From its complex language to double meaning, teaching The Crucible may seem like a challenge, but from my experience, it usually ends up being students’ favorite play! Not only do they get super into the history of the Salem Witch Trials, but they also come to realize just how relevant the themes like groupthink, public shaming, and paranoia are today. In this timeless tale of hysteria and moral crisis, students witness the stark consequences of blind fervor and the courage of those who dare to stand up against it.
Are you ready to engage students with meaningful and fun activities for teaching The Crucible? Hop on your broom, and let’s ride!
The Crucible Pre-Reading Activities
Like with every unit, it’s important to hook students from the start! Here are some Crucible intro activities that will spark their curiosity for the historical context of The Salem Witch Trials as well as the deeper meanings within the play:
Before the curtain even rises on the play’s opening scene, why not set the stage with an introductory experience that’s as immersive as stepping into the shoes of a Puritan villager? These Introduction Stations are the key to unlocking your students’ intrigue and enthusiasm for the upcoming Crucible activities! Through these stations, we’re not just introducing a play–we are igniting a fire!
Symbolism–the subtle language that often speaks louder than words. The Crucible is a treasure trove of symbolic richness. But how do we help students peer beneath the surface and decipher these hidden messages? By analyzing various versions of the playbill cover! Picture this: students diving headfirst into multiple versions of the covers, dissecting the colors, unraveling the imagery, and mapping out the landscape of the play. What an incredible way to not only predict the mood and plot, but to fly straight into the soul of the story.
Ever wonder how witch accusations were decided back then? In my experience, this is a highly discussed topic amongst students. How does something like this happen? And could it happen again today? This station has students journey back in time, facing questions that transport them into the shoes of those accused of witchcraft, by completing a dramatized survey. This fun Crucible activity gets students thinking about how witches were identified and condemned.
Context is the door through which learners walk before they can fully grasp a story. Give students a chance to watch a TED-Ed video and to consider questions such as “Why were the people in Salem convinced witchcraft was a real threat?” and “When did the accusations for ‘supernatural’ evil begin?” You will ensure that students are prepared to tackle the complexities of the play with these interactive Crucible background activities.
Anticipation guides give students a chance to consider and discuss critical themes and topics on a larger scale, before being asked to apply them to a specific text. Students will “agree” or “disagree” to various statements to uncover important Crucible content. In my experience, anticipation guides are a great way to begin discussions about The Crucible and offer an opportunity to see how students’ thinking has changed by revisiting the questions after reading the play.
Language changes over time, so what we know now as a “witch hunt” is very different from the witch hunts that our students will encounter in The Crucible. After reading informational text about the origins of the phrase “witch hunt”, students will infer what real-world connections they will be exploring during this study. My students enjoyed comparing this concept to more modern examples of a “witch hunt”.
The most engaging part about reading plays in the secondary classroom is getting the students involved! While not everyone wants to be the star of the show, The Crucible offers many parts big and small! Students have the opportunity to read about the myriad characters in the play and to choose which role they want to play. Just one more way to ensure that students are totally bought in before taking flight!
One last step before the show begins–set the scene! Project a theater curtain on your screen, play witchy/autumnal ambience, and pass out a Playbill Brochure to each student. Watch their excitement grow as they see their name in lights.
The Crucible Classroom Activities
Once you get students interested in the play, keep them engaged with hands-on and thought-provoking activities. My goal is to offer students many opportunities to understand the text and to apply what they are reading to real-world events. So many of the themes in The Crucible are still relevant today, which offers lots of opportunities to engage students in truly meaningful work.
I have created interactive notes for each act of The Crucible. While reading the play, students have multiple opportunities to check for understanding and to process in real time. These notes are not your typical fill-in-the-blank type notes. Students will annotate, infer, design, and so much more. Each act offers unique activities for students to complete to help guide their understanding of The Crucible.
Here are some more fun activities for teaching The Crucible:
Crucible Act I (Act 1) Activities
Understanding the differences between Proctor’s relationship with Abigail and his relationship with Elizabeth is crucial to understanding the events in The Crucible. This Heat and Cold Close Reading activity is a meaningful way of looking at how language is used in plays to show mood and characterization. Students will first analyze a scene between Proctor and Abigail, specifically looking at words that show “heat”. They will discuss the impact these words have on the text. Then, students will analyze a scene between Proctor and Elizabeth looking at words that show “cold”, so they can understand the differences between these two relationships. Having students stop to think about language is so important when teaching The Crucible.
Fear-based news seems to be popping up more and more everyday. Students cannot avoid articles and headlines that include fear-inducing words. Teaching The Crucible offers the perfect venue for discussing the impact of this type of writing. This Fear, Hysteria, and the News activity begins with students reading an article about how fear is used to generate clickable headlines. After reading the article, students will practice writing their own headlines and articles related to Puritans and The Crucible. Students have fun trying to make their headlines and articles the most fear-inducing, which opens up many great classroom discussions about the power of language.
Crucible Act II (Act 2) Activities
Something you may not expect to see as a resource for high schoolers are finger puppets, but students have so much fun using these Crucible finger puppets to act out important scenes in the play. But have no fear, this is not just “fluff”! My Crucible Finger Puppet Play is a fun activity that requires students to read, paraphrase, identify important details, work together, and so much more! Students will love planning out how they will reenact Act 2 and watching each others’ performances!
Another active Crucible idea is to host a Witch Gallery Walk based on a gender-based workshop held at Amherst College, which I tweaked to fit the goals of literary analysis. Before students arrive, place the prompts around the room. Students will walk around and use adjectives to describe the various witches displayed. Afterwards, have students discuss how witches are portrayed in The Crucible.
In order to expand on this idea, have students read my You Witch: The Original Symbol of Female Power article and answer the included questions. This article goes into more detail about how witches were/are viewed. Students will be able to think about and discuss how and why views of witches have changed. Have students go back and connect their new understandings to the Witch Gallery Walk posters to help them frame their thinking about how the perception of the witch has changed. Teaching The Crucible will be much more powerful once students can see how girls such as Mary Warren and Abigail Williams were basically powerless until they were accused of being witches!
Crucible Act III (Act 3) Activities
By the time you have reached Act 3 of The Crucible, students will have had the chance to explore many different themes and topics related to the time period. Now that they have a fuller understanding of witch hunts, it’s time to start thinking about what someone might do after being accused of witchcraft! This You’re Accused activity is a choose-your-own-adventure style activity that gets students up, moving, and thinking. Students will be given six choices for what they could do to avoid being killed for witchcraft, including running away, pleading innocent, and getting pregnant. Students will move around the room and stand next to a poster representing their choice. They will then engage in discussions based on the You’re Accused! website, which has detailed responses to what would happen for each decision made. Students get to continue choosing options until it becomes clear that there isn’t really a good choice at all. This activity gets students thinking about the characters’ motivations and choices in The Crucible.
Watching dramatic scenes play out helps students visualize and fully comprehend what is happening. And when the scenes are being presented by other students, the activity can be even more engaging! With my Act It Out activity, students will enjoy scripting and acting out the pivotal scene from Act 3 where the questioning of Elizabeth Proctor begins. Students will read, rewrite, and act out the scene in groups. They will also critique other groups’ interpretations of the same scene. Finally, you can show a clip from a filmed production of The Crucible to round out the activity. By critiquing various versions of this scene, students are sure to have a solid understanding of this important event in The Crucible.
Act 3 is also a great time to review The Crucible by watching a production. Plays are meant to be watched, after all! This Crucible Movie Guide offers students a chance to review what has already happened before getting to act 4, while evaluating the differences between the script and the live production. Students will enjoy debating topics such as which characters are best portrayed and which scenes are better in the script or live performance. The Crucible Movie Guide is a great transition into teaching The Crucible Act 4.
Crucible Act IV (Act 4) Activities
The Act 4 Crucible activities expand on various themes from throughout the story. They are all meaningful and fun, but if you are short on time, you could also pick and choose which activities work best for you.
Public Shaming is a major theme in The Crucible. In this Public Shaming and The Crucible activity, students consider the impacts of social media and how we can be judged based on a single post–even if that post doesn’t fully represent who we are. Students will analyze their own social media accounts as though they were looking at those of a stranger. They will look for patterns and decide what their posts say about them. They will then find one post that they are embarrassed of or that no longer truly represents their values. They will reflect on how they want to be perceived and remembered. It will also lead to a discussion about how this topic relates to the public shaming in The Crucible.
What better way to learn about the ins and outs of The Crucible than by hearing from the author himself! In my Why I Wrote the Crucible activity, students will read an article written by Arthur MIller in 1996 where he discusses the politics driving The Crucible. Students will read the article and answer comprehension questions. They will also use the interactive notes to analyze Miller’s words and his motivations for writing this incredible play. Seeing how hysteria lead Arthur Miller to write The Crucible will help students fully understand the weight of this major Crucible theme.
Death and Symbolism activity allows students to jump on their brooms and take a virtual field trip to Marblehead at Old Burial Hill Cemetery, which is one of the oldest and most picturesque graveyards in New England. Students will analyze primitive tombstone art and infer the messages they sent. After learning more about Puritan tombstones, students will create a tombstone for John using the Death and The Dash activity. They will evaluate John’s overall character and decide how he should be remembered.
The Crucible Post Reading Activities
I have included multiple essay prompts for use after reading The Crucible. After reading the entire play, students can show their thinking and make connections across the entire text. Prompts include an explanatory essay showing multiple perspectives on Salem tourism. Another option is to write a literary analysis about the impacts of censorship. If your students are feeling argumentative, they can write an essay arguing their opinion about whether or not the Crucible should be banned in schools.
Throughout this Crucible unit, students are exposed to multiple themes that are still relevant today, which makes this a favorite read for many students. Hopefully this post and The Crucible Teaching Resources have given you lots of meaningful and fun activities for teaching The Crucible! Whether you are planning a Crucible AP unit, ELL unit, or regular English 11 unit, there are plenty of activities to keep your students engaged!
Would you like a parting gift? Get your free Crucible BINGO board here: