As my American Seminar students read The Scarlet Letter, we had some great whole-class discussions–from characters and themes to what the heck is happening and why do people talk in Old English–and wrapping up the book was no different.
To spark discussion over the last few chapters, I used the following set of questions:**
- Do you support Hester and Dimmesdale’s decision to escape together? Why or why not? What do you hope for them? Explain.
- What opinion does Dimmesdale seem to have of himself in chapter 20? What does this opinion lead him to think and do?
- What events on Election Day shake Hester’s confidence in the future that she and Dimmesdale have planned? In what ways has she lost control of the situation?
- What acknowledgement does Pearl want Dimmesdale to make and before whom? What would be the practical consequences if Dimmesdale did such a thing? What would be the spiritual or moral consequence?
**These questions are from a textbook version of The Scarlet Letter. I did not create these questions nor do I claim ownership of them.
I presented these questions via the computer and the students were to select one, then use their Chromebooks to work on an in-class response–their response and a short response to someone else.
Their responses were so interesting! To follow up the next day, I shared some anonymous student responses on the board and we debated, as a whole-group class, if we agreed or disagreed with the person who posted the response.
Here were some of the student responses I thought were the most intriguing or argument-provoking:
I thought these responses were great! And debating them as a class was really beneficial to talk about all the important aspects of the end of the novel! As a follow-up activity, I created a set of four specific questions–they channeled and highlighted the main topics of the day’s debate–and assigned them for homework. For the in-class response, the students only had to respond to one question in a more lengthy response. Now they had a chance to briefly answer all the questions from the discussion.
Here are the questions that I assigned for homework based on our discussion:
- Do you believe that if Dimmesdale confessed, the story would be different? How so? Explain.
- How have Hester and Dimmesdale’s roles changed by the end of the book?
- Do you believe that Dimmesdale has been forgiven for his sin on the scaffold? If so, how/why? If not, how/why? Talk about Pearl and her role here?
- What is the theme or message of the book and where do you see it reflected in the next?
After answering them, the next class period was focused on choosing one and gearing it towards writing a final essay! To read more about the final essay, click here.