Lesson Plan

Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death": Comprehension and Analysis

Grade Levels

8th Grade

Course, Subject

Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening
Related Academic Standards
  • Big Ideas
    Comprehension requires and enhances critical thinking and is constructed through the intentional interaction between reader and text
    Effective use of vocabulary builds social and academic knowledge
    Language is used to communicate and to deepen understanding.
    Spoken language can be represented in print.
  • Concepts
    Changes in word parts affect meaning.
    Essential content, literary elements and devices inform meaning
    Textual features and organization inform meaning
  • Competencies
    Apply word analysis skills (e.g.: syllabication, root words, prefixes, suffixes, inflectional endings) to read and unlock meaning of words.
    Identify and analyze the characteristics of various genre (e.g. poetry, drama, fiction) and explain the appropriateness of chosen form for author’s purpose
    Identify and explain the use of conflict, theme, and/or point of view within and among texts
    Identify and explain the use of literary elements within and among texts
    Interpret and analyze the effect of literary devices within and among texts (e.g. personification, simile, alliteration, metaphor, symbolism, imagery, and hyperbole)


Utilizing before, during, and after strategies, students will comprehend and analyze the rich and complex language of Poe's short story.


Vocabulary to improve reading comprehension:

pestilence, sagacious, brazier, revelers, dominion

Tier 3 Language Arts Vocabulary:

setting, personification, simile, symbol


Students will:

  • write vocabulary definitions in student-friendly form
  • define symbol, setting, simile, and personification and anaylze their impact on the short story
  • use summarizing/visualizing strategies to help comprehend during reading
  • sequence events of a story referring to the text as needed
  • reflect upon how using before, during, and after reading strategies improves comprehension

Lesson Essential Question(s)

How do Poe's use of setting, symbolism, personification, and simile impact the overall effect of the story?

What before, during, and after reading strategies assist in improving reading comprehension?


2, 45-minute periods



  • copies of "Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe (available in 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe  published by Dell ISBN: 0440322278)
  • copies of Before-During-After reading sheet Masque of the Red Death.docx
  • Before-During-After teacher key Masque of the Red Deathkey.docx
  • Set of Story Events (mounted on large construction paper) EventCards.docx
  • Set of Story Quotations (cut into strips)
  • dictionaries
  • blank paper and pens or pencils 
  • copies of tickets out the door ReadingStrategyticket.doc
  • timer or stopwatches

Suggested Instructional Strategies

W= By the end of the lesson, students will have read and comprehended a story written with complex word choice and sentence structure. Students will understand the impact of literary devices such as personification, symbol, simile, and setting on a story.

H=Before reading, students will define a few key words to aid in comprehension and will briefly hear a connection between the story and the author's life to help build background knowledge.  During reading, students will stop to draw quick sketches of what they are reading. This activity develops students' ability to visualize and gives them a chance to process what they are reading.  After reading, students will reflect upon the text by sequencing events, matching quotations, and analyzing use of literary devices. 

E=This lesson will equip students with reading skills that they can transfer to other stories within the Mystery and Suspense unit.

R=Students must return to the text to sequence events and match quotations.  They will revisit their student-friendly definitions as needed during reading.  In small and large group discussion, they will rethink their understanding of the use of literary devises.

E=Students will express their understanding of the story through their retelling and will evaluate with their retelling partners whether they were able to include main events.  They will evaluate their ability to sequence the narrative events by referring often to the text. They will summarize the reading skills utilized in this lesson so that they can transfer these skills as they approach new stories.

T=This lesson can be tailored to various reading levels by allowing students able to read the text independently to do so; reading aloud to other students or utilizing an audio version for struggling readers; using an adapted version of the story for readers significantly below grade level.

O=This lesson is organized using before, during, and after reading activities to help students approach the text.  Prior to this lesson, students would already have used student-friendly definition formulas, defined literary terms and plot elements and discussed their use in poetry, and gained relevant background knowledge on the author's life. Following the reading of this story, students would read one or two more stories with guidance from the teacher before reading and responding independently to a story.  This technique scaffolds their ability to read complex texts independently.

Instructional Procedures

Before Reading

1. Vocabulary- Prior to reading this story, students would typically have read "The Tell-Tale Heart" as a class.  They would already be familiar with Poe's use of complex vocabulary and sentence structure and understand the importance of knowing definitions of a few words essential to the plot.  Students would have already practiced student-friendly definition patterns.  Students could complete the first section of the packet in partners or individually with classroom dictionaries.

2. Building Background Knowledge - Students would have already learned some basic background knowledge about the life of Edgar Allan Poe.  For this story, however, it is helpful and intriguing for students to learn a bit more about tuberculosis--the disease that took the lives of Poe's mother, step-mother, and wife.  A quick mini-lesson focusing on these facts helps to engage students: 1) vaccines for TB are now widely used in the US, but prior to the vaccine, this disease had become an epidemic becuase of its high level of contagion 2) TB affects the lungs and causes extreme couging; in some cases victims of the disease may cough up blood 3) Poe realized his own wife was inflicted when she was singing and a cough produced blood on her lips. The story "Masque of the Red Death" seems to personify the disease that caused so much tragedy in Poe's life.

3.  Literary Terms - Students would have been introduced to these terms through poetry in our Mystery and Suspense unit.  I ask students to review the terms by writing definitions in their own words (and referring to notes as needed). Students should be looking for Poe's use of these devices as they read.

4.  Fold Book - Students follow directions to fold a stapless book.  This activity offers a novel way to summarize, visualize, and retell the story. Be sure to have students write the title, author, and illustrater (themselves) on the front cover.

During Reading

1.  In the text, predetermine seven places to pause.  At each pause, students take 1 minutes to sketch a picture.  I encourage basic stick figures and less than 5 words per page.  Depending on the reading level of students, you may have them follow along with the text as the teacher reads or as an audio version plays, or teachers can mark the text with stars or sticky notes so that students can read independently and pause at each noted place in the story. If I do this lesson as a whole class, I set a timer each time students draw.  If students are reading independently or in partners, I give them stop watches.

2.  Suggested places to pause:
  • After the fourth full paragraph (Students draw the Prince and few friends at the masqued ball or an aerial view of the colored rooms of the castle--setting.)
  • After the fifth full paragraph (Students draw the clock--symbol.)
  • In the middle of the 8th paragraph with the striking of midnight and the freezing of the dancing and music.
  • At the end of the 9th paragraph (Students draw the intruder.)
  • At the end of the 12th paragraph (Students draw Prince with hand waved saying, "Who dares?")
  • After this quote in the 13th paragraph "There was a sharp cry--and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which instanly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero."
  • At the very end of the story (simile and personification).

After Reading

1.  Students get in partners and re-tell the story using their stapleless books.  Students should alternate explaining pages and fill in details to help their partners. During this time, the teacher circulates to clarify any misunderstandings.

2 and 3.  Students attempt to put the narrative events listed in their packets in order.  While students work on this independently for a couple of minutes using their books as needed, the teacher passes out the 15 large event cards (1 to each of 15 students).  The teacher then asks those student to arrange themselves in the correct order while the teacher passes out cards with the quotations to those who did not get a large card. These students attempt to match their quotes with one of the events on the chart.  Once the first group is in narrative order, those with the quotes should then place themselves next to the appropriate card.  The events and quotes then read their cards aloud in order.  The class can discuss any changes that need to be made and then write their final answers in their packets.

4. Students should attempt to first answer the literary term questions independently and then discuss them in partners and share with the entire group in a final discussion. (Think-Ink, Pair-Share)

5. Before exiting, students should reflect upon the reading strategies used in this lesson to help them comprehend the story by completing the ticket out the door.

Formative Assessment

Before Reading

The teacher should circulate to spot check vocabulary and literary term definitions

During Reading

As students do their quick sketch books, the teacher should observe students and provide immediate support for individuals who may be struggling to summarize a section of the story.  The teacher can direct the student to key lines in the text or help clarify additional word meanings that may be hindering the student's comprehension.

After Reading

By listening to the students' retellings and observing the student's ability to sequence themselves and match the quotes to the events, the teacher should be able to sense whether students comprehended the plot of the story.  The purpose of the ticket out the door is to have students reflect upon the reading strategies used to aid comprehension.  The teacher should return these tickets to students when students read their next Poe story to help students transfer the skills.

Related Materials & Resources

optional audio book for differentiation:

Edgar Allan Poe Audio Collection [unabridged] published by Caedmon ISBN: 0694524190


optional abridged version for differentiation:

Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Gris Grimly ISBN: 0689848374

Tales of Terror by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Michale McCurdy ISBN: 0375833056

online version of the stapleless book:



background on Poe's life:

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site
National Park Service site on Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


background on tuberculosis (article from World Book online):



Katherine Deisley Warwick School District kdeisley@warwicksd.org

Date Published

December 22, 2010
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