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Activities for Teaching Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

Secondary Literacy , Short Stories

“ Lamb to the Slaughter ” is a timeless classic. Roald Dahl’s brilliant short story uncovers a plot that is equal parts suspenseful and darkly humorous. Set in what appears to be an ordinary domestic scene, Dahl masterfully weaves a tale of deception , revenge , and unexpected twists. There is no shortage of activities for teaching “Lamb to the Slaughter” in your classroom.

This short story is sure to engage your students and leave them with plenty to discuss. It’s also a great option for teaching irony , making inferences , and exploring characterization . If you’ve never taught “ Lamb to the Slaughter ” before, prepare to have students at the edge of their seats!

Roald Dahl's lamb to the slaughter activities and lesson plan ideas

What is “Lamb to the Slaughter” About?

When a devoted housewife receives startling news from her husband, this seemingly congenial story takes a dark and unexpected twist. Roald Dahl’s scary short story is a tale of ingenuity and the ironies of justice. With a weapon as unusual as it is ordinary, Dahl masterfully uncovers the thin line between love and vengeance. Your students will learn that there’s more that meets the eye after reading this eerie classic!

The story revolves around the protagonist, Mary Maloney – a traditional housewife with less conventional problem-solving skills. Unforeseen events suddenly disrupt Mary’s world, leaving her with a lot on her plate. As the narrative progresses, a profound transformation takes place, reshaping the course of her life. Dahl’s masterful storytelling skillfully navigates themes of tension , suspense , and human nature . It offers students a gripping and thought-provoking exploration of the character development and plot twists.

What age is “Lamb to the Slaughter” suitable for?

“ Lamb to the Slaughter ” is just about 4000 words in length. With a Lexile level of 780 , this scary short story is suitable for sophomores , freshmen , and even students in upper middle school .

If you teach senior-level high school students, “Lamb to the Slaughter” is still a valuable short story for your classroom. Students with a mature understanding of the culture of domesticity will have a lot to unpack from the story. Students can practice argumentative writing through exploring the motivations of Mary Maloney using these essay prompts .

It is important to note that “Lamb to the Slaughter” is a short story that implies a fair bit of violence. Although the events of the story are intended to be interpreted on a symbolic level, these events may be unsettling for some students. Educators should exercise discretion and consider the maturity and sensitivity of their students when choosing to include this story in a classroom curriculum.

Activities for Lamb to the slaughter

What is the main lesson of “Lamb to the Slaughter?”

“ Lamb to the Slaughter ” illustrates how seemingly ordinary people can react in extraordinary ways when pushed to their limits. It serves as a commentary on the complexities of human behavior, the unpredictability of life, and the consequences of impulsive actions.

This short story is also a great starting point to exploring more complex concepts like implicit bias , domestic violence , and the criminal justice system .

Activities for teaching “Lamb to the Slaughter”

When it comes to short stories, I like to dig deeper into the themes and ideas that arise. Short stories provide a lot of value to the classroom because they spark engagement without assigning too much reading for homework. The other benefit of short stories is that they provide a less intimidating text to encourage close reading . I like to spend at least a week teaching “Lamb to the Slaughter” – sometimes even two. This offers students the opportunity to really master the text and revisit it enough to gain a deeper understanding. 

Here are my favourite lessons and activities for teaching “Lamb to the Slaughter” :

1. Practicing Making Inferences

What is remarkable about this short story is how much of it is told between the lines.  Students will have to make inferences about this story regardless of whether you prompt them to or not. In order to come to grips with the central event of the story, they’ll have to make conclusions based on the clues provided by the author.

I like to use this learning opportunity to teach students about making inferences. This gr aphic organizer will prompt students to make inferences and dive deeper into an analysis of Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter.”  Students will be challenged to analyze evidence from the text to provide both a literal evaluation and an inference about the interpretive meaning of each quote.  There are 11 quotations from “Lamb to the Slaughter” in total. Each quotation highlights key moments within the short story. These include the motivations of each character and the missing dialogue between Patrick and Mary.

Your lesson on making inferences can also serve as a pre-reading activity using this informational handout about “Lamb to the Slaughter.”   This handout explains the origins of the title of this short story and prompts students to make predictions about what will happen.  To consolidate this activity, this handout also includes pre-reading and post-reading questions to evaluate Dahl’s choice of title.

The missing dialogue between Patrick and Mary is truly the most mysterious and intriguing aspect of “Lamb to the Slaughter.” My students have had a lot of fun responding to a narrative writing prompt that has them explore the possible exchanges that can fill the void that Dahl creates in this story. This narrative writing assignment is also a great way to consolidate your lesson on making inferences.

Lamb to the slaughter activities

2. Exploring Characterization

“ Lamb to the Slaughter ” is an excellent resource for teaching characterization in literature. Through the transformation of the protagonist, the story offers a compelling case study in character development . Educators can guide students in exploring how the author uses direct and indirect characterization techniques to reveal Mary Maloney’s personality, motivations, and internal conflicts. 

By dissecting Mary’s actions, thoughts, and dialogue throughout the story, students can gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of character construction and how authors employ various literary devices to bring characters to life.  

This character analysis informational handout defines characterization and differentiates between direct characterization and indirect characterization .  Students will then be prompted to locate evidence in the text to characterize Mary Maloney, Patrick Maloney, Jack Noonan, and Sam.

Students can organize their evidence from the text in this character analysis graphic organizer .  This graphic organizer prompts students to identify the type of characterization (direct or indirect characterization) and the category of characterization (words, thoughts, appearance, etc.).  Finally, students will also analyze the evidence to offer their interpretation of the character.

3. Identifying Types of Irony

“Lamb to the Slaughter” is one of my favourite stories to use to demonstrate different types of irony . Students can explore how Dahl composes a story in which the title itself takes on a profound irony. As the story unfolds, the seemingly mundane domestic setting is juxtaposed with the shocking events that transpire, providing an ideal backdrop for discussions on this literary device. In addition to this, the unexpected twists in the plot – along with the reactions and perceptions of the characters – offer rich material for exploring dramatic irony.

Analyze Dahl’s brilliant use of irony with this free irony flow chart . This worksheet defines irony and differentiates between dramatic irony , situational irony , and verbal irony .  Students will be prompted to locate evidence in the text to apply examples to teach type of irony. They will also analyze why these examples qualify as ironic.

Teaching lamb to the slaughter

4. Teaching Argumentative Writing

If you teach older students, they’ll definitely have some fun arguing about the motivations of Mary Maloney . By interpreting her actions on a symbolic level, senior students can even analyze “Lamb to the Slaughter” from a feminist lens, and respond to whether or not Mary is a revolutionary housewife. 

This argumentative writing assignment for “Lamb to the Slaughter” provides three argumentative essay prompts . You can select a single writing prompt to assign to your students, or provide them with the option of student choice.  These prompts assess students on different areas of literary analysis, including figurative language (specifically irony), characterization , and theme .  

For a more experiential approach, you could also host a mock trial for Mary Maloney. This project-based learning opportunity provides differentiated roles for your students. It will help them develop main points and evidence to support their cases. If you have a particularly inquisitive group of students, you can assign them the task of defending Mary Maloney on whatever grounds they can imagine. Temporary insanity or lack of sovereignty are two arguments that can create a compelling case!

Teaching Lamb to the Slaughter: Tying It All Together

There are so many fun lessons and activities for teaching “ Lamb to the Slaughter .” Whether you teach middle school or senior students, there is so much value to be found in this short story. I hope you’ve found this blog post offered you some engaging options! To take your exploration of this classic short story to the next level, make sure to check out this “ Lamb to the Slaughter ” unit from my shop.

lamb to the slaughter argumentative essay

Lamb to the Slaughter

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Gender and Marriage

Throughout the short story, Mary Maloney is firmly situated in a patriarchal society—that is, a system in which men hold more power than women politically, socially, and economically. Historically, women have been often consigned to the private sphere of domestic life, as they were deemed by men to be intellectually and emotionally unfit for the public sphere outside of family and home life. Men, on the other hand, were able to move through both spheres…

Gender and Marriage Theme Icon

Role Reversals

Dahl subjects his characters to various reversals in their traditional roles. Most prominent of these role reversals is that of Mary Maloney , whose act of murder defies the policemen’s assumptions about her and about the culprit. By physically attacking her husband, with a club-like weapon no less, Mary subverts gender stereotypes and takes on the traditionally male role of violent attacker and murderer. Her quick thinking and ability to deceive others causes the policemen…

Role Reversals Theme Icon


Much of “Lamb to the Slaughter” is occupied with eating and food. At the beginning of the story, food is closely linked to domesticity and marriage. Mary ’s repeated attempts to feed Patrick demonstrate not only her affection for her husband but also the role she plays as homemaker and housewife. Similarly, Patrick’s refusal to eat Mary’s food is a rejection of that affection and foreshadows his rejection of the domestic life Mary has built…

Food/Consumption Theme Icon

Patrick ’s betrayal of his marriage drives the rest of the story’s plot, leading to both his wife’s betrayal and that of his colleagues. When he leaves his wife, Patrick betrays not only the love Mary has for him but also the unborn child she is carrying and their private domestic life together. At the sudden breakdown of her marriage and the world she built around Patrick, Mary commits her own betrayal by killing her…

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Lamb To The Slaughter

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Discussion Questions

How does Dahl establish an atmosphere of domestic calm at the opening of the story? What clues does he give that the harmonious mood is soon to be shattered? Make reference to foreshadowing in your answer.

Describe the relationship between Mary and her husband. How does their marriage reflect the values of 1950s society? What is the author’s overall message about traditionally assigned gender roles?

What impression does the reader have of Mary Maloney at the beginning of “Lamb to the Slaughter”? How does that perception change as the story progresses? Cite evidence from the text to support your answer.

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lamb to the slaughter argumentative essay


This Lamb to the Slaughter writing activity will get your students in high gear! After reading the short story by Roald Dahl, students write closing arguments for either Mrs. Maloney’s prosecution or defense. Since we all know she’s guilty, it’s all about citing evidence to support claims.

✅ Optional Speaking

Students LOVE this essay because they get to take on the persona of a lawyer. They talk about “my client” or “the defendant” and really ham things up for the judge. Even with the dramatic flair, they are still practicing citing textual evidence.

❤️ I love it when students want to give their essay as a speech. This option (and I always make it optional) is a great way to add some drama in ELA and give students space to practice public speaking.

Your Lamb to the Slaughter essay includes:

  • Project Description & Brainstorming Worksheet – students collect textual evidence and decide how to “spin” it for the jury (.pdf and .doc)
  • Rubric – Choose between analytic and holistic versions (.pdf & .doc)
  • Printer-friendly versions - prints as a half-sheet with the rubric on the front and brainstorming on the back)
  • Digital version (Google Slides)

⭐️ Want more activities for Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl? This resource is included in my Lamb to the Slaughter Activities Bundle !

What other teachers are saying:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ “My students love this short story and debate constantly about the fate of the main character. I used this resource, and also turned it into a class debate topic.” -Andrea M.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ “I used this in summer school for students repeating 9th grade ELA. They loved the story and it really helped them to grasp irony. Then, the essay was the perfect way for me to assess their literary analysis.” -Courtney K.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ “This was a fun wrap-up to Lamb to the Slaughter. It was a great way to use persuasive writing without writing a dry essay.” -Paige B.

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Lamb To The Slaughter Argumentative Essay Example

Lamb To The Slaughter Argumentative Essay Example

  • Pages: 2 (427 words)
  • Published: August 30, 2016
  • Type: Paper

A great deal of people gets divorced. Not everyone reacts the same way, however. Some take it as another step in life but others can lash out with anger and alcohol. It all has to do with how well people can cope with the separation. Mary Maloney is one of the ones that take the news hard, and one of the many that take rejection to another level. A lot of people turn to the courts to settle things, but not Mary Maloney.

In what seems like a rash decision, she decides to murder her husband who wanted nothing from her and only offered help to take care of her and the child, as he quotes in the book “of course I’ll give you money and see you’re looked after. ” In this story “Lamb to t

he Slaughter” by Roald Dahl, the main character, Mary Maloney is clearly a psychopath. As her husband stood, facing the other direction, she walked up behind him and smashed him over the head with the leg of lamb she just removed from the freezer. “He remained standing there for at least five seconds, gently swaying. Then he crashed to the carpet.”

Another way you can tell that she is psychotic is that even after murdering her husband, she came up with a plan to put on an act, for the police, to pretend she was surprised to find him dead. She also appeared to feel no remorse for her dead husband. She even said that she didn’t care about herself, “it made no difference to her, in fact, it would be a relief. ” Th

only thing that mattered to her was her baby who was not born yet, she didn’t know what was going to happen to it and “she wasn’t about to find out” she even got rid of the murder weapon in a clever way; she fed it to the police, right under their noses.

Usually, people can’t think properly after murdering someone, but Mary was surprisingly calm under the circumstances. She also showed no remorse that she had just ended her husband’s life just because he wanted a divorce. “All right, she told herself, I’ve killed him. ” she also said, “it made no difference” and even giggled at the end. Mary Maloney has demonstrated her psychopathic behavior throughout the story, in many ways. She murdered her husband, she came up with an ingenious plan to cover it up, and she showed absolutely no remorse. In conclusion, Mary Maloney is absolutely crazy.

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