The Crucible: A Psychology Cross-Curricular Lesson

Posted by Emily Guthrie on Apr 23, 2015 7:01:49 AM

I'm in the midst of teaching Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, which I absolutely love for the end of the American Lit school year since it so eloquently ties together early and modern America.  We have been doing Streetcar Named Desire for the last few years, but made the switch back to The Crucible this year, so it was time to revamp my curriculum and dust off the cobwebs on my brain!  I've been using the Common Core Aligned Unit from Simply Novel, which has been saving my life (especially since I am almost 8 months pregnant)!  It is chock full of meaningful activities, assessments, and resources for teaching the play.  Today I want to share a supplemental, cross-curricular activity that I tried this year.  Where it works, the English department at my school likes to collaborate with the social science department to enrich both of our curricula and help students make connections.  The most obvious links in my class are between American literature and US History, but this activity links the Arthur Miller play with psychology,  a popular social science elective at my school.

The Crucible: A Psychology Cross-Curricular Lesson

I start by showing the Crash Course Psychology episode about social thinking.  If you are not familiar with Crash Course, it is an educational youtube channel, founded by John and Hank Green, that features fast-paced, engaging, and well-researched videos about literature, history, science, and more.  Many of my students are fans (even outside of school) of these vlog brothers because of crash course and also because of John Green's best selling books, The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska.   You can find their youtube channel here and check out their patreon page here for more information about their funding source.  Going back to The Crucible lesson, here is the video I show my students:

After they watch, I pose the following questions:

(I used powerpoint to lead a class discussion, but this could also be an individual/group written assignment.  I also used this lesson after Act 1, but it could easily be adjusted to work later in the play)

  1. Think about the attribution theory. Which characters do you think have acted mainly from disposition (personality) and which have acted mainly from situation? What evidence do you have to support your assertions? Note: Keep in mind the fundamental attribution error theory, which states that we overestimate disposition and underestimate situation.
  2. What has been the role of persuasive arguments so far? What evidence do you have to support your inferences?  (Central Route Persuasion: based on evidence and sound arguments. Peripheral Route Persuasion: based on incidental moods, attitudes, appearances, etc.)
  3. Predict how you think the “foot in the door phenomenon” will effect the witch trials. (Getting people to agree to larger requests by first asking more modest ones.)
  4. Predict how the Stanford experiment will inform the psychology of the witch trials?(The power of the situation can easily override the individual personality.)
  5. Which character(s) so far has experienced some cognitive dissonance? What do you think will be the effect? (Cognitive dissonance- a mismatch between who we think we are and how we behave.)

My students were engaged in this discussion and able to make connections about how the psychological phenomena in The Crucible are not unique to the Puritans, which was a major point that Arthur Miller makes in the play.

A Follow up Lesson:

Toward the end of the play we followed up with this video about social influence with the subsequent discussion questions:

  1. How does the Milgram experiment inform the behaviors of characters in The Crucible (Milgram experiment: Participants hurt others when authority figure asked them to.)
  2.  How does the Asch experiment inform the behaviors of characters in The Crucible? (1/3 of people answer obvious question wrong because others are also answering wrong.)
  3. How did Puritan culture and historical context contribute to normative social influence? (Compliance and conformity in order to be liked or to belong)
  4. Have you experienced social loafing? In what contexts? What does it look like? What are the effects? (This question is not related to The Crucible, but students have a lot to say about it!)

I really liked the way that these lessons turned out, but I would love to hear your comments, questions, and suggestions below!

Topics: Classroom Tech, Drama, literature, technology

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