.  Student presentations demonstrate understanding of the The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn‘s context, legacy, and controversies.  The controversies allow students the opportunity to argue their positions formally as experts.

Writing 2, Text Types and Purposes: narrative

Using literature to inspire the creative writing of your students is an excellent practice.

30) Congratulate yourself on being a conscientious teacher, creating enriching and effective learning experiences, and teaching Huckleberry Finn. 

If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing my complete The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn unit and teacher guide.

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