A Cask of…Armadillo.

In the 10 years I have been teaching Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado”, it never fails: at least half of the students refer to the story as “that armadillo story.” For the first few years, I found myself confused as I tried to remember what story had an armadillo in it… it didn’t take long before I realized what was happening. Amontillado sort of looks like armadillo, I guess?

As an English teacher, I get incredibly excited to teach anything by Poe. He’s one of the greats, right? The mysterious, eerie, disturbing stories are easy to engage students in, right? While I can count on my students talking about an armadillo, I can count on myself to always forget that engaging students in Edgar Allan Poe is not as easy as I want it to be. I easily forget that the reason Poe is such an incredible writer is because of his lavish language.

Teaching Edgar Allan Poe is hard.

You must find a way to hook your students before you even begin. Find a way to get them excited about reading his work so that they are up for the challenge of comprehending his elaborate storytelling. The alternative? They shut down before they even get through the first sentence.

One of the easiest ways to get students interested in Edgar Allan Poe the man is to practice their research skills. I require students to complete this webquest that leads students down the path of discovering just how obscure Poe’s life was. Trust me, the second they find out he married his 13-year-old cousin? They’re hooked. While they talk about how “creepy” it is, it’s the perfect transition into discussing how creepy his stories are.

While I usually assign the webquest as an assignment that the students begin after a test and then finish as homework, the other two “attention rousers” that I utilize for “A Cask of Amontillado” are more hands-on and require class participation.

The first assignment I have students work on is the “Coat of Arms” assignment. This fun assignment can be completed on paper with crayons and markers or digitally on Google Docs. Students read a small excerpt explaining what a coat of arms is and then go on to develop their own. When time allows, after students have created their arms, I have them show the class their creations and give a brief explanation of why they chose the design they did.

The following day, the students participate in a “Prediction Roundtable Discussion“. In this activity, students work independently to develop a prediction based off of a range of quotes from the story. Then, students work as a group to combine their individual predictions into one. I remind students as they are working on developing their predictions to consider what they know about Poe and the activity from the previous day.

Once students have been properly introduced to the text, it’s time to start reading. I always make sure to read Poe’s work aloud. Between myself and the students, we are able to work together to ensure all students are fully comprehending the story. Plus, it’s a whole lot more fun to uncover the disturbing elements of the story in a group setting! Students work on vocabulary, a reading guide and finish the brief story with a test. Once they have the hang of “A Cask of Amontillado”, it allows me to introduce a variety of other pieces of Poe’s work to them with a little less work beforehand!


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