Classroom Activities for "Lamb to the Slaughter"

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Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" provides students with literary drama and irony. In this 1953 short story, loving wife Mary Maloney kills her husband Patrick with a frozen leg of lamb, conceals her part in the crime and offers the murder weapon as a meal to investigating authorities. Classroom instructors may use "Lamb to the Slaughter" activities to help students examine the story's events and its protagonist further.

1 Defending Mary Maloney

Although protagonist Mary Maloney gets away with murder in "Lamb to the Slaughter," students can serve as defense attorneys for Maloney in this mock-trial activity and present closing arguments to a jury of their peers. Students work as individuals or in pairs, gathering evidence and quotes from the story to support their claim that Maloney is not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Students should take turns delivering closing arguments, explaining how the evidence and/or quotes relate to Maloney’s temporary insanity. In their conclusion, students should summarize their points and convince their peers to find Maloney not guilty of the crime. Students may rate each presentation's persuasiveness on a scale of 1 to 5.

2 Events Jigsaw

Students should arrange "Lamb to the Slaughter" events or quotations in chronological order in this activity. Events and quotations should appear jumbled, whether presented on a blackboard or sheets of paper. As an alternative, students could visit the Absolutenglish website and click on events to place them in their correct order. After clicking each event, students should press the "Check" button to see how they did and make any corrections if necessary. Once all events appear in the correct order, students should write the events on a piece of paper as a story summary and add linking words to the chain of events.

3 The Perfect Murder

Mary Maloney made sure to cover her tracks in "Lamb to the Slaughter," ensuring that the police could not implicate her in Patrick's murder. In this activity, students will discuss elements that lead to a "perfect murder." After the instructor drafts a list of perfect-murder ingredients, students should put the elements in order of importance. Elements may include the following: the murderer should leave no clues for police to find, the murderer should make sure there's no noise, the murder should look like an accident and the murderer should have a strong alibi. After placing elements in order of importance, students should take turns explaining their choices.

4 Text vs. TV

CBS's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" aired an episode based on "Lamb to the Slaughter" in 1958. After watching the episode, students should note differences between the short story and the television adaptation. For instance, in the short story Dahl leaves readers to speculate on what Patrick said to Mary before she retrieves the lamb and hits him. In the "Alfred Hitchcock" episode, Patrick explicitly states that he wants to divorce Mary and marry another woman. Also, the TV version offers a follow-up to what happened with Mary whereas the text does not. Students can take turns pointing out key differences between the text and the TV version and discuss whether the differences enhance or diminish the story.

Jim Radenhausen is a freelancer who began writing professionally in 1998. A resident of Reeders, Pa., he spent over two years working at the "Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal." Radenhausen received his bachelor's degree in English/professional writing from Kutztown University in 1997.