As soon as students return from Thanksgiving break, we begin one of my favorite units. I look forward to teaching lessons about Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” each year due to the fact that students are familiar with the story, but few understand the time period or political message of the novel. Through incorporating a pre-reading study of Victorian England and group projects during and after reading the text, this unit provides students with a new understanding of a familiar story. It also helps me maintain student engagement at an otherwise distracting time of year.
I begin the unit with an author study. Not only do we read a biography of Charles Dickens, but we also visit the Dickens’ Museum by taking a virtual tour. The museum is located in London and was Dickens’ 48 Doughty Street residence. As students tour the different rooms of the museum, facts are collected about Dickens’ life by placing the cursor on the various items in each room. At the conclusion of the tour, I have students visit a second website that is a game called "Surviving Dickens’ London," in which students become familiar with characters from Dickens’ book, and the trials and tribulations that existed in 1840's London. This is a fascinating way to engage students and prepare them for reading the novel.
The second pre-reading activity students engage in is a Victorian England jigsaw. I divide students into eight or nine groups, depending on class size, and each small group reads an article, collects four facts, and draws one conclusion about their assigned topic. Groups then jigsaw, collect facts from the other groups and write a summary of what they learned about Victorian England. The group topics include: Victorian etiquette and gender issues, childhood experiences in different economic classes, leisure, the Poor Law of 1834, employment opportunities in Victorian England, workhouses, religion, and education. Students are provided with a graphic organizer to collect facts, draw conclusions, and summarize their findings. I enjoy observing students during this activity because they begin to understand the difficult times Dickens’ lived in.
On the third day of this unit, students review what they’ve discovered about Dickens and his life in London, and then begin reading the story. I assign a work packet at the beginning of the reading for students to complete. The packet includes a brainstorming section on Christmas traditions, comprehension questions to be completed throughout the story, a personal connection activity (e.g., If a spirit of Christmas future were to visit you, what would you see? Learn? How do you see yourself in the future?), and literature responses. The packet helps with student comprehension. Normally, the students read the story and complete the packet in a week.
At the conclusion of the story, students focus on how the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, changes throughout the story. The concluding activity requires students to divide into four groups. The title of the lesson is “Scrooge for Mayor.” The purpose of the lesson is for students to utilize the information from the pre-reading jigsaw and the story elements from “A Christmas Carol” to create a campaign for Scrooge to run for the Mayoral office in 1840's London. Students are to address social and political issues discussed in class, as well as why Scrooge is the best candidate to bring about change (incorporating support/evidence from the story). Each group creates campaign posters and a speech to present to the class. Students enjoy the project, and it also provides a creative way to “wrap-up” before the holiday break.
More Christmas Lesson Ideas:
Students research the history of various Christmas carols, as well as how caroling originated. Students then choose one carol to depict in an illustrated flip book.
Students research British Christmas traditions and then create their own “Christmas cracker” containing a holiday message.
After learning about Christmas traditions from other parts of the world, students create a gift bag that represents their family’s holiday traditions.