If you teach American Literature, it’s likely that you have crossed paths with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in your years of teaching. It’s one of my favorite texts to cover in English 11, and the students really enjoy it as well.
Whether you are an experienced educator looking for a few fresh ideas or a first-year teacher seeking out fun Crucible activities, I’ve compiled a list of active engagement teaching ideas for your unit on The Crucible.
1. Hexagonal thinking
Hexagonal thinking is a higher-level thinking strategy that lets students collaborate with peers and explore relationships between concepts. Students arrange the hexagons to create a map, connecting the edges of each hexagon with another that has a similarity.
In the end, each hexagonal thinking map will likely look a little different, and students will justify the connections they made. You can have students explain every connection or have students explain only a handful (I like 5).
For The Crucible, I like to use hexagonal thinking in two different ways:
- I put each character’s name on a hexagon for students to review character relationships. This works well at the end of Act One or after any act. As students’ understanding of characters grow, their explanations and connections will deepen. It’s a flexible activity in that regard! To connect characters, you might place Abigail’s hexagon in the center, and then place John Proctor’s next to hers, followed with Elizabeths, etc.
- Another hexagonal thinking option for The Crucible is to review characters, concepts, symbols, themes, and more. This would work well as a culminating assessment after finishing the entire play. Consider placing concepts such as “hysteria,” “McCarthyism,” “The Red Scare,” “Abigail Williams,” “The Salem Witch Trials,” etc. on different hexagons. Students can arrange the hexagons on a digital Google Slide / PowerPoint template or on a desk, table, or wall. This activity work well as a print or digital option, allowing for distance learning flexibility. You can easily create a hexagon map using Google Slides (or PPT) OR you can check out my pre-made hexagonal thinking activities on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.
2. Secure the stage
Students love a change of scenery, and getting your students out of the classroom and onto the stage can be an excellent way to bring The Crucible to life for your students. Yes, there will likely be complaints and groans from some students, but through the years, I’ve noticed that even the most vocally reluctant students tend to secretly love a class performance.
At my school, teachers have to reserve the stage with our auditorium manager, so once I have a good idea on the date(s) we will need, I make sure to secure a full day on the stage so all of my English 11 classes get the chance to perform.
My favorite way to do performances is to cover Act III on stage. Act III can be tough to get through in the classroom due to length and content, and having students perform it usually makes it easier to keep students’ attention. I like to break up the Act into three parts (depending on the size of my class), and assign roles to each student. In a class of 30, I might have three separate Danforths, for example (one Danforth for each section of the Act). Before we get on stage, I make copies of each section and let students highlight their parts and practice reading. I encourage students to read the stage directions to make sure they know where to walk and how to bring their performance to life.
Getting props can add another level of fun to The Crucible performance — consider getting a judge’s robe and gavel at a bare minimum.
3. Character review games
Beyond Abigail and John, my students struggle with keeping track of “who’s who” in The Crucible. I like to review characters frequently especially at the beginning of the play. After Act One, I like to do an “Inside-Outside” circle active engagement activity, getting students out of their desks and moving around the classroom.
You can also try reviewing characters with sort cards and an “I have…who has…” activities. With sort cards, you would put a character name on one card and details on the second. After mixing up the cards, students would match the cards up in groups. To save time, you can have students create these card sets and “swap” with another group. You can also check out a pre-made set here on Teachers Pay Teachers.
A final fun character review activity is “I have…who has…” where one student reads a card with a clue and the student who has the answer responds with “I have…[character name.] Who has…[next character clue].” This continues around the classroom until the last card is read.
In my experience, once students get over their confusion “who’s who,” they can dig more deeply into character motivations and analysis.
4. Desks and parts
A fun way to engage students as they read The Crucible is to “shake up” the desk arrangement. I really like students to see each other when reading, so I either do a large circle or two “Us.” Each student also gets a part (or as many parts as I can give).
If you are short on parts and want to give each student a chance to read, consider choosing a new narrator each page, giving students without parts the chance to read the stage directions aloud.
5. Choice board
For this activity, create a tic-tac-toe style board, giving students different options for showing their knowledge about The Crucible. You can decide if students only pick one option or if they have to create a tic-tac-toe.
Each activity can be a different type of writing or media (write a letter to a character persuading…, pretend you are a newspaper writer for the local Salem newspaper…, create a short video showing…). This can be a great “voice and choice” activity to let students practice standard W4 (produce writing for different tasks, purposes, and audiences).
6. Jigsaw research
The historical background of The Crucible fascinates students, and you might consider adding a jigsaw research activity to the beginning or end of your unit.
- Choose a set number of Crucible-related topics (suggestions: Arthur Miller, McCarthy, HUAC, The Red Scare, Salem Witch Trials, Puritanism).
- You could place these topics on a shared slideshow that students will edit simultaneously, or you could print note sheets for each topic. (If you are interested in a pre-made template, check out this one in my TpT store.)
- Create a “home group,” assigning each person in the home group a different topic from the list you’ve created.
- After a set time of individual research, have students go to their “expert group,” which is the group of students with the same topics. This means students will temporarily leave their “home group,” and it may confuse them if they have not done a jigsaw before. For example, all students who were researching Arthur Miller will gather together, and the students researching The Red Scare will gather, etc.
- In the expert group, students review their research, gain confidence in their information, and then (after a set amount of time), return to the home groups.
- In the home groups, students present their topic to the other members in the group. In person, students can turn their computers for the group mates to see the screen, and the presentation will continue around the group until everyone has presented. For digital or hybrid learning, students could be placed in a smaller break-out group to share with each other.
- At the end of the activity, students have heard presentations from each topic in the group and hopefully have a basic understanding of Crucible concepts.
If students are familiar with jigsaws and proficient with research/citations, this activity can be done in one class period; however, if students need more guidance with the jigsaw procedure and/or additional review with citations, research notes, etc., this activity might continue into the next class period. One suggestion is to leave the final “home group” presentations until the next class.
7. Escape room
My students LOVE a good escape room, and teachers pay teachers has several options. Escape rooms can work well as a fun end-of-unit reward for students, and the engagement level is typically high.
I’d love to hear some fun ideas that you have used in your classroom for teaching The Crucible! Comment below!