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Lesson Plan Mark Twain's Hannibal

Writers are influenced by their environment including their family, community, lifestyle, or location. One such writer was Mark Twain. In this project the learner will become familiar with and analyze life around Hannibal, Missouri, during the latter half of the nineteenth century using various resources to determine what effects this location had on the writings of Mark Twain. The curriculum context will be within a Lesson on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Segments of this lesson might also be integrated into a study of Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The lessons could be presented with introductory material prior to reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or integrated while reading the novel. Even though these activities center on Mark Twain and his writings, they could easily be adapted to almost any author and his environment.

Objectives

Students will:

  • understand primary sources.
  • critically evaluate information sources for reliability, accuracy, perspective, relevancy, and authoritativeness.
  • understand the impact Mark Twain's environment had on his writings.

Time Required

Two weeks

Lesson Preparation

Materials

Resources

Lesson Procedure

Lesson One: Analysis of Primary Sources (2–3 hours)
Primary sources expose students to multiple perspectives on issues of the past and present. By working with primary sources, students will be able to critically evaluate information resources for content, validity, authoritativeness, perspective, relevancy and accuracy. In this lesson, students will learn how to analyze primary resources such as those that are found in Library of Congress online collections.

Lesson Two: Searching Library of Congress Online Collections (2–3 hours)
Students will learn how to use the Library's online collections to locate primary sources (as they pertain to the novel Huckleberry Finn) relating not only to Hannibal and its impact but also to what was happening between 1850 and 1900 along or near the Mississippi River.

Lesson Three: Student Presentations (10–15 minutes per presentation, plus additional time for class interactions and outside research)
Following their investigations, students will share their findings and interpretations as they relate to what was happening between 1850 and 1900.

Lesson One

This lesson introduces students to primary resources by analyzing a historical map from the Library's Panoramic Maps collection with the entire class. The map will be examined first for observations and then for interpretations. Students will be asked to draw conclusions about life in Hannibal during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Examples of other primary resources will be shared and analyzed in smaller groups.

  1. Identify map to be used as a large group activity. See Bird's Eye View of Guttenberg, Clayton County, Iowa 1869 or any map in the collection.
  2. Examine as a class the map of Guttenberg. Students analyze the map, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Maps to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis.
  3. Break class into smaller groups, giving each group a different primary resource to review using the analysis. tools. Students analyze the primary sources, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis. Format-specific teacher's guides may provide additional discussion questions.

    Primary sources such as photographs, sheet music or maps can be found at a local historical society or in books, newspapers or magazines. Or, use the following items from the Library's online collections:
  4. Have groups share what they have learned about their resources.

Lesson Two

This lesson introduces students to searching Library of Congress online collections for primary documents relating to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and life along the Mississippi River from 1850–1900. Searching the Collection will be modeled as a whole group activity first, then will be followed by students breaking into small groups to search various collections within American Memory. Students will be expected to use skills learned from Lesson One to gather documents that relate to issues in The Adventures of Huck Finn.

  1. Introduce the Library of Congress online collections, including what they are and features of the Library's site.
  2. Demonstrate how to navigate the Library's online collections, briefly showing the types of collections on the site.
  3. Demonstrate features and specifics of collection search pages.
  4. Discuss keyword and synonym selection of terms that might yield desirable results when searching for documents relating to the topic.
    • Have students brainstorm as a large group terms that could be used.
    • Record terms for referring to while searching.
  5. Students break into small groups to search for information relating to Hannibal or what was happening between 1850 and 1900 along or near the Mississippi River. Students will use the primary source analysis tools to review information found and compile their observations and conclusions. Sample search results are listed below.

Lesson Three

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to share with the entire class the primary sources they have located with their small groups. Students will be expected to use the skills learned from lessons one and two to analyze sources for their reliability, accuracy, perspective, relevancy and authoritativeness. Following individual and group work, instructor and students will integrate each student-chosen primary source into the reading of the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, making connections to Mark Twain and what was happening along or near the Mississippi River between 1850 and 1900 during the reading.

  1. Following their searches in the Library's online collections for sources that directly relate to what was happening along or near the Mississippi River between 1850 and 1900, students will do the following activities:
    • Share the primary source discovered with the class either by printing the source out or viewing it directly online.
    • Share their analysis of the primary source.
    • Question the presenters about the observations and conclusions.
    • Ask for additional commentary and analysis from the class.
    • Support or refute the observations and conclusions drawn using any primary or secondary source. Findings will be reported orally to the class, citing the evidence they found.
    • Summarize what he or she has learned about what was happening along or near the Mississippi River between 1850 and 1900.
  2. After all presentations are completed, the class as a whole will compare the observations and conclusions drawn.
  3. Following individual and group work, the instructor and students will correlate each student-chosen primary source to the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and what was happening along or near the Mississippi River between 1850 and 1900 during the reading.

Extension

  • Set up an online chat with a cultural institution, such as the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, to provide additional information about Hannibal, the Mississippi River and Mark Twain.
  • Invite a university historian to share knowledge about what was happening along or near the Mississippi River between 1850 and 1900.
  • Role play Twain and his reaction to today's social issues. For example, how would Twain react to or view civil rights, technology or the media?
  • Compose a song about Huck and Jim's travels.
  • Write an editorial from Twain's perspective dealing with a local issue.
  • Compare travel in Twain's time with that of today.
  • Compare sheet music created during Twain's time to that of today.
  • Locate nineteenth-century words found in the novel and determine how they are used today.
  • Keep a log or diary from Huck or Jim's perspective as they travel down the river.
  • Pose as a news reporter and write accounts of key events that happened in the novel.
  • Investigate and discuss censorship issues relating to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • Determine whether the adventures of Huckleberry Finn could happen today. Why or why not? Would the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons be settled in the same way today?
  • Compile a list of questions to ask Mark Twain if he were alive today and predict his responses.
  • Role play scenes from the novel or impersonate a character.
  • Watch a video version of the novel and discuss how Hollywood has interpreted the work.
  • Draw a map tracing Huck and Jim's travel down the Mississippi River.
  • Discuss the law or lack of law in the novel.
  • Interact with an impersonator of Mark Twain.

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluate student participation, analysis, and written work according to criteria generated by the teacher or by the teacher in conjunction with the class.

Credits

Jan Wood & Norma Thiese

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