Tom Sawyer Teaching Guide
- 9 pages
- Subject: Allusion, Character Analysis, Historical Context, Plot, Themes, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
- Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9
So you’re going to teach The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic text has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations, even though it has often been overshadowed by its follow-up, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. While it has its problematic spots, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into American coming-of-age stories in the 1800s, Twain’s satirical wit—which still holds up all these years later—and small-town traditions and prejudices.
About This Document
Owl Eyes Teaching Guides have been designed to help first-time and veteran teachers open up classic works of literature for their students. Our guides provide rich background information, identify key themes and topics, and offer creative and practical approaches to teaching the text.
The main components of each guide include the following:
- A concise history of the text
- An explanation of significant allusions
- Teaching approaches and discussion questions
- Tricky issues to address while teaching
- Alternative teaching approaches
- A list of complementary texts
These Teaching Guides offer valuable context and promote meaningful discussions about novels, plays, poems, and stories that have captivated English Language Arts students for generations. Each guide is comprehensive and concise, thought-provoking and practical.
Approaches and Discussion Questions Excerpt
Tom as Reluctant Truth-Teller: Tom tells many lies throughout the narrative, though most are fairly inconsequential. However, not all lies are permissible—especially those that implicate others. While Tom is a stereotypical “bad boy,” finding ways to get out of work and trick his family and friends, he becomes honest when the truth has lasting consequences. This can be seen when Tom testifies against Injun Joe despite the fear of retaliation. Notice also the final scene of the novel, where Tom nudges Huck into accepting the widow’s help by asserting that Huck must become respectable in order to continue his adventures with Tom. Tom has matured—at least a little.
- For discussion: When does Tom lie, and when does he elect to tell the truth? Why does he choose what he does?
Additional Discussion Questions:
- Does Tom actually mature or change in a significant way? How so? What about in his relationships with Becky, Huck, or Aunt Polly?
- How is Twain’s portrayal of Injun Joe problematic?
- How much and in what way do you think growing up in America has changed since the 1840s, when Tom Sawyer is set?
- How much does this novel set the stage for its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? How does it stand on its own as a self-contained story?
- What do Twain’s self insertions (such as Chapter II’s “If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do”) reveal about the tone of the novel?