If you’re looking for an engaging lesson for middle school ELA, teaching The Monkey’s Paw short story by W.W. Jacobs is a student favorite. Read on to see how I teach this short story and some fun activities to pair with it.
Middle school teachers are often looking for short stories to use while teaching the elements of literature. Short stories are easy to digest in a single class period and offer a variety of ways to promote student thinking. Teaching The Monkey’s Paw short story by W.W. Jacobs is a middle school teacher favorite because it gives teachers a chilling opportunity to teach and reivew various elements of literature in an unforgettable way!
Step #1: Reading & Digesting The Monkey’s Paw
The Monkey’s Paw is a relatively long short story for middle school students. While I have some classes that can read the text on their own, I have other classes that need a bit of guidance to get through it in a reasonable amount of time. This audio version on Youtube is our class favorite!
Before reading, I provide students with a paper copy of the story or assign it on Google Classroom. As we read, I pause periodically and ask comprehension questions that encourage students to dig into the story just a little bit. By doing this, I ensure that everybody knows what’s going on and has a better chance at “getting it” at the end.
Here are some recommended guided questions you can use throughout the reading:
- What can you tell about Mr. White based on the opening scene involving chess?
- Describe the mood at the White’s house in the beginning.
- Why do you think Sergeant-Major tries to brush off talking about the monkey’s paw?
- When Sergeant-Major says the first man’s third wish was for death, what did that make you wonder?
- Why do you think the Whites ignore Sergeant-Major’s warnings?
- How might Mr. White’s decision to rescue the paw from the fire affect the plot?
- Was Herbert’s accident a coincidence? Why or why not?
- How does Mrs. White’s attitude toward the monkey’s paw change? What brings about this change?
- How does the mood of the story change once Mrs. White makes the second wish?
- What do you think Mr. White’s third wish was? Why?
If you’d like to save time and snag my editable Google Slideshow with these guided reading questions already loaded, you can sign up for my email list and grab it here for free!
Step #2: Digging Deeper into The Monkey’s Paw
There are so many fun ways you can invite students to interact with The Monkey’s Paw! Helping students identify the different stages of the plot is always a jam-packed assignment. It incorporates so many elements in a single assignment: setting, characters, conflict, and theme. The Monkey’s Paw also makes a great story to practice plot with because it’s not cut and dry. Like most scary stories, there’s a lot of dialogue between students regarding the climax, falling action, and resolution!
Once students have demonstrated a firm understanding of the plot of The Monkey’s Paw, I like to give them a choice on a higher-level task. Students can choose from the following:
- Come up with three wishes –> and identify possible consequences of those wishes!
- Rewrite the ending
- Research superstitions
- Write a thank you letter (to the story, of course!)
Step #3: Putting Our Knowledge To Work: An Escape Room
As you look to wrap up your lesson on The Monkey’s Paw, a great way to put it all together is with an escape room. Academic escape rooms are a great way to review critical content & squeeze in a bit of test prep in an exciting and competitive way.
Setting up your room for an escape is a fun way to influence the overall ambiance. You can grab a few cheap props from the dollar store like caution tape and flickering candles. If the season aligns, Halloween decor can also add to the mood!
Give yourself 20 minutes before school to hang things up. Then, close the blinds and turn on a spooky Youtube playlist like this one. It also has a creepy background that makes for a great display while students work!
The Monkey’s Paw escape room that I built for my students has four separate breakouts:
- Characters & Conflict
- Setting & Mood
- Plot Structure
If your school has Breakout EDU kits, you can set up actual breakout boxes and spread them out into different areas of the room. Next to each breakout box, place a few copies of the questions so multiple students can be working on one breakout at a time. You might allow students to work with a partner or group or on their own. Remind them to clear the locks after each attempt!
If you don’t have access to Breakout EDU boxes, you can also do this escape room using a Google Form. It won’t let students move forward or “unlock the breakout” until they’ve entered the code correctly. Students like this version just as well, and it takes less time to prep.
Most students can complete the escape room in 45 minutes or less. Frontloading information or tasks makes a big difference – like using the guided reading questions suggested above or working through the plot structure beforehand. I also recommend offering students lifelines. If they show you a failed code, you can let them know which parts of the code they got correct and which ones they need to go back and review. This helps students not to waste time second-guessing questions they got right. Finally, you can encourage early finishers to do the same and help guide the rest of the students through to the end!
Step #4: Wrapping Up The Monkey’s Paw
If you have any extra time to spend with The Monkey’s Paw, there’s a great short film adaptation in black and white that you can compare and contrast to the original text. View it here. There’s also a much shorter Simpsons version you can use if you’re short on time!
Reading and analyzing the short story The Monkey’s Paw will be a lesson your students will truly enjoy. If you’re thinking about teaching it, don’t forget to grab my free guided reading slideshow! Be sure to check out The Monkey’s Paw activities I referenced throughout this post below.
Do you teach The Monkey’s Paw in your classroom? I’d love to hear about your favorite activities to use in the comments below. You can also follow me on Facebook or Instagram to join in on the conversation!