In this lesson, part of a unit on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, students focus on the first stave of the novel as they identify the meanings of words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to them. This activity facilitates close examination of and immersion in the text and leads to an understanding of Scrooge before his ghostly experiences.
1842 portrait of Charles Dickens.
Credit: By Francis Alexander (1800–1880) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
“I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.”
— Charles Dickens, preface to A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol December 1843 and the book won instant popularity. The proliferation of film adaptations during the holiday season continually demonstrates the timeless appeal of this story. Its brevity and memorable characters make it a good choice to introduce young students to Victorian fiction and to facilitate discussion of themes that transcend philosophical and religious differences. Dickens tells the story of a man transformed from cynical and mean-spirited loneliness to generosity and peace, conveying insights echoed by countless stories, poems, films, and popular adages, e.g., “I never saw a hearse with a luggage rack,” and “You can’t take it with you.”
In Lesson 1, students focus on the first stave of the novel as they identify the meanings of words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to them. This activity facilitates close examination of and immersion in the text and leads to an understanding of Scrooge before his ghostly experiences. In Lesson 2, students examine Scrooge’s experiences with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and discover how Dickens used both direct and indirect characterization to create a protagonist who is more than just a stereotype. In Lesson 3, students focus on stave 5 as they identify and articulate themes that permeate the story.
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS ELA Literacy RL 8.1
Cite textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text
CCSA ELA Literacy RL 8.2
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting and plot; provide an objective summary of the text
CCSS ELA Literacy RL 8.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts
When Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol in December 1843, it won instant popularity with the reading public. Critics note that in the novel Dickens virtually invented the holiday season as many celebrate it today. In earlier times the observance of the twelve days of Christmas was limited to wealthy courts. The Puritan takeover during the seventeenth century involved the suppression of all Christmas festivities, and they did not return with the restoration of the monarchy. The novel presents Christmas as a time for charity, caroling, good will, and celebration within nuclear families. The story’s immediate popularity demonstrates that this vision had tremendous appeal for people early during the Victorian Era.
A Christmas Carol came relatively early in Dickens’ career, only ten years after his first published story. The Pickwick Papers was published in serial form in 1836–1837, followed quickly by Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. Meanwhile, Dickens had married and begun what would become a large family. The small boy forced to black shoes while his family was in debtors’ prison was decades in the past, and Great Expectations was decades in the future.
A Christmas Carol, regardless of the title, is not a religious text as much as a humanistic one. Church bells do ring, but Dickens emphasizes not religion as much as humanitarianism. As in many of his other works, we see concern with ethics, the right (and wrong) way to live, as well as an awareness of the plight of the poor. Naomi Wood, Kansas State University professor of English, labels it “a compelling story about the Christmas holiday not as a religious observance, but as an aspect of the social contract: the time when those who 'have' experience joy in sharing with those who 'have not.’”
Dickens titled his novel A Christmas Carol rather than A Christmas Story. Although the work is clearly not a song, he carried through the metaphor by using divisions he called staves instead of “chapters.” In music and poetry, a stave can be a musical score or a stanza. The novel also capitalizes on Victorian interest in ghost stories and the custom of telling them during the Christmas season.
This is an excellent choice to introduce young adolescents to Victorian writing and to Charles Dickens in particular, especially just before or during the holiday season when retail pressures can elicit a “Bah, humbug!” from just about anyone. The novel is short enough to be identified sometimes as a novella; it tells a good story; and it stresses themes that transcend all kinds of differences.
Many print editions of A Christmas Carol are available, including the Thrift Edition from
Dover Press. The text is also available online at Literature.org.
Write an essay discussing three experiences that you think were powerful factors in changing Scrooge’s attitudes and behavior. For each, include specific textual evidence, a description of Scrooge’s responses, and an explanation of the impact on Scrooge.
Worksheet 4. Evaluation Rubric provides a tool for both student writing and teacher evaluation.
In this triumph of magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude chronicles a century of the remarkable Buendía family’s history in the fictional Colombian town of Macondo. The three lessons presented here explore the fantastic elements of this imaginary world, the real history that lies behind them, and García Márquez’s own philosophical musings on writing about Latin America.