Mark Twain Lesson Plans

Celebrate the birthday of Mark Twain and learn about American life and literature along the great Mississippi River.

By Kristen Kindoll

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Mark Twain Lesson Plans

Mark Twain was the nom de plume for Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Twain was the media and public darling of the 19th and 20th centuries. His writings, quotations, and attitude helped shape public opinion. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and the "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" are still required reading for many students.

But even with his success, Clemens did not have an easy life. He was insecure, and plagued by business and personal tragedies. However, whether using the name of Mark Twain or Samuel Clemens, he was pivotal in providing literature with timeless stories and witticisms, and reflective examinations of our culture.

Clemens was born on Nov. 30th, 1835. He was the sixth of seven children. Born in the year Halley's Comet shot across the sky, the comet would become part of the Clemens' lore. One of his many famous quotations notes this strange anomaly, "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'" This is one of the many sayings that have been recorded and repeated. Mark Twain Quotations lists sources and a chronological reference guide for his adages.

It was Clemens' time in Hannibal, Missouri, located along the Mississippi River, that provided the characters, themes, and stories for his most celebrated novels and short stories. The Official Website of Mark Twain explores Samuel's life, and how this affected his writing. It was a voyage on a steamboat to New Orleans that ignited a passion to pursue a career as a captain. It also served as the inspiration for his home as an adult. The Mark Twain House is located in Hartford, Connecticut. At a certain angle, the home resembles a giant steamboat wheel churning. This home also reflects Clemens penchant for technological advancements too.

While Clemens used several pen names in his writing career, Mark Twain was the one that garnered the most attention. It was also his personal favorite. Clemens came up with the idea for the name while working on the Mississippi River. A frequent call made by pilots and boatmen is ‘mark twain'. It can be translated into on the line (mark), and depth (twain), which is two fathoms. His love for rivers, specifically the Mississippi River, is why rivers are the background setting, and some would say, the main character of many of his tales.

Friends with two presidents, and a frequent public speaker, Mark Twain enjoyed the celebrity of being a public figure. While his books made him very wealthy, he was plagued by poor business sense. His financial interest in many inventions proved foolhardy and brought him close to financial ruin several times. His love affair with his wife, Olivia, was, however, a success. Their romance lasted to her death. Many of his siblings, his own children, and his wife died tragically. He was marred by deep depression over their loss. Mark Twain was the persona that he donned frequently to pull himself out of the sadness that often troubled his soul.

By marking Mark Twain's birthday, children can learn about a time period that richly shaped America's history. There are a variety of lessons and websites available for use in researching this remarkable gentleman.

Mark Twain Lesson Plans:

Mark Twain Classroom Activities has several activities which explore Samuel's life. It is a great companion to the extraordinary biographical video recently shown on PBS stations across America.

Mark Twain and American Humor examines Twain's humorist influence on literature. This lesson can be paired with the research on the award named in his honor, The Mark Twain Prize for Humor.

Mark Twain has students learn about Clemens' early life. Children will read several of his short stories and books as tools for an examination.