Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Criminal Motivations

Irony and Characterization in "The Cask of Amontillado"

Brandy Hackett | Published: June 24th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course
  • Time Frame Time Frame 150 minutes
  • Duration More 2-3 class periods


This lesson asks students to analyze the motivations of Montresor in Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado" and engages students by placing them in the role of a forensic psychologist. In this role, having students will answer questions in a clinical evaluation. Students will analyze the use of irony in the text to decide if Montresor’s motivations make him clinically insane and/or liable for his crime(s). The lesson concludes with students taking the stand as an expert witness for the case, using irony and text evidence as support. This lesson includes optional distance learning modifications. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

How do a character’s motivations affect their actions?



Students watch a video about what motivates others and then write about their own motivations to succeed.


Students work in small groups to create posters representing the different types of irony for a gallery walk.


Students read the story "The Cask of Amontillado" to Why-Light the text for irony.


Students watch a video and read a text to understand the role of a forensic psychologist. Students participate in a Hot Seat activity by role playing the parts of a forensic psychologist and the character Montresor.


Students role play the part of a forensic psychologist and create a clinical evaluation of the character Montresor.


  • Student devices with internet access

  • Poster paper (one poster per group of 3-4 students)

  • Sticky notes

  • Highlighters (optional; three different colors per student)

  • "The Cask of Amontillado" (linked below on Common Lit website)

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Clinical Evaluation Rubric (attached, one per student)


Introduce students to the essential question on slide 3 and the objectives on slide 4.

Go to slide 5. Begin by playing the video on the slide ("What’s Stopping You From Achieving Your Goals?") for students. After viewing, ask students to answer the following prompts: What motivates you to be successful? What keeps you going? After giving students a few minutes to write down their responses, have students turn to an Elbow Partner to share. Give another minute or two for students to share before asking for students to share out as a whole class.

Go to slide 6. Explain to students that a person’s motivations, or why they do something, are not always obvious. The same is true in stories. Sometimes, a person’s actions seem to oppose their words or their intentions. This is a form of irony.


Review the three types of irony with students on slide 7. Invite students to explore irony, intent, and motivation today. Do not yet define the types for students; academic vocabulary will come later in the lesson.

Put students in small groups of 3-4 students, and give each group a type of irony. You might create slips of paper with the descriptions of types of irony printed on them so that each group randomly chooses a type of irony or you may purposely assign the type to each group.

Go to slide 8. Have students work in groups to create a poster depicting an everyday situation that represents the type of irony they were assigned. Suggest that students plan out and discuss their poster ideas with their group before they begin. The poster must include a title identifying the irony and an image that reflects the irony in such a way that the definition is clear.

Post each group’s poster in a different place around the classroom.

Go to slide 9. Invite students to take part in a Gallery Walk of the posters. Introduce the Spend a Buck strategy to students and ask students to work with their groups to vote on the best posters. Give each group a stack of sticky notes. Groups should decide together how to spend their imaginary 100 pennies (or $1.00) on the posters hanging around the room and, for each amount spent, include the amount on a sticky note along with an explanation. These sticky notes should be left on the poster on which the money is spent.


Go to slide 10. Distribute a copy of "The Cask of Amontillado" to each student via link or printed copies:

Introduce students to the Categorical Highlighting strategy. Ask students to use this strategy as they read the story to highlight the three types of irony and explain what they believe Montresor’s purpose in using irony is. If possible, have students use three different highlighting colors. You can pass out highlighting pens to each student if working with physical copies of the reading, or you can have students use CommonLit’s highlighting tool with the online version of the reading.

Go to slide 11. After reading the story, discuss the students' annotations, why they chose them, and define the three types of irony with students.


Go to slide 12. Invite students to take their learning further by taking on a new role: that of a forensic psychologist. Ask students to think like a forensic psychologist and determine the motivations of Montresor in the story to evaluate if he is competent to stand trial. First, to help students understand what a forensic psychologist is and what they do, show the video on the slide ("What is a Forensic Psychologist?").

Go to slide 13. Ask students to play the role of forensic psychologists. Students must imagine the following scenario: they are asked by the court to interview the defendant, Montresor, before his trial to determine if he is mentally capable of standing trial.

For the Hot Seat activity, ask for one person play Montresor to answer questions. Montresor will answer based only on text evidence. Before beginning the questioning phase, have the rest of the group should create questions to ask Montresor about the crime he committed and why and then ask the questions.

Once you have given students time to come up with questions, begin the activity. Depending on how you choose to arrange the activity, your role may be different. For instance, if you choose to put students in small groups and take turns role-playing Montresor, then your role is to monitor groups around the classroom. If you choose to play Montresor, then your role is to provide students evidence through examples in the text with your responses and to ensure overall class participation.


Go to slide 14. After students have interviewed Montresor, ask them to testify as expert witnesses, determining whether Montresor is capable of standing trial. To prepare for this, have students build their own clinical evaluations as detailed on the slide. Pass out a copy of the attached Clinical Evaluation Rubric. Introduce students to Flip (find a tutorial here: Flip Teacher Guide). Invite each student to create a Flip video to explain their own clinical evaluation of Montresor.

  • Students’ evaluations should try to answer the following questions:

  • Does Montresor understand the crime for which he is accused of committing?

  • What is his current mental functioning?

  • What is his version of the alleged offense?

  • What is your impression regarding Montresor's capacity to understand his actions and his conduct?

Students can use the Clinical Evaluation Rubric to evaluate their videos before submitting them.