Standard Lesson

Comparing a Literary Work to Its Film Interpretation

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 60-minute sessions
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In this lesson, high school students look critically at the literary work "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe and its 1961 film interpretation. They use prediction strategies to form and refine their opinions about the story line progression in each work. They read the short story, screen the film, discuss reactions to both works, and plan and write a persuasive essay analyzing the validity of the film interpretation. This lesson is ideally suited for students who have experience with persuasive writing, and it can be adapted to work with any literature-film pairing.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Students often find the visual nature of film more accessible than works in print. When film and literature are used together in the classroom, students can transfer techniques from active viewing (which often comes more naturally) to their experience with reading literature. This transfer can enhance their skills as active readers and enable them to respond to a variety of media with more depth.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • TV/DVD player

  • Computers with Internet access

  • The Pit and the Pendulum directed by Roger Corman (MGM, 1961)




1. Obtain and familiarize yourself with Edgar Allan Poe's original short story "The Pit and the Pendulum" and the 1961 film adaptation The Pit and the Pendulum directed by Roger Corman. Make copies of the short story for every student in your class.

2. For background information about Edgar Allan Poe, visit the Poe Museum website.

3. Highlight the opening passage from the short story and screen the film's opening scenes as described in Session 1 (Step 9). Note that this lesson assumes students will screen the film during two separate class sessions. Session lengths, however, can be flexible to accommodate your classroom schedule-as such, you will want to determine the best stopping point for the first screening based on your ideal session length. The film runs for approximately 120 minutes.

4. If your classroom does not have computers with Internet access, reserve Session 5 in your school's computer lab. Bookmark and familiarize yourself with the online Persuasion Map graphic organizer. Check to make sure that computers have the most recent version of the Flash plug-in (which can be downloaded for free from the Site Tools page). You may wish to print a sample persuasion map for reference. Alternatively, you can print a blank Persuasion Map and make photocopies for class distribution.

5. Print and make copies of the Persuasive Writing Rubric.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Access prior knowledge by recalling reactions to any literature–film pairs they have read and seen in the past

  • Enhance their comprehension of a story by summarizing

  • Build critical-thinking skills by analyzing and forming opinions about the aesthetic qualities of fiction and film works

  • Synthesize information to form and present sophisticated arguments in a persuasive way and describe them with relevant, accurate examples

  • Demonstrate mastery of the persuasive writing format by completing a persuasive essay

Session 1

1. Introduce the lesson by explaining that you will be studying a short story by Edgar Allan Poe and its 1961 film adaptation. To gauge students' familiarity with Poe, invite them to guess which story they will study. Tell students that you have chosen "The Pit and the Pendulum" as an example of how different a film interpretation can be from the original work on which it is based.

2. Ask students to name films they have seen in the past that are based on books. Follow up by asking students to comment on their experiences with both reading a literary work and seeing the film. Invite them to briefly tell which version they liked better and why.

3. Ask students to explain how reading a story is different from watching it unfold on screen. Guide the discussion to ensure that students reflect on concrete differences between the experiences of reading a story and watching a film. You may also wish to discuss the difficulties a filmmaker might face when trying to tell a story without the narration device available to a writer.

4. Ask students what they know about Edgar Allan Poe and his stories. Make sure that students know that he was a 19th-century American writer who wrote horror and suspense stories. His works are now considered classics in American literature.

5. Read the title of the story "The Pit and the Pendulum" and ask students to predict what they think might happen in the story. Accept all reasonable answers.

6. Distribute copies of the story and the Prediction Chart. Explain that before students delve into reading the story and viewing the film, you would like them to make some additional predictions based on a short passage from the story and a few scenes from the movie.

7. Read aloud the first paragraph to the class. Students should follow along using their copies of the story. Acknowledge that Poe used long paragraphs and that students may need to read the opening paragraph more than once to get a feel for the language.

8. When you have finished the reading, ask students to briefly comment on what they think is happening. Who is the narrator? Direct them to jot down some notes on the Prediction Chart. Give them a few minutes to work and assure them that they will have time to return to the chart later.

9. Next, screen the opening scenes of the film, from the main title sequence through Francis getting information about his sister's death and stating that he will stay on at the castle until he gets a more satisfactory explanation.

10. Refer students to the Prediction Chart and ask them to jot down a few notes about their predictions for the film. Replay the opening scenes if necessary.

11. Close the session by giving students a chance to briefly discuss a few of their predictions for the story and film. What differences do they notice already? Use any remaining time for students to continue filling out the Prediction Chart.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 2): Students should complete both sections of the Prediction Chart. Tell them to reread the opening paragraph of the story, as needed, to help with their predictions.

Session 2

1. Answer any questions students have about the Prediction Chart. Have students engage in several minutes of paired or small-group discussion to share and compare their completed charts.

2. Pass out the Story and Film Log. Tell students they will use the form to summarize the separate works and note any reactions they have to what they are reading and viewing. Encourage them to take notes on the back of the handout or notepaper as they experience both works and then to fill in the log once they feel grounded in the different storylines.

3. Screen the first half of the film for the class. Remind students that it is okay to take notes as they watch.

4. Briefly address any questions students may have about the film. Ask them to predict what will happen next.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 3): Students should try to read the entire original story, noting storyline points and their reactions as they go along or after they are done. Tell students that you will check their reading progress during the next session.

Session 3

1. Ask students for their initial reactions to the plot of the short story and how it differs from the movie. Are they surprised by the differences? Discuss for no more than a few minutes.

2. Screen the second half of the film after briefly discussing what was happening at the end of the previous screening. You may wish to replay the final scene from Session 2 as a memory refresher.

3. Close the session by saying, "Come to our next session ready to discuss both the story and the film. We'll summarize them and talk about your preferences-which one you like better, reasons one seems to work better than the other, whether you think too much creative license was taken in the film version, and so on."

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 4): Any students who have not finished the reading should do so. All students should complete the Story and Film Log.

Session 4

1. Have students summarize the story "The Pit and the Pendulum." Guide the discussion so that students hit most of the main summary points noted in the Story and Film Summaries: Teacher Resource.

2. Invite a few volunteers to share their thoughts and reactions to the story from their Story and Film Logs.

3. Have students summarize the film. Guide the discussion so that students hit most of the main points noted in the Story and Film Summaries: Teacher Resource.

4. Invite a few volunteers to share their thoughts and reactions to the film from their Story and Film Logs.

5. Have students revisit the Prediction Chart. Ask several individuals to share examples of what they got right and what they got wrong.

6. Ask students to comment briefly on the following:

  • Which version of the story do you like better-the original story or the film?

  • Do you think there is such a thing as too much creative license? Should the film have stuck to Poe's storyline? Explain.

  • Were you surprised that the stories were so different? What possible reasons might the filmmakers have had to make such big changes?

Session 5

If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, this session should take place in your school's computer lab.

1. Start by discussing expectations for the persuasive writing assignment. Review the elements of a persuasive essay including the following basic points:

  • In a persuasive essay, the writer should state a strong opinion that the reader can understand and agree with.

  • The writing should start with a unique or interesting hook to grab the reader's attention and make him or her want to continue reading.

  • The writer needs to offer evidence to support the opinion.

  • In some cases, the writer may wish to include a brief statement of an opposing viewpoint in order to refute it.

  • The essay should end with a restatement of what the reader should believe or do.
2. Introduce the Persuasion Map, either online or by distributing photocopies of a printout. Instruct students to fill out the form according to one of two essay topics. Provide the following opposing sample statements for students, and tell each student to choose one. Alternatively, you may wish to assign each statement to half the class.

Goal or Thesis:

  • The Roger Corman film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum" is artistically valid even though the film's storyline bears little resemblance to the original work.

  • The Roger Corman film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum" is not artistically valid because the film's storyline bears little resemblance to the original work.
3. Have students use the rest of the session to complete the Persuasion Map and begin writing a five- to six-paragraph persuasive essay. Remind students to support the thesis using examples from the story and film.

Homework: Allow students who need more time to finish writing their essays outside class.


  • Invite volunteers to share their essays in class.

  • Hold a second screening of the film The Pit and the Pendulum with director Roger Corman's commentary turned on (this option is available as a bonus feature on the DVD). Ask students, "Do you like the film the same, more, or not as much after viewing the commentary? Why or why not?" Allow students to take the lead in continuing the discussion in the direction that most interests them. Step in to ask questions or help keep the discussion on track as needed.

  • Have students listen to an audio version of Poe's original story. Borrow an audio book from your school library or download the free MP3 file of the 1957 Basil Rathbone reading on CBS radio at Discuss students' reactions to hearing the story versus reading it. How did listening affect their understanding and enjoyment of the story? Do they prefer listening to a story to reading one? Does it depend on the story? Did they feel that the reader's vocal quality and performance were a good match for the material?

  • Have students read the Poe story "The Premature Burial." Then hold a class discussion focused on the storyline similarities between this and the film The Pit and the Pendulum. Ask students if they think the film could be called an adaptation of this story. Why or why not? Is it a closer match to this story than to "The Pit and the Pendulum"?

  • Invite interested students to create an extra-credit project related to other literature-film pairs. Give each student the freedom to define the parameters of his or her project, but do assign due dates for project proposals (which you must approve) and project completion. Project ideas could include literature-film reviews, persuasive essays, parodies or other skits, amateur filmmaking or storytelling, histories on the writing of a story and the making of a film, profiles of an author and a director-or any reasonable idea your students come up with. The point is to let them pursue their interests and present their work to the class to enhance everyone's learning from this unit. Online resources students might find useful include the Internet Movie Database Film Glossary; Oxford County Library: Books Made Into Movies; and Mid-Continent Public Library: Based on the Book, which includes a database of more than 1,200 books and short stories that have inspired films.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Observe students during in-class film screening, discussions, and essay-planning activities.

  • Have students use the Student Checklist and Reflections Handout.

  • Use the Persuasive Writing Rubric.

  • Have a class discussion at the end of the unit, inviting students to share their analyses and reflections. Pose some or all of the following questions:
  • What was the most enjoyable aspect of comparing “The Pit and the Pendulum” with its film interpretation?

  • What was the most surprising thing about the differences between the story and the film?

  • Why do you think so many novels and stories are turned into films?

  • What conclusions, if any, have you reached about the process of creating a film adaptation of a literary work?
A Blair
K-12 Teacher
Very engaging lesson, but I would like to have seen more done with the persuasive writing piece. It was treated rather briefly.
A Blair
K-12 Teacher
Very engaging lesson, but I would like to have seen more done with the persuasive writing piece. It was treated rather briefly.
A Blair
K-12 Teacher
Very engaging lesson, but I would like to have seen more done with the persuasive writing piece. It was treated rather briefly.

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