Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Deal with the Devil

Robert Johnson and Faustian Bargains

Margaret Salesky, Teresa Lansford, Kelsey Willems | Published: September 18th, 2023 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course
  • Time Frame Time Frame 150
  • Duration More 3 periods


In this lesson, students explore what a Faustian bargain is and examine examples in literature and pop culture. Students read, watch, listen, discuss, and write an argument as they work through the concept and its lasting legacy.

Essential Question(s)

What would convince someone to sacrifice something dear to them? What role do deals (Faustian bargains) play in literature and pop culture?


Engage: Students participate in a “Four Corners” activity making difficult choices.

Explore: Students listen to two versions of “Crossroads” and “CUS & Discuss” their observations.

Explain: Students read two articles about Robert Johnson and Faustian Bargains and complete an H-Chart.

Engage 2: Students watch a “Mean Girls” trailer and discuss pop culture examples and motivations.

Extend: Students brainstorm and write an argumentative essay.

Evaluate: Students reflect using the strategy “How Am I Feeling? What Am I Thinking?”


  • Lesson slides (attached)

  • Four Corners labels (attached; print 1 set)

  • Crossroads Lyrics handout (attached; 1 per student)

  • Paired Text H-chart handout (attached; 1 per student)

  • “Stories of the Crossroads” article handout (attached; half class or class set)

  • “Faustian Bargain” article handout (attached; half class or class set)

  • Persuasive Argument (parts 1 and 2) single-sided handouts (attached; 1 set per student)

  • Pens/pencils


10 Minute(s)

Present the lesson using the attached Lesson Slides.

Display slides 3 and 4 to introduce the essential question and learning objectives.

Display slide 5 and introduce students to the Four Corners strategy. Use slides 6-8 to facilitate the activity. Read the “Outcome” and “Deals” for each slide and give students time to decide which deal they will make. After they move to their selected corner/deal, ask them to discuss with their group why they chose the deal they did; then, ask them to discuss with a different group and present justifications for their decision. Repeat for slides 6-8. Afterwards, ask students to sit down and ask: What do we notice about making hard decisions?


10 Minute(s)

Pass out the attached Crossroads Lyrics handout. Go to slide 9 and introduce students to the CUS & Discuss strategy. Explain that they will first use the handout to read and annotate each song; then listen to each song. Encourage students to make additional notes as they listen. Watch/listen to each version of the song using slides 10 and 11. Discuss as a class what everyone noticed or wrote down. Ask students: 1) How does the change in music genre influence the message of the lyrics? 2) How does the historical context influence the message of the lyrics?

Robert Johnson version:

 Cream version :


25 Minute(s)

Pass out the attached Paired Text H-Chart handout to all students. Then pass out the attached “Stories of the Crossroads” handout to half the class and the attached “Faustian Bargains” to the other half of the class. Display slide 13 and explain that each student should select a partner who has a different article from the one they have. Use the Jigsaw strategy to learn more about the Faustian bargain and Robert Johnson’s role in continuing this tradition. Give students time to work through the activity. 

Afterwards, share-out as a group. Ask students: What is a Faustian bargain? How did Robert Johnson illustrate his bargain? Each group should share what they created in the middle section of their H-chart.

The definition of a Faustian bargain is: “a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches” (Brittanica). When students share out, make sure what you hear aligns with the definition. If you don’t see them hitting the main points, unhide slide 14 and review the following ideas:

  1. A Faustian bargain requires a person give up their morals for something worldly.

  2. They make this bargain with a knowingly “evil” power.

  3. What they surrender is more valuable than what they obtain. 

Explain to students that on the following day they will examine Faustian bargains in pop culture. Have them start brainstorming about ideas about where they have seen this bargain on TV, in movies, etc.

Engage 2

15 Minute(s)

On Day 2, remind students what a Faustian Bargain is. Share your own example of a Faustian Bargain in pop culture or use the example on slide 15. Watch the “Mean Girls” trailer and ask students to pay close attention to the deal the main character, Cady makes and why. 

After watching the clip, move to slide 16 and ask students to share ideas about why Cady participated in the bargain. Write responses on the slide in the space provided. Ask students if they have any questions.

Next, display slide 17 to brainstorm about more current examples of the Faustian Bargain in the Disney movies presented. Ask how the examples displayed show these characteristics. Brainstorm with students about what motivates each character to want to make/take the deal.


80 Minute(s)

Move to slide 18. Have students work with an Elbow Partner and write 3 other pop culture examples that haven’t already been discussed in class on a separate sheet of paper. Ask each pair to stand and share 1 idea from their list. Write their ideas either on the white board, on a new slide, or on a Google doc. As their ideas make it to the board, have them sit down.  

Advise students that they will be writing a persuasive paper convincing the character they have chosen to either take or not take the bargain. They are welcomed to choose an idea from the board or something else. Pass out the attached Persuasive Argument handout and ask students to choose their own pop culture character example to write to. Explain the handout using slides 20 and 21. Highlight how they should see this as a conversation with the character.

Remind students that they will be writing in MLA format using third person. To know what kinds of evidence will convince the chosen character, they will need to first understand the character’s motivations and desires (see Part 1 of handout). Then, once the students understand why the character might choose to make this deal, they can move on to Part 2 and figure out how to convince them to take it or not. Give students time to fill out both parts of the Persuasive Argument graphic organizer before asking them to write their persuasive argument. 

The rest of class will be spent writing.


10 Minute(s)

On Day 3, no matter where students are in their writing, have them stop near the last 10 minutes of class. Display slide 22 and share the instructional strategy How am I Feeling? What am I Thinking? Pass out sticky notes to each student. Ask them to answer the questions from the slide on their sticky note and place it on a designated wall as they are leaving.