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  • The "Producing Edgar Allen Poe" Challenge
    By Ellen Moore and Christopher Moore

    Grade Level: 7-8

    This lesson invites students into the macabre world of Edgar Allen Poe through theatrical exploration of the text of THE TELL-TALE HEART. Students will create and perform excerpts from their specific "productions" of this Poe classic.


    Students will:
    • Develop an awareness of elements that contribute to the production and performance of a play. These elements include: writing, staging, casting actors, music and more.

    • Encourage students to make specific creative choices and defend those choices.

    • Explore the richness of Edgar Allen Poe's writing by investigating The Tell-Tale Heart in an unconventional way.

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    Estimated Time

    40 minutes-could be extended into two forty-minute sessions.

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    Necessary Materials

    • Paper and Pens

    • Copies of the text THE TELL-TALE HEART by Edgar Allen Poe

    • Art supplies (optional)

    • CD player (optional)

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    Teaching Procedure

    Step One: Have class read the story THE TELL-TALE HEART by Edgar Allen Poe. This can be done the night before, or in class as the story is short. This lesson plan assumes the students have read through the short story once. If they read it in class, adjust time accordingly.

    Step Two: Divide the class into four production teams (3 to 5 students per team). Announce to the class that they are no longer students, but they are theatrical producers and they are going to create a production of Edgar Allan Poe's THE TELL-TALE HEART. Tell students that Edgar Allan Poe has given them permission to bring his classic story to life on the stage. Ask students to name their production company. Have each group choose one member to record the "production plan" that will be created by the team.

    Step Three: Have teams write down how many characters will be in their production. Will there be characters in the play who were not in the story? Remind them not to share their information with the other teams. Have each team give and record names for all the characters in their production.

    Step Four: Have the group cast actors to play the roles. They can cast anyone in the world from the past or present, actors or non-actors, famous or non-famous. Ask students to identify the reason why they selected a particular actor for a particular role i.e. "He is an old man," or "He plays a policeman on television," etc.

    Step Five: Tell students that the only thing Edgar Allen Poe wanted was for them to change the title. Have each team give their play a title other than THE TELL-TALE HEART. Write the title down.

    Step Six: Have each team choose what kind of soundtrack or music would be used in their production. They can choose three sound elements, one of which must be a song that already exists. What rhythms would they use? What instruments? Sound effects? Have the students write down their three sound elements.

    Step Seven: Ask students to discuss what the set might look like. Colors? Lighting? Time-period? Furniture? Here it is also helpful to have students discuss the mood of their production. Ask students to create a three sentence paragraph that describes the mood of their production, incorporating sensory elements like color and sound and lighting. (This step can be extended by having students actually draw the room in which a scene might take place.)

    Step Eight: Ask each group to write a six line scene that might take place in their production. It can be a scene from the story, or a scene "suggested" by the story. The old man and the narrator having breakfast for example. Give the students a specific time limit for this creation.

    Step Nine: Have students examine all the elements of their production and create an advertising slogan to promote their play. (This step can be extended by having students create a poster for their production.)

    Step Ten: Inform the students that they are going to present their "production plan" to the class. They must include a performance of their written scene and all other information related to the production. Remind students that they can present the material in any manner they choose, and the goal is to get others excited about coming to see the production they have created, as well as communicating why they made the choices that they did. Ask students to be ready to defend their choices.

    Step Eleven: Present production plans to the class without interruption. Have the students who are not presenting write down two things they liked about each group's plan. This step can be expanded by allowing the rest of the class to ask three to five questions of the presenters after each presentation.

    Step Twelve: Conclude lesson with a discussion of the ways in which plans differed and were similar. Address the positive aspects of each plan. How do they think Edgar Allen Poe would feel about the productions? Remind students that the process of theatre involves making choices. There is no right or wrong, and that the same story can be presented in a variety of ways. Discuss how it was to create as part of a team instead of alone? Which is easier? Why?

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    Extension/Adaptation Ideas

    This core lesson can be adapted in many ways. The lesson can be lengthened by having the students actually rehearse and bring in music and props and costumes to stage a scene from their production. Students can create a whole advertising campaign for their production. Students might also cut out images from a magazine that reflect the mood or atmosphere of a scene from their production. This lesson has added impact when students are asked to create together in small groups, but it can also be done while working with students as individuals.

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    PBS Materials: This lesson is strengthened through the use of the PBS Video EDGAR ALLEN POE, TERROR OF THE SOUL. This video explores how the work of Edgar Allen Poe has influenced artists all over the world and is a great introduction to the material.

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    About the Authors

    Ellen Moore taught drama and literature to grades 9-12 at Lawrence Woodmere Academy in Woodmere, New York and served as the Artistic Director of the Theatre Department for grades 5-12. She continues to work as a private tutor and teacher. Ellen holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University in theater, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).

    Christopher Moore is a graduate of the Julliard School, Drama Division and the University of St. Thomas. He is an actor with the acclaimed Pearl Theatre company in New York, and has served as a teaching-artist at several New York City high schools. He is the founder of and recently was awarded a grant from the Belle Foundation for Cultural Development.
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