Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Character and Choices: Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Jeff Gillard


In this three week lesson, the teacher provides instruction in the basic elements of literature. By reading Dickens' novel students are provided the opportunity to understand how their choices can change their attitudes and behavior.


The student recognizes and summarizes possible themes in a variety of literary works, including classic literature.

The student explains or demonstrates how phrases, sentences, or passages relate to personal life.


-Novel, A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens (usually available in 8th grade literature textbooks)
-Internet-accessible computers (optional) or access to research materials
-Video: -A Christmas Carol- (1984) starring George C. Scott (optional)
-Student copies of the writing activity handout (For a copy of this alternative assessment activity, see the Associated File.)


1. Read or reread the Charles Dickens' novel/play A Christmas Carol. (The novel is recommended.)
2. Gather listed materials.
3. If using the alternative assessment, select the writing standards (see Assessment option below) to be assessed. Provide instruction on these standard(s) and select passages from the novel that can serve as examples of how Dickens used these writing techniques and strategies in his novel, A Christmas Carol. If students have not had many opportunities to practice these writing strategies prior to reading the novel, provide opportunities for practice during the instruction BEFORE holding them accountable for them on the writing activities.


1. Ensure each student has a copy of Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
2. Provide instruction concerning the basic elements of a novel, i.e. plot, setting, characters, themes, and symbolism (see steps 3-6 below for sample instruction).
3. As each stave (chapter) is read, discuss the symbolism involved. For example, Marley's ghost appears laden with chains and heavy weights, representing the sins of his life that he must bear the burden of for eternity. Select phrases from the text that provide examples of the symbolism. Ask students how these passages relate to their life today.
4. After the visit of each spirit, discuss the theme that Dickens was trying to represent through its physical appearance. The first spirit appears glowing and luminescent; a light (such as a candle) to aid in the darkness. It shines the light of truth on Scrooge's life. In anger, Scrooge physically extinguishes the light by pulling the spirit's cap over its face. In his effort to hide from the truth, Scrooge's actions show the readers that our choices affect how we live our lives. (This theme is repeated with the visit of each spirit; however, Dickens uses different physical appearances and situations to drive home this point).
5. To help students see how these passages about the past relate to their lives, ask them to write a brief paragraph summarizing an event in their life that they would go back and change if they had the opportunity. (This introspective writing activity should take between 15-20 minutes. Provide informal feedback to students' responses. If desired, a grade can be assigned based on a pass/fail scale.)
6. Continue discussing symbolism and theme. The second spirit appears as a cornucopia (horn of plenty). The horn of plenty symbolizes abundance, power, excess, and consequently the responsibility that comes with such good fortune. Yet, despite all of the abundance, the spirit still carries the burden of the poor and those in need. Dickens uses two children to represent the burdens of Want and Ignorance that must be carried by all mankind. To deepen the discussion on Dickens' theme ask, -Does an individual have the responsibility for the social welfare of his fellow man?-
NOTE: The symbolism behind this spirit is still being widely debated among literary scholars. My view does not represent everyone's opinion.
7. After the visit of the third spirit, have the students explain the symbolism they see in the passages during a large-group discussion. The last spirit appears as death--faceless and dark. He does not speak or advise Scrooge; he only shows him the future and affords Scrooge the opportunity to draw his own conclusions. It is obvious that Scrooge does not like what he sees and begs for an opportunity to change.
8. Readdress the theme Dickens has been developing of how we choose to live our lives and the consequences of our choices. Help the students to see that the last spirit is used to demonstrate that we still have an opportunity to change our lives IF we change our choices.
9. OPTIONAL: If time permits play the 1984 video, A Christmas Carol, starring George C. Scott, as Scrooge. There are several versions of this story, but this is the most accurate and true to the novel. It follows the book right to the letter. Running time is 100 mins./1 hour and 40 minutes, and will require two class periods 50 minutes in length.
10. OPTIONAL: For an alternative assessment, provide each student with a writing activity sheet (see Associated File). This sheet provides students with assignment choices and criteria.


In order to evaluate student reading comprehension, students will be provided a twenty-question test primarily multiple choice, true-false, and short answer, at the end of each stave (chapter). There are a total of five staves which results in five tests. Each test provides the student feedback as to his/her level of comprehension, thus insuring their understanding of the novel. Additionally, the teacher is informed as to what needs to be emphasized and reviewed. It should be noted that most textbooks have short-answer tests that teachers can incorporate into this formal evaluation as they see fit.

In a 5-paragraph essay, students summarize the theme in A Christmas Carol. They select three passages from the story to explain how the three spirits symbolize truth, abundance (plenty), and death. The writing should focus on the ways Dickens uses the three spirits to convey how people have choices and how these choices affect our character. In conclusion, students explain how they might change and whether or not they have choices, while reflecting on the question, -How do choices affect our character?-

1st paragraph: Summarize theme and introduce the three passages that you selected to relate to the three spirits.
2nd-4th paragraphs: Explain in detail how the passages relate to the theme and your personal life with regards to choices and character.
5th paragraph: Conclusion--Recap the theme in Dickens' novel and answer the following question, -How do my choices affect my character?-

Twenty points will be awarded for each paragraph. My students follow my -triple-nickel- rule: The minimum standard is 5 words per sentence, 5 sentences per paragraph, and 5 paragraphs per essay. Points will be awarded based on their adherence to this rule, as well as the criteria listed above. NOTE: The grading of this essay will be based on the information and content provided by the students that represent their thinking and reasoning (not mechanics).

1) Average the test (stave) scores.
2) Take the average test (stave) score and average it with the product assessment.

This final grade can be recorded 5 times (due to the length of this activity) to be the equivalent of five major tests.
This alternative activity offers students the opportunity to work at their own pace and choose their own activities for evaluation, within a structured time frame. Each student selects his/her own writing activity and completes appropriate assignments within the established fifty point criteria.

Only activities #1,2,3,6,7,8,10,11,12,13, 20, 23, 24 and 25 lend themselves to expository writing. These are the activities that students need to select from to secure the established point criteria. These activities may be evaluated using the Florida Writes! scoring rubric.

The Florida Writes! scoring rubric assigns point values from 1-6. These points may be assigned to each writing assignment and then converted to the appropriate point value allowed for the activity. (If students create their own assignment, which is an option presented on the writing activities handout, point values should be negotiated with the students prior to beginning the activities in order to set clear expectations of what is required.)

NOTE: A proposed assessment grading formula is provided on the writing activity handout. This formula includes the SELECTED/CONSTRUCTED RESPONSE tests identified in #1 as well as the writing activities detailed in the ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT.


1.England during the Industrial Revolution.
2.Christmas traditions and other customs of the Victorian Era.

1. Draw a map of old London during the mid 1800s.
2. Study traditional English Christmas -Carols.- An excellent sample is provided by The Kingston Trio on the album, -The Last Month of the Year.-

Home Economics:
Learn/cook the traditional British Christmas serving, Plum Pudding (also known as -Figgy- Pudding).

Note: Students may use Internet-accessible computers for additional research if available. Computers may also be used for word processing the writing assignments if desired. Allow students to come in before and after school to access computers, or coordinate computer use with other teachers in nearby classrooms.

Web Links

Web supplement for Character and Choices: Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Dickens on the Web

Web supplement for Character and Choices: Dickens' A Christmas Carol
The Dickens Page

Web supplement for Character and Choices: Dickens' A Christmas Carol
Dickens Home Pages

This page introduces a sequel to Dickens' novel entitled, "Timothy Cratchit's Christmas Carol, 1917" written by Dale Powell.
What ever happened to Tiny Tim?

Attached Files

The writing activities handout.     File Extension: pdf

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