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Which of You Is a Witch?
The Salem Witchcraft Trials and The Crucible

Janine Polla Werner
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Grade Level
Time Alloment
 Four 45-minute class periods


In January 1692, the Salem witch trials began and changed life dramatically for the small farming community of Salem Village, part of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Believing themselves God's chosen people, the Puritan inhabitants of the village followed a strict Puritan code of hard work and religious devotion. They remained vigilant to the workings of the devil in their everyday lives and were dedicated to rooting out evil wherever they perceived its existence. However, the restrained and solemn appearance of the Puritan village belied fundamental economic, political, and interpersonal difficulties, which wrought fear, mistrust, and uncertainty throughout the community. This climate gave rise to the witch-hunt that followed.

After being regaled with magical tales of the West Indies by a Barbados-born slave named Tituba, two young Puritan girls began exhibiting peculiar symptoms, ranging from catatonic states to bodily contortions. Unable to find a medical explanation for their unusual behavior, the local religious authorities deemed it witchcraft. The magistrates, determined to locate and eradicate the source of the bewitchment, commenced a series of trials lasting for almost one year. In an effort to save themselves from the fate of witches, death by hanging, neighbor turned on neighbor, ultimately resulting in the execution of approximately twenty Salem citizens. Finally in 1710, some, but not all, of the accused were exonerated. In 1957 the state of Massachusetts officially cleared the names of all accused witches.

Through the activities presented in this lesson, students will gain comprehensive background knowledge of the Salem witch trials in preparation for reading Arthur Miller's The Crucible. The lesson can also be used on its own, without mention of the Miller play, in a social studies or history class. Students will become familiar with the basic tenets of Puritanism, the internal problems of Salem Village believed to have influenced the witch-hunts, and the individuals central to both the historical events and the dramatic rendering. After examining Web sites and video clips, students will participate in a hands-on activity in which they will role-play in an activity designed to simulate a modern day witch-hunt.

Learning Activities

Students will be able to:
  • Articulate the basic tenets of Puritanism
  • Explain the events leading up to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692
  • Identify the individuals central to the trials and to the play The Crucible
  • Synthesize and evaluate facts to speculate the underlying causes of the witch hysteria
  • Draw connections between the events of 1692 and the modern world


United States History Standards for grades 5-12

Standard 2B
  • Students will be able to describe religious groups in colonial America and the role of religion in their communities.
  • Students will be able to explain how Puritanism shaped New England communities and how it changed during the 17th century.

New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies

  • Students will be able to analyze evidence critically and demonstrate an understanding of how circumstances of time and place influence perspective.
  • Students will be able to examine the social/cultural, political, economic, and religious norms and values of Western culture.

  • Students will be able to understand how to develop and use maps and other graphic representations to display geographic issues, problems, and questions.

New York State Learning Standards for the English Language Arts

Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
  • Students will be able to listen, speak, read, and write for information and understanding. As listeners and readers, students will collect data, facts, and ideas; discover relationships, concepts, and generalizations; and use knowledge generated from electronically produced texts.

National Standards for the English Language Arts

Standard 8
  • Students will be able to use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Media Components

Web sites:

The Salem Witchcraft Papers
This Web site is part of a project created by the University of Virginia and containing primary documents and transcriptions, historical maps, and archival collections related to the Salem witch trials. This site contains the painting "The Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692" by T.H. Matteson.

The Salem Witch Trials: The World Behind the Hysteria
This Web site, created by, contains a 6-minute multimedia movie about the Salem witch trials.

A Village Possessed
This Web site contains a map that portrays the geography of the witch-hunts.

Secrets of the Dead
This PBS Web site contains an interactive map profiling the individuals involved in the witch-hunts and provides a timeline tracing the events.


Discovery School
This site enables you to download the Flash plug-in needed to view the Discovery School presentation.


Per student:

  • Is There Honor in the Honor Code? sheet
  • Which is a Witch? informational chart
  • Student Profile sheet
Per class:
  • 3 copies of the List of Suspected Cheaters sheet