A Lesson on Atmosphere & Symbolism screams a study of Edgar Allan Poe "The Raven" on Halloween
Students normally scared of poetry welcome instruction on The Raven during Halloween
By Alicia Johnson
I usually don't dive deep into poetry until the spring. Halloween season, however, sets the perfect stage to recognize America's love for the spooky with Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". My eighth graders might act "all grown up", but they still celebrate our traditional holidays with enthusiasm, and most still go out and trick-or-treat. So, I help them get in the mood by taking a brief look at Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" on Halloween (or the Friday before a Halloween weekend.)
I use many of the introduction items from one of the lesson plans I have included in this article entitled Atmosphere & Symbolism in "The Raven". I write the following words on the board, as suggested by the lesson plan: dreary, bleak, ghost, lost, sorrow, terrors, darkness, melancholy, stern, dirges, grave, and stillness. I tell my students that these words are from a very famous poem. I ask them to make some guesses about the setting and atmosphere of the poem such as: What time of day is it? What time of year? What is the author feeling? Is he alone or with other people?
Next I hand out copies of the poem. I have included another lesson plan in this article entitled POEtry-A Close Look at "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe that includes a wonderful PDF of the poem that you can easily download. I also have a recording of actor Christopher Walken reading "The Raven". It is perfect to set the mood. There is eerie background music that goes well with the lights turned out. I ask the students to read silently along with the audio.
After listening to it, I ask the students to pick out some of the other word(s) in the poem that reinforce the feelings of bleakness and hopelessness. We discuss possible scenarios that could have brought the author of the poem to this horrible state. I ask if anyone wants to volunteer to tell us of a time when they felt scared and alone, or when they thought they heard things because of the atmosphere (out camping, home alone, in bed after watching a scary movie.) I talk about how setting and atmosphere help create our mood in real-life just as it does in literature.
Then I finish the class by showing a quick video of "The Simpsons" Season 2, Episode 16, "The Tree House of Horror" rendition of "The Raven". This is a very fun visual of Poe's dark poem. The narrator in this episode is James Earl Jones. Lastly, I give them all a piece of candy and wish them a safe and happy trick-or-treating and invite them to tell me about it on our next day of school. I especially look for stories that we can tie into our discussion of atmosphere created in "The Raven".
Halloween Poetry and "The Raven" Lesson Plans:
Students will understand the content and themes discussed in four poems by Edgar Allan Poe: "The Raven", "The Bells", "Eldorado", and "Annabel Lee." They will also understand the process or readers theater and group dramatic presentations. This is a very active lesson which incorporates drama into a study of Poe's poetry.
Students will discuss atmosphere and symbolism in Poe's "The Raven" culminating in a written description or drawing of the "chamber" suggested by Poe's poem.
Students will learn about Edgar Allan Poe's, "The Raven," by illustrating different verses of the poem using an image editor. Students will then combine the images and illustrations into a multimedia authoring tool to showcase to others. Even if you don't have the image editor they use, you will be able to adapt this for your computer lab.