Pedagogical File

Pedagogical File : The Fall of the House of Usher
The pedagogical file accompanies the ebook. It is intended for teachers, trainers, cultural workers and speech therapists. It aims to facilitate the design of workshops to discover the digital books: The Fall of the House of Usher.Target group for the workshop: from <A1.1 to A1/A2 written language.

Table of Contents


Born in 1809 in the United-States, Edgar Allan Poe was a poet, a writer of novels and short stories, a playwright as well as a literary critic and a publisher. An outstanding short-story writer of the American Romantic era, he became known for his Single Effect Theory according to which every element of a novel should contribute to a single and powerful effect. Considered to be the inventor of the detective fiction genre, he broke new ground by incorporating first signs of fantasy and science fiction in his stories. Edgar Allan Poe has been a great source of inspiration for films, music and even science, to this day.

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ was published in September 1838. In 1857, the short story was translated by Charles Baudelaire who aimed to make Edgar Allan Poe popular in France.

The story may be based upon events that occurred in Boston in 1830 when the bodies of a man and a woman walled-up alive were purportedly found in the cellar of the actual House of Usher. Another inspiration may be drawn from one of Edgar Allan Poe’s contemporaries, German writer Heinrich Clauren. His story ‘Das Raubschloß’ may have inspired Poe for ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.

The author: Edgar Allan Poe

A major figure of American literature, Edgar Allan Poe (born January 19, 1809, Boston – died October 7, 1849, Baltimore) was born under the name of Edgar Poe at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in a family of modest origins. His father, an actor, suffered from tuberculosis and alcoholism and died in 1810. His mother, a dancer and singer, died of a pneumonia in 1811. At nearly three years old, Edgar Poe was taken into the home of John and Frances Allan of Richmond, a rich couple of merchants. Edgar Poe was baptised Edgar Allan Poe and lived in wealth receiving an aristocratic education. At this time, his foster father pushed him into starting a business or at least a military carreer. But Edgar Allan Poe was much more inclined to writing, loneliness and reverie. His relationship with his foster father deteriorated until he parted ways with him in 1827. He left for Boston wishing to make a living from his poems.

In 1827, he published anonymously his first collection of poetry Tamerlane and Other Poems. He reconnected with his birth family and turned his attention to prose but none of his articles or tales were published. He worked as an assistant editor of an American periodical before becoming a talented journalist and literary critic thus making a name for himself. However the publication of his novel ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ in 1838 was a failure. Edgar Allan Poe then became editor of American periodical Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. In 1838, he began writing his first collection of short stories among which ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ published that same year in ‘Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine’.

Finally reaching success as a writer, he worked at ‘Broadway Journal’ of which he later became the owner. In 1845, his novel ‘The Raven’ lastly met with great success. Edgar Allan Poe held conferences and planned to take over a literary review but he died in 1849 at the age of 40, the actual cause of his death remaining unclear. Alcoholism, heart attack, cerebral congestion, tuberculosis, epilepsy, diabetes or rabies are some of the speculative causes of his death. He enjoyed the privilege of his celebrity during his lifetime, mostly in Europe. Poe strongly influenced European and French literature in particular.

The literary work: The Fall of the House of Usher

The literary genre 

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is a fantasy short story. A short story is different from a novel in the way that it focuses on the intensity of the effect on the reader. The fantasy short story is a literary genre which Edgar Allan Poe particularly appreciated.

Depicting mysterious or even irrational events (refering to ghosts, labyrinths, living objects, etc.), the genre appeared at the end of the Middle Ages and developed over the centuries. It flourished in the 19th century when every major novelists ought to publish at least one collection of short stories. 

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is a short story in which the writer developed his single effect theory, the purpose of art being its effect on the reader. The effect lasting only for a brief moment, Edgar Allan Poe refrained from any digression. A meticulous writer, he almost systematically worked on his republications in order to reduce the content.

Its European dimension 

Edgar Allan Poe is certainly an avant-garde writer of 19th-century American literature, but his works have first influenced European literature, and french literature in particular. This fantastic, mystical writing, immersed in the imaginary, greatly marks the inspiration of many French artists.

Edgar Allan Poe was very close to French writers among whom Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire. These ties between both sides of the Atlantic contributed to the development of European literature.

Charles Baudelaire who belonged to French Symbolism – a movement arising from American Romanticism – discovered Edgar Allan Poe in 1946 and was immediately fascinated by his works. The two figures had much in common on a personal level but also regarding their aesthetic perception. In 1948, Charles Baudelaire made a first translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s’Mesmeric Revelation’ before collecting the writer’s short stories and translating them in 1956 and 1957.

An ambassador of the movement which both writers belonged to, Baudelaire became Poe’s official translator making it a point of honour to build his notoriety in France.

In this country, Poe’s influence remained for a long time among the Parnassians, the Realists and Naturalists (Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola among others). This influence is also to be noticed, in a preponderant way, in ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ by Charles Baudelaire. André Breton, being part of the Surrealist movement, also expressed a great interest in Poe’s work, especially in his ‘Anthology of Black Humor’.

Many other French artists were influenced by Edgar Allan Poe :

Jules Verne wrote in 1897 ‘The Sphynx of the Ice’, a sequel to the novel ‘The Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym’, by Edgar Allan Poe. Auguste de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam was also greatly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe in writing his tales. Gustave Doré illustrated works by Edgar Allan Poe, including ‘The Raven’.

Several operas on ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ were also composed by European composers, including Claude Debussy, French composer, and Peter Hamill, British composer.  This shows us, again and again, the pervasive influence of Edgar Allan Poe’s work in Europe.  

Other symphonies, musical adaptations, fantasy and science fiction films refer to ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.

The story was also adapted in several films, for the first time in 1928 and until recently in 2006. George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, said he was greatly inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. Alfred Hitchcok, British director and screenwriter, is said to have had this creative inspiration for suspense films through his admiration for the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Major issues/problems of the time addressed

‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is a fantasy short story included in the collection ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque’.

According to Michel Barrucaud, in ‘Histoire de la littérature des États-Unis’, the American literature of the beginning of the 19th century is crossed by themes such as the greatness of man, the beauty of landscapes, the new political and social system, the capacity to undertake, the individual success, the valorization of work and courage, or its own imprint on the generations to come.

On the contrary, Edgar Allan Poe’s works are about withdrawal, strong and powerful emotions, and a certain darkness. Thus, in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, a variety of fears are dealt with like fear of loneliness, madness, physical illness, death and fear of being buried alive specifically.

Edgar Allan Poe writes, not in connection with the great issues addressed in American literature, but more by taking up the themes and ways of writing in Europe.

In this story, Edgar Allan Poe introduced a variety of feelings, including fear and guilt

Roderick Usher and his sister suffer from unnamed illness which in Roderick’s case results in hyper-acuity of the senses, depression and hypocondria.

The house itself suffers from illness and its sorrow is contagious. It is described as a fully-fledged character with eyes (“windows like back eyes”), scars (“cracks”). It  seems to be connected to Roderick and his sister, all three forming a trio in poor health. Furthermore, Roderick and his sister appear to be twins living like an isolated couple in a house they feel trapped in, unable to escape.

The story is written in the first person. However the narrator’s identity is kept unknown to the reader.

The eBook: The Fall of the House of Usher

The gallery of characters 

The gallery of characters

  • The narrator (whose identity is kept unknown)
  • Roderick Usher, the narrator’s boyhood friend
  • Madeline Usher, Roderick Usher’s twin sister
  • The servant
  • The family doctor

The location 

The House of Usher, the family mansion filled with the symbolic and history of the Usher family. Nothing is said about its localisation. 

Iconography in the ebook 

Particular attention was paid to the choice of illustrations in connection with Edgar Allan Poe’s century and historical background. Most illustrations are paintings and prints from 19th-century artists such as Alfred Dehodencq, Alexandre Falguière, Arthur Rackham, Ernest Pernelle, Georges Michel, Falconnest, Pierre Jeanniot, Léon Cochereau, Amélie-Suzanne Serre, Jean-Jacques Henner, Georges-Victor Hugo, Victor-Louis Mottez, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Jean Alaux, Fortuné Méaulle, Hubert Robert, Paul Delaroche, Aubrey Beardsley, Tony Robert-Fleury, Albert Morand, Eugène Abot, Gustave Doré, Georges Michel, Harry Clarke, Henri-Léopold Lévy, Eugène Bellangé, James Carling, Charles Hullmandel, and Jacques-Louis David.

A few illustrations from our century were selected on rare occasions.

Workshop design


Activity 1:  Atmosphere, taste and feelings  

Entry activity in eBook 

  • Pictures of houses (1 A4 format set for the teacher and 1 postcard format set for each participant)
  • Faces/feelings cards
  • “I like” and “I don’t like” cards
  • A4 format coloured paper (2 sheets per participant, provide each participant with a choice of colours)
  • Glue, scissors, sticky tape, Blutack or drawing pins
  • Optional: magazines, markers, coloured pencils
  • Variant : audios and picture cards on the topic of weather (1 set for each partici-pant)   
Terms and Conditions

Before the session: 

  • Select pictures with houses of different styles (an abandoned house, a funny house, a new house, a coloured house, a dark house, an isolated house, a lot of houses, a house on the heights etc.) and print them in postcard and A4 format. (Refer to “materials” for quantities).
  • Display the cards showing faces/feelings associated with a keyword or a sentence (“I feel scared”, “I feel like laughing”, “I feel good”, “I feel sad”, “I feel happy”, etc.). You can make cards by collecting faces on the Internet or even use the faces of the teachers at your learning center.
  • Display one card “I like” with a thumb up and one card “I don’t like” with a thumb down.

In the workshop:  

  • One by one, show the pictures with houses to the entire group and let the participants react spontaneously to the variety of styles. Point out the differences of reactions among them in order to encourage interaction.
  • Hand out one card with faces/feelings to each participant. Give them time to look at it and react as a group. Make sure the picture is explicit enough for everyone. Then ask each of them to come and stick his/her card next to the the house picture they have chosen. Emphasise on the different point of views. Repeat the action with the other cards.
  • Ask them to choose the house they would like to live in and stick their card “I like” and “I don’t like” next to it.
  •  Suggest that each participant create a picture by choosing 2 coloured sheets of paper, one for “I like” and one for “I don’t like” and sticking the pictures they have picked out : one house, one faces/feelings card and one card “I like” or “I don’t like”.
  • Finally ask them to hang their pictures in the room. This is followed by free time during which the participants can move around, compare and interact.  

Note : the purpose of this activity is to get learners to express themselves around elements that are part of the story, to enter the world of emotions, and to be able to share their tastes.

Optional: You can make them customise their picture by cutting illustrations in magazines and drawing.


You can adapt this activity to different audiences by looking for other sensory stimulations (as an extra or in replacement) such as audios on the topic of weather (rain, wind blowing, leaves rustling, thunder, etc.). Note that online sound libraries provide free sound effects.

While listening to these audios, the participants can be asked to associate a weather element with a house. They can also be invited to associate a colour. The teacher may lay out picture cards in reference to the selected weather elements. The participants may stick them on their picture at the end of the activity.


Activity 1:  The odd adjective  

Preparation activity for global understanding 

  • 7 groups of pictures: 3 different illustrations of an element. Under each picture is the corresponding adjective.
    Each subgroup will have the 7 groups of pictures   
Terms and Conditions

Before the session: 

  • Select 3 pictures for each of the following: house, lake, room, eyes, face, clouds, skin. 2 close images and 1 opposite image.
    For example: 2 houses of similar style – a scary house and a frightening house and 1 very different house that could be described as comforting.
an eerie housea frightening housea comforting house
a sorrowful lakea dreary lakea peaceful lake
a dark rooma mysterious roomA bright room
tired eyesfearful eyesrelaxed eyes
nervous facejoyless facehappy face
heavy cloudsdark cloudswispy clouds
a light skinan unhealthy skina radiant skin

The images of the house will be shown to start with in the large group. The other groups of images will be distributed.

In the workshop:  

This introductory activity must be carried out before reading.

  • Ask the participants to present a batch of 3 houses and describe them collectively. The teacher guides them in their learning new vocabulary. Non-readers may use only  the picture while readers may use the adjective written beneath it.
  • As a group, ask them to find two similar houses and suggest them to call the third one, “the odd one”.
  • In groups of two or three participants, distribute the other groups of pictures and ask them to find the odd one out.
    The teacher makes sure he/she helps non-readers find the most relevant adjective to go with the picture. Readers may use the adjective written beneath it.
  • At the end of the activity, point out to the group that they can describe the same item with different words.

Activity 2:  Describing and naming…  

Global understanding activity

  • Picture cards from the e-book (1 set per group)
  • Tags with the name of the characters (1 set per group)
  • Optional: a video projector  
Terms and Conditions

In the workshop: 

This second activity is carried out after a first individual reading of part 1 and 2 (slides 1 to 17). Those with a primary reading level will identify the pictures and keywords. It is nevertheless considered like reading.

Explain to the participants that it is not necessary to read through or understand everything during the first reading, the purpose is to familiarise with the e-book by leading a first investigation.

  • Ask the participants to read until slide 17. If possible, show slide 17.
  • Divide the participants into small groups of 2 or 3 and ask them to describe some of the pictures in the e-book. Where does the action take place ? What is the atmosphere ? Who are the characters ? What do they look like ? What is happening ? What could their story be ? How are they connected to each other ? The participants are invited to express their opinion and assumptions.
  • The teacher may help and advise the participants according to their level and by suggesting phrases like “I think that…”, “In my opinion, it…”, “He looks like…”, “She looks like…”, “It looks like…”, etc..
  • Ask the participants to look at the tags and identify the names of the characters written on them. Ask them to put the portraits together with their tags. Non-readers may get help from the teacher. 
  • This step is a good time for the teacher to ask the question : “Who is telling the story ?” Depending on the level, the teacher may introduce the word “narrator” or simply “the storyteller”. At this point, participants will be asked to name Roderick’s friend (the goal is for them to come to the conclusion that his name is never mentioned). The teacher can then take the opportunity to also ask them where the house is? (Also, let the participants conclude that they do not know).
  • The participants then share their hypotheses collectively.
    N.B. : Keep in mind that groups of reading level 1 and level 2 are not familiar with all the vocabulary. They will need to make more hypotheses than groups of reading level 3 who might need more vocabulary explanation. Be careful not to explain everything and give them time to understand by themselves.
  • Once the participants have shared their reflections, start a new reading (along with one or two listenings for readers of level 1 and 2) to test the hypotheses of understanding.

Activity 3:  When suddenly… 

Fine tuning activity


Pictures depicting different stages of a person travelling (1 set for the teacher showing it to the whole group)

  • Tags with connectives (1 large-size set for the teacher and 1 small-size set for each group)
  • Picture cards from the e-book (1 set per group)
  • A white board, a dry erase marker and magnets  
Terms and Conditions

Before the workshop: 

  • Choose pictures depicting the different stages of travel (an empty suitcase, an open wardrobe, clothes taken from the wardrobe and piled up next to the suitcase, a full suitcase that is open, a full suitcase that is closed, etc.).
  • Prepare tags with logical connectives (“at the beginning”, “first”, “and”, “then”, “afterwards”, “but”, “finally” etc.).
  • Prepare picture cards from the e-book.

In the workshop:  

This activity is carried out after a first individual reading of part 3 and 4 (slides 18 to 43).

  • Before resuming the reading, ask the group to put the pictures depicting the different stages of someone doing the shopping in the right order. Invite them to remember the words that are used to tell a story in the right order (“at the beginning”, “first”, “and”, “then”, “afterwards”, “but”, “finally” etc.). After that, the teacher sticks the tags with logical connectives underneath the pictures.
    N.B. : For non-readers, the teacher may combine the symbols and/or pictures with the logical connectives making sure that they repeat the connectives several times slowly so that they memorise them properly.
  • Show slides 18 to 43.
    N.B. : During the reading, pay attention to the participants’ reactions which you will refer to later.
  • In groups of two or three, hand out the picture cards from the e-book and ask them to recollect key events. Invite them to put the pictures in the right order by associating them with the words or symbols depending on their reading level.
  • Draw a timeline on the white board. Make sure this depiction of time is understood by everyone as they vary according to cultures. Then invite the group to share their hypotheses on the pictures’ order. One by one, the participants stick a picture from the e-book on the timeline and describe the event on the picture beginning their sentence by a logical connective.
  • Volunteers may place the tags with logical connectives on the timeline using magnets. Otherwise the teacher may do it.
  • Ask the participants what they think of the story and what they have understood.

Activity 4:  Continuing with describing… He is… He feels… 

Fine tuning activity

  • A4 format cards depicting the characters (1 set per group)
  • Picture cards used in previous activities
  • A3 format coloured paper (provide each group with a choice of colours)
  • Markers, coloured pens
  • Glue, scissors, sticky tape, Blutack or drawing pins
  • Magazines, markers, coloured pencils
  • To go further: a computer, a videoprojector, speakers, Internet access.
Terms and Conditions

In the workshop:  

This activity is carried out after a second individual reading of the e-book.

  • Show slides from start to finish. Ask some participants to summarise each part of the e-book orally.
  • In groups of two or three, invite them to think about how each character feels. Share the hypotheses collectively, encourage interaction. They might not agree. So much the better!
  • In small groups, ask them to choose a character in the e-book. After choosing an A3 format coloured sheet of paper, invite them to stick the picture of the character in the middle and place around it pictures that tell about him/her and how he/she feels. Tell them they can naturally draw or write on the sheet of paper.
  • Ask each group to hang their picture in the room and present it to the whole group.
To go further with cross-culturality: showing/hiding one’s feelings

At this stage, the teacher may invite the participants to think and talk about the role of  emotions in their region/country, both on an artistic level (iconography, music, literature etc.) and/or in their daily lives. How can emotions be of any help on a cultural level or aggravate the state of mental health?

Depending on the group level, the audience and the material at the teacher’s disposal, the participants may share their experience using digital mediums or the Internet (music, reproductions of front covers, pictures depicting works of art, pictures of famous figures, etc.).

While listening to these audios, the participants can be asked to associate a weather element with a house. They can also be invited to associate a colour. The teacher may lay out picture cards in reference to the selected weather elements. The participants may stick them on their picture at the end of the activity.


Activity 1:   Climax and superlatives! 

Activity to enhance the reading experience 

  • A4 sheets
  • Markers, coloured pencils 
Terms and Conditions

In the workshop:  

This activity is carried out after a last individual reading of the e-book.

  • As a large group, encourage the participants to share their favourite passage of the ebook with the others. What is the most intense passage ? The sadest ? The scariest ? Etc.. Encourage interaction to make sure they have understood the superlative. The goal of this activity is to stay in strong and brief emotions, mirroring Edgar Allan Poe’s single effect theory.
  • Ask them to draw the climax of their choice.
  • Hang the pictures in the room and allow time for the participants to move around and look at all the drawings in order for them to interact.
Alternative : On the front cover…
  • 1 computer per table
  • Internet access
  • An account on
  • A camera
Terms and Conditions

In the workshop:  

This activity is carried out after a last individual reading of the e-book.

  • Divide the group in pairs, launch the formatting web application (you can have several people connected at the same time with only one account) and invite them to produce a poster that could be the book cover or a film poster if the book was adapted for film.
    Note that you can find free websites for clipping.