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Short Story Writing Lessons from WritingFix..."Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl

A Short Story-inspired Writing Lesson
A R.A.F.T. Writing Prompt from WritingFix

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a R.A.F.T. Lesson:
Convince that Jury

inspired by Roald Dahl's
"Lamb to the Slaughter"

This R.A.F.T. prompt was created by Dena Harrison of the Northern Nevada Writing Project during a workshop for teachers.

This RAFT writing prompt was inspired by Roald Dahl's short story, "Lamb to the Slaughter," which can be found in many short story collections, including the one pictured at right. Before writing to this page's prompt, students should read and discuss the craft of this fine short story author! A summary of the short story can be found below.


Role Audience Format Topic Strong verb
Defense Attorney Judge/Jury Closing Argument The main character is not guilty by reason of insanity Convince or persuade

Lesson Overview:

Students will identify important quotes from "Lamb to the Slaughter" then use the quotes to write a persuasive essay in the form of a closing argument from a defense attorney.  Students will also use the trait of word choice to strengthen their persuasive arguments.

Short Story Summary:

“Lamb to the Slaughter” is the tale of a devoted wife who lives to please and care for her husband. She watches the clock toward the end of each day because she can’t wait for him to come home. Unfortunately, her husband is not as devoted and asks for a divorce one evening. His wife is devastated by this news and snaps. She picks up the frozen leg of lamb she was going to fix for dinner and bashes him over the head with it, killing him instantly. She quickly formulates a plan to get away with his murder and the story culminates with the feeding of the murder weapon to the police.

This story is a great way to teach the concept of irony, and the surprise ending always delights the reader.

Reading the Story:

Begin by asking students to name a few of the famous books by Roald Dahl that they have read in the past. Once they have named a few, tell them that they will be reading a short story today by Mr. Dahl, but that it takes a much darker turn than his usual stories. This one involves a murder! Explain that they will be reading the story today with a specific purpose in mind. They are going to imagine that the murderer has been apprehended and put on trial for what the have done. In fact, they are going to assume the role of defense attorney for the accused murderer. Tell the students that they are going to have to pay close attention to details in the story as they read, because their job is to prove that the murderer is not guilty of the crime she is accused of committing.

Re-Focusing on Story Excerpts:

Now that they have read the story, they will be ready to re-read the text to look for details to support their closing argument for Mary Maloney’s defense. (You may want to show the clip of Atticus Finch’s closing argument from the movie To Kill a Mockingbird as an example of a good, persuasive closing argument to give them some support for the writing they will soon begin.) Direct them now to the graphic organizer I have included with this lesson, which has hints provided for each type of quote to guide them in the right direction. Tell them they may wish to work with a partner as they go back through the story looking for quotes and evidence that they can use to support their closing argument and their case for temporary insanity. They will need to gather at least three quotes from the story that support that their client was of a diminished mental capacity at the time of the crime and is no longer in that state, in order to avoid prison time.

Starting the Writing Assignment:

The closing argument easily lends itself to the standard five paragraph persuasive essay. Students should begin their piece with an introduction to their plea of temporary insanity followed by a paragraph for each of their three quotes, along with an explanation of how each relates to Mrs. Maloney’s plea for temporary insanity. Their ending paragraph can summarize their points and convince the judge/jury that their client should not go to prison for this crime. If you have them write their rough draft using this drafting worksheet, they can use the organization checklist on the second page to check their use of the orgainzation trait once their draft is completed.

The Rest of the Writing Process:

A persuasive essay is a great venue for the trait of Word Choice. Once their rough drafts are completed, have them switch papers with another group and revise for word choice using the Word Choice Post-it® Note-sized templates provided here. Remind your revisers that they are looking for great words that will be instrumental in convincing a jury of Mrs. Maloney’s innocence. You may want to generate a class list of great persuasive words on the board to guide the students in their peer response and revision.

Additional Ideas:

Once each group has completed their final copies, have them share their arguments with the class. You may want to have the students rate the group from 1 to 5 based on their persuasiveness by holding up their fingers. This will give each group immediate feedback on how well they convinced the jury!

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