Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8
Curriculum Unit

Using Textual Clues to Understand “A Christmas Carol” (3 Lessons)

Created October 30, 2014



The Unit


Charles Dickens painting

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.

Guiding Questions

  • How does Dickens reveal the changing character of Ebenezer Scrooge, including personality and motivation?
  • How does Dickens’ use of connotation, denotation, and direct and indirect methods of characterization present and extend the novel’s themes?

College and Career Readiness Standards

Anchor standard

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.

Grade level standards

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.


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.

Extending the Unit

  • Have students exercise their creativity in one of the following ways by integrating and evaluating content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually as well as in words.
  • Create an illustrated children’s storybook version and include pieces of dialogue and narration from the novel.
  • Write a short story adaptation centered on a different festive occasion such as Fourth of July, St. Patrick’s Day, or the opening game of the baseball season. Include characters who mirror those in Dickens’ novel.
  • Create a series of visual images related to key moments in the text, and accompany the images with captions from the novel.
  • Have students read O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” or John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas and write essays comparing and contrasting the work’s characters, situations, and themes with A Christmas Carol.
  • View one of the many film adaptations of A Christmas Carol or attend a live performance of a dramatic adaptation.  Have students analyze the extent to which the filmed or live production of the story stays faithful or departs from Dickens’ text, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.
  • Have students research the evolution of Christmas festivities over the centuries, including gift-giving, the legend of Santa Claus, and the use of Christmas trees and Christmas cards. Present your findings in a multi-media presentation. EDSITEment feature, The Gift of Holiday Traditions: Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas, provides background on these customs along with links to multiple resources.

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level


Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
  • Literature and Language Arts
  • Compare and contrast
  • Creative writing
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Discussion
  • Essay writing
  • Expository writing
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Internet skills
  • Interpretation
  • Literary analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Summarizing
  • Textual analysis
  • Writing skills