What I like about "A Christmas Carol" is that there are many different areas that can be picked apart, analyzed, and dissected when reading the novel. Because it is an example of classic literature, students can discuss the plot, character development, and all of the other story components. But Charles Dickens also describes the time period in detail, making the work a social commentary, ripe for a discussion of history and politics. Then of course, there is the moral component to the story, which may even spill over into the metaphysical category (since we read about three different ghosts). And Scrooge? What great fodder for a psychological study!
As the story unfolds, students are exposed to a dynamic character who is presented with potential calamities if certain behavior and lifestyle habits are not altered. This element is crucial because it can serve as a writing opportunity, or class discussion in which students can examine their own choices and future.
Although "A Christmas Carol" provides thought-provoking and engaging content, no student will benefit from the text if they become lost or overwhelmed by the style and word choice used by Dickens. So as teachers, it's important to make sure that comprehension is taking place. Using reading/writing strategies like Cloze Reading, Think Alouds, Cornell Notes, and Anticipation Guides can help students gain better comprehension, and will help teachers check for understanding. Here are a few lesson plans that can pave the way to an understanding of "A Christmas Carol".
Lesson Plans for "A Christmas Carol":
Students will list all plot developments and events on notebook paper, while in their groups. There will be a total of eight groups, with two groups representing staves one through four. Groups representing each stave will write their answers on chart paper. The teacher will scramble and edit all events and plot developments for the second part of the lesson. Students will be given two copies of scrambled events, and in groups, will be required to cut and arrange the events in chronological order, paying attention to the flashbacks, time order words and the major parts of "A Christmas Carol". The class will discuss how time order words like "before", "after", "when" and "next" affect the story, and will also question and analyze why Dickens chose to show Scrooge in the present before illustrating his past. Students will also 1) list the negative characteristics of someone who is jaded, 2) create a fictitious flashback of how that person was before they became cynical, and finally, 3) list the event or events that contributed to that person's unpleasant perspective. Obviously, students must have read "A Christmas Carol". To ensure comprehension, I would do Cloze reading for various sections of Christmas Carol. Never assume that students know what they've read, just because they've said they read it. Cloze reading, coupled with a "Check for Understanding" approach, like using Cornell Notes, is a great way to visibly see what questions students have when they don't understand the context or meaning of text, phrases, or passages. I would also implement the last part of this lesson in the beginning as a warm up, or pre-write, so students can look for the clues and events that may have provoked cynicism in Scrooge. Also, as a scaffolding kind of exercise, students can fold their papers in two, with one side headed "before" and the other "after". Ask students to think about a pivotal moment in their lives (death of pet, a friend moves away, etc.). Have students write down how they felt before and after the event. This will give students further insight into Scrooge's character, and the flashback technique.
This lesson helps students discover theme and symbolism, while they analyze the various ghosts that have visited Scrooge, throughout the novel. By examining the various symbols that Dickens has used throughout the novel (i.e. The chains around Marley's ghost - what do the chains represent or symbolize?), students will be able to determine a common-thread theme that Dickens has crafted through interesting characters and flashbacks. Students ultimately examine how our choices affect our lives, and summarize in one paragraph, how their lives relate to the story. Because this lesson requires higher order thinking skills, it is imperative to make certain that young readers truly understand what symbolism and theme really are, and more importantly, how to apply their memorized definitions. By giving examples (that's more than just one) of symbolism from other stories, students will eventually be able to make connections between what they are currently reading, and how symbolism is interwoven into their current text. The same holds true for the teaching of theme. By using pictures, charts, and other graphic organizers, students can begin to train their minds to think more abstractly after practicing. But some students need that scaffolding, because they may have never been required to think beyond a multiple choice test, where answers are essentially handed to them, and they just have to pick the right one. This is the difference between simply recalling information, and demonstrating acquired knowledge.
I found this lesson to be one of the most interesting I have ever seen. It takes the components of the "A Christmas Carol" (characterization, turning points, rising action, and climax) and plugs these story components into charts and systems. The "stock/flow" chart, the "systems dynamics model", and the discovery of "threshold/tipping points" for the characters in Christmas Carol are what students will construct as they complete this lesson, converting classic literature into a step-by-step engineer-like process. I've seen graphic organizers that attempt to do the same thing (like the bubble map, the story arc, and the K-W-L chart), but when the creators of this lesson threw in verbiage like "threshold", "systems dynamics" and "stock/flow", I wondered if this was more of a "mechanical engineering meets Scrooge" experiment. The lesson requires modeling software, and obviously combines technology with literature. I think teachers would benefit from taking out their standards and finding out how this lesson would align with standards before they embark upon it with their students.