Tableau with "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer"

A Dramatic Approach to the Novel by Mark Twain

The villagers seize the the culprit. L. Maegli

Tableau is a theatrical convention that works well as a classroom learning strategy for more than the study of dramatic works. Picture books, novels, and textbooks also provide material for engaging students in the creation of frozen pictures that represent significant moments in a story, conflict, process, or historical event.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is required reading in many schools, but parts of the text can be difficult to visualize and comprehend.

The specific Tableau examples below provide students with a purpose for close reading—that careful, intentional reading and re-reading of text—for details that will strengthen both the Tableaux they create and their understanding of the text that they read.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is available as an eBook “for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at”

To fully understand how to lead Tableau activities with students, please consult the following articles. They offer a set of steps to follow, some tips, and ways to prompt students to create and deliver dialogue during a Tableau presentation:

Introducing Tableau to Students

Introducing Tableau, Continued

Incorporating Dialogue into a Tableau

Elevating the Dialogue in a Tableau

Tableau/Still Image Moments in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer:

To get Jim to whitewash the fence, Tom tries to bribe him with a marble. (Chapter 2)

Characters: Tom, Jim

Search for this text: Say, Jim, I'll fetch the water if you'll whitewash some.


Ben Rogers begs Tom to be allowed to whitewash the fence. (Chapter 2)

Characters: Tom, Ben

Search for this text: Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?


Members of the congregation “show off” in front of the great Judge Thatcher. (Chapter 4)

Characters: Judge Thatcher, Mr. Walter, Librarian, teachers, pupils

Search for this text: Mr. Walters fell to "showing off," with all sorts of official bustlings and activities…


Members of the congregation react when Tom presents the tickets and wins the Bible. (Chapter 4)

Characters: Judge Thatcher, Mr. Walter, Librarian, teachers, pupils

Search for this text: And now at this moment, when hope was dead, Tom Sawyer came forward with nine yellow tickets, nine red tickets, and ten blue ones, and demanded a Bible.


Tom and Huck think they hear dead people coming for them in the graveyard. (Chapter 9)

Characters: Tom, Huck

Search for this text: And the two clung together with beating hearts.


While Muff Potter and Dr. Robinson fight, Injun Joe prepares to stab Dr. Robinson. Tom and Huck watch in horror from behind some trees. (Chapter 9)

Characters: Tom, Huck, Muff Potter, Dr. Robinson, Injun Joe

Search for this text: …the three men had reached the grave and stood within a few feet of the boys' hiding-place.


Muff Potter is captured and accused of murder.

Characters: Tom, Huck, Muff Potter, Injun Joe, Sherriff, villagers

Search for this text: The crowd fell apart, now, and the Sheriff came through, ostentatiously leading Potter by the arm.


The boys realize why canon shots are coming from a boat on the river. (Chapter 14)

Characters: Tom, Huck, Joe Harper

Search for this text: The boys still listened and watched. Presently a revealing thought flashed through Tom's mind, and he exclaimed:"Boys, I know who's drownded—it's us!"


From under the bed, Tom listens to mournful talk about the missing boys. (Chapter 15)

Characters: Tom, Aunt Polly, Sid, Mary, Joe Harper's mother

Search for this text: There sat Aunt Polly, Sid, Mary, and Joe Harper's mother, grouped together, talking.


The minister, the boys’ families, and the members of the congregation react when Tom, Joe, and Huck appear at their own funeral service. (Chapter 17)

Characters: Tom, Joe, Huck, the minister, and the congregation

Search for this text: The villagers began to gather, loitering a moment in the vestibule to converse in whispers about the sad event.


There are, of course, a multitude of other moments within this novel that would make terrific Tableaux. I hope the examples above will prompt you and your students to examine the text for others.