Teaching Students About the Scarlet Letter


The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, is a timeless classic that delves into themes such as guilt, redemption, and societal judgment. Set in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, the book tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who bears a child out of wedlock and is branded by wearing a scarlet letter “A” on her chest. Teaching The Scarlet Letter to students can be an engaging and insightful experience when approached with creative methods that foster critical thinking.

1. Historical Context

Begin by providing students with an overview of the period during which The Scarlet Letter takes place: Puritan New England in the mid-seventeenth century. Encourage students to research and discuss historical events occurring during that time, exploring topics such as gender roles, religious beliefs, and cultural values. This understanding will help students better relate to the characters’ motivations and actions within the novel.

2. Symbolism and Key Themes

Introduce students to symbolism as a literary device, providing examples from The Scarlet Letter such as the scaffold, meteor, and forest. Encourage them to analyze these symbols within the context of key themes like sin, guilt, individuality versus conformity, redemption, and societal judgment. Encourage open discussion about these themes among classmates to foster deeper connections.

3. Character Analysis

Allow students to explore the main characters in The Scarlet Letter individually or through group work. By guiding them through discussions about character motivations, relationships, development throughout the novel, and their significance to society at large, students can gain insight into relevant moral issues.

4. Debate Activity

Both inside and outside of The Scarlet Letter’s narrative are various conflicting viewpoints on morality and societal norms. Organize a debate activity where students must defend or criticize characters’ actions based on their interpretations of the book. Challenging their peers’ ideas can foster an engaging learning atmosphere and promote healthy, respectful discussions.

5. Creative Writing

Encourage students to express their understanding of The Scarlet Letter through creative writing exercises, such as rewriting a scene from a different character’s perspective, creating an alternative ending, or writing a prequel that tells the story of Hester Prynne before she arrived in New England. This activity encourages students to develop empathy for the characters and explore new ways of interpreting the story.

6. Film Adaptations

As part of a comparative study, screen one or more film adaptations of The Scarlet Letter for the students to analyze. Discuss the fidelity of the adaptation to the original text, and open up discussion about artistic choices made by filmmakers while noting any significant deviations.


Teaching The Scarlet Letter can be an inspiring and compelling educational experience for both teachers and students when approached with creative activities designed to meet individual strengths and learning styles. By fostering an environment that encourages open-mindedness, in-depth analysis, and critical thinking skills, students can come away with a greater appreciation for literature in general and a deeper understanding of Hawthorne’s classic novel.

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