The Tell-Tale Heart



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The Tell-Tale Heartfile:shearer\'s covered bridge floor boards 3264px.jpg

Insanity Plea


Teacher Instructions
Objectives:
This is a fun, engaging activity to do with your students after reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” A lot of times when students are writing or speaking persuasively, they fail to use actual evidence to prove their points. This fun mini-trial lesson is intended to give students some practice doing just that while analyzing a classic short story. In this lesson, students will:


  • Use specific evidence from a story to support analysis of a character

  • Analyze how particular images or events contribute to the development of a theme or central idea in a text

  • Support a claim with logical reasoning and relevant evidence

  • Correctly cite quotations from literature

Objectives:




  • Reading Standard 1 – Cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

  • Writing Standard 1 – Write arguments to support a substantive claim with clear reasons and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • Writing Standard 9 – Write in response to literary or informational sources, drawing evidence from the text to support analysis and reflection as well as to describe what they have learned.

  • Speaking and Listening Standard 3 – Evaluate the speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

  • Speaking and Listening Standard 4Present information, evidence, and reasoning in a clear and well-structured way appropriate to purpose and audience.

Lesson Instructions:


Read the short story as a class or in small groups. Then divide the class in half so that one side of the room is arguing for the prosecution and the other side for the defense.
As a class, read through the “Legal Definition of Insanity” using a projector. Spend a few minutes on a short class discussion about the following questions: Do you think the killer in this story is insane? What evidence in the story could prove that he’s insane? What evidence might help prove that he’s NOT insane? If this man were on trial, do you think he should be held criminally responsible for his actions?
The worksheet could be completed individually or in groups. The most important part of the assignment is to use a line from the story as evidence to prove a point, so make sure the students focus on that. Before the students get started, you could share the example paragraphs below—but only if you feel they need that extra scaffolding. For other students that are struggling, you could suggest some of the useful quotations on the list included below.
Optional Activities:
You could possibly spend an extra half day on this activity by turning it into a small mock trial or debate. Select a few students to represent the prosecution and the defense (ask for volunteers). Have the students take turns sharing their arguments. The rest of the class can act as a jury. After all of the volunteers have made their statements, give the jury a few minutes to deliberate before deciding whether or not they’d accept the killers plea of insanity.

Example Answers:




Example First Piece of Evidence for the PROSECUTION:
First of all, the killer remembers everything about the crime and can talk about it calmly. In his confession, the killer says, “Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story” (pg 1). A person who is legally insane cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, so he probably wouldn’t have such an accurate memory of everything that happened. If he remembers all the facts about what he did, this proves that he was aware of reality and was not insane.
Example First Piece of Evidence for the DEFENSE:
First of all, the man was hearing things that weren’t really there. In his confession, the man claimed that he had a very acute sense of hearing. He says, “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell” (1). It sounds as if this man can’t tell the difference between things he’s actually hearing and things that he’s just imagining—you can’t actually hear sounds coming from heaven or hell. If a person who is legally insane has a hard time distinguishing between fantasy and reality, this man is clearly insane.
Quotes That Could Help the DEFENSE:

I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.

One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.

…but I found the eye always closed, and so it was impossible to do the work, for it was not the old man who vexed me but his Evil Eye.

He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; just as I have done night after night hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

…at length a single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye. It was open, wide, wide open, and I grew furious as I gazed upon it.

But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me -- the sound would be heard by a neighbour!

I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards,

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks!—here, here!—it is the beating of his hideous heart!"

Quotes That Could Help the PROSECUTION:
Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story.

Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight, with what dissimulation, I went to work!

what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses?

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body.

There was nothing to wash out—no stain of any kind—no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that.

I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country.

I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed.

The Tell-Tale Heartfile:shearer\'s covered bridge floor boards 3264px.jpg

Insanity Plea
Legal Definition of Insanity
In a criminal trial, the word “insanity” means something more specific than when we use it in everyday speech. You can’t say that someone on trial is “insane” just because he did something that most of us would consider “crazy” (like killing someone, chopping up the body, and hiding the pieces under the floorboards.)
That’s because, in a trial, when we say someone is insane, we’re saying that the person didn’t fully understand what he or she was doing and therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for his or her actions. Read the following legal definition of insanity:
Insanity is a mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot manage his/her own affairs, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. In criminal cases, a plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity" will require a trial on the issue of the defendant's insanity (or sanity) at the time the crime was committed.
In this context, "not guilty" does not mean the person did not commit the criminal act for which he or she is charged. It means that when the person committed the crime, he or she could not tell right from wrong or could not control his or her behavior because of severe mental defect or illness. Such a person, the law holds, should not be held criminally responsible for his or her behavior.
(INTERNET SOURCE: www.USLegal.com)

The Tell-Tale Heartfile:shearer\'s covered bridge floor boards 3264px.jpg

Insanity Plea
Name: Period:
You are the court-appointed DEFENSE attorney (lawyer) for a man accused of murder. The man is clearly guilty—he confessed to the crime and led the police straight to the mutilated body of his victim. Obviously, there is no chance of getting a jury to find him innocent. However, if you can convince the jury that your client is insane, he’ll be able to avoid the death penalty and might be sent to an institution instead of to prison.
REMEMBER: Legal insanity means that, at the time of the crime, the killer…


  • Could not distinguish fantasy from reality

  • Could not tell right from wrong

  • And could not control his behavior


Read through the killer’s confession and try to find evidence that you could use to prove that the murderer IS insane. Be as specific as possible. Write a full paragraph (4 to 5 full sentences) for each piece of evidence. And in each paragraph, use a quote from the story (the murderer’s own words) to prove your point. Put the quote in QUOTATION MARKS—“ ”—and then put the page number in parentheses—( ); the period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.
EXAMPLE QUOTE: “True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” (pg 203).
First piece of evidence (or first reason):

Second piece of evidence (or second reason):

Third piece of evidence (or third reason):
The Tell-Tale Heartfile:shearer\'s covered bridge floor boards 3264px.jpg

Insanity Plea


Name: Period:
You are the PROSECUTING attorney (lawyer) for the state in a case against a man accused of murder. The man is obviously guilty—he confessed to the crime and led the police straight to the mutilated body of his victim. The defense lawyers are going to try to prove that their client is insane and should therefore get a lesser sentence. But you want to prove that he is not insane so the murderer will face the full consequences of his crime.
REMEMBER: Legal insanity means that, at the time of the crime, the killer…

  • Could not distinguish fantasy from reality

  • Could not tell right from wrong

  • And could not control his behavior


Read through the killer’s confession and try to find evidence that you could use to prove that the murderer is NOT insane. Be as specific as possible. Write a full paragraph (4 to 5 full sentences) for each piece of evidence. And in each paragraph, use a quote from the story (the murderer’s own words) to prove your point. Put the quote in QUOTATION MARKS—“ ”—and then put the page number in parentheses—( ); the period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.
EXAMPLE QUOTE: “True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” (pg 1).
First piece of evidence (or first reason):

Second piece of evidence (or second reason):

Third piece of evidence (or third reason):

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