Guilty or Innocent: Did O. Henry use the correct allusions in "The Gift of the Magi" ?

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SWBAT analyze how an author draws source material in "The Gift of the Magi" by using information from non-fiction texts to evaluate the use of allusions.

Big Idea

Students serve as judge and jury to O.Henry's use of allusions to The Queen of Sheba and King Solomon

Do Now

10 minutes

For the "Do Now" students will be given a Cornell Note-taking sheet.  I will briefly explain to my students that they will be reading informational texts and using this note-taking system to capture the salient points in their articles. I will ask them whether they have ever used the Cornell Note-taking system before for other class. If students have used it, I will ask them to share how they have used them in the past. I am having them do this because students sometimes listen more attentively when their peers explain the use of a strategy.



Building Knowlege: How to Take Cornell Notes

10 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watch: Classroom Video: Developing a Conceptual Understanding

In this section,  I will explain how my students will use the Cornell Note-taking Sheet to capture information about the articles.  During the previous lesson, they will have read "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry. For this lesson, we are pairing informational texts on the biblical allusions in the text (King Solomon, Queen of Sheba, the Magi) to see how and why the author transformed biblical material into this story. I am choosing to show them the Cornell Note-taking system because it will help them track important details in the informational texts that might help them analyze or justify O. Henry's use of  source material from biblical stories (CCSS.ELA- Literacy.RL.9-10.9). This is a challenging standard, and the focus on allusions is a great way to address it because students have to know the purpose of allusions, be able to recognize and analyze them in texts, and justify their effectiveness.  In order to do this, I am providing informational texts that might give them more evidence/justification for their evaluation of O. Henry (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 ). In other words, they will be citing from "The Gift of the Magi" and from the informational articles in the Socratic Seminar later in the lesson.

Before I release them to read the informational texts,  I''ll need to model for students where their key terms and notes should be placed to set the expectations for their note-taking sheets.

At this point in the lesson, I may need to do a disclaimer that we are reading information that might be biblical in nature, BUT I am in no way teaching the Bible nor am I agreeing with or disagreeing with any information contained in these texts. We are reading this for informational purposes in order to do an analysis.

Here's a student sample of the completed Cornell Notes sheet that shows the kind of notes students took and the types of questions they wrote.

Application: Reading for Information and Collecting Evidence

35 minutes

To see this part of the lesson unfold, watch: Classroom Video: Developing a Conceptual Understanding

At this point, I will have grouped students in triads, and each group will have one of three articles to read and discuss. For this initial grouping each triad member has the same article. I am doing this because I want them to have people to share and compare ideas with after they take their notes. This  gives them an opportunity to add to or subtract from their notes as they share them with other members of the triad. Each group member will spend 20 minutes working independently, using the Cornell Note-taking system to make notes of any information that will help explain how and why O. Henry might have chosen them. If they have any questions about the information, I'll ask them to place them on the left. In addition, they will include vocabulary and other headings on the left with salient notes on the right.

Links to articles:

I chose these articles because they are informational and encyclopedias are more credible sources than some of the other sources that students might find on the internet.

At the end of their reading and note-taking (in the summary section), I will ask students to summarize (in four or five sentences) what they have read and note an answer to the questions:

  • How did O. Henry transform information from the Bible into "The Gift of the Magi."
  • Why did he use these allusions? Do they work?

(This is a critical part in the lesson where I will be spending some time with each group probing to ensure that they are noting the most relevant information.) If you have a magic wand that creates great note-takers this is a great place to use it!

After this first grouping, we will transition to our second grouping. (Of course, I will have arranged these groups in advance of the lesson).

For 15 additional minutes, I will group students with another triad. This time, they will each have read and taken notes on different articles. Now each member of the group gets to hear information from the other articles so that they can engage in a substantive discussion about how and why each of these allusions are used in the story. 

What do I mean by substantive? At this point in the year, I am hoping that I don't need to explain, but I might ask a student to answer this question to make sure they know. This activity is important because according to the Common Core, students need to come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a).

I will  remind students that each of them has a responsibility to the group because without their notes, the rest of the group members will not have all of the information they need to engage in the discussion. This is about accountability.


Application: Socratic Discussion

15 minutes

The main assessment for this lesson will be a Socratic Seminar. This type of assessment is one in which students come to a circle discussion having researched and taken notes about a topic, prepared to discuss and defend their ideas using details from the text.  For this Socratic seminar, I will have my students broken up into two circles, the outer and inner. The inner circle participants are the talkers and the outer circle participants are the listeners.

For this abbreviated Socratic Seminar, student will use the questions they wrote on their Cornell Note-taking sheets to pose questions to the group. Also, the main point of the seminar is to argue whether O. Henry is guilty of using ineffective allusions or whether he used appropriate allusions. They will earn points for questions, substantive comments, and use of textual evidence. We'll  spend about 10 minutes per circle, and students will get a turn to be in each circle. Each student in the outer circle will be taking notes on the performance of one student in the inner circle. My mantra is that we only get better with feedback, so I want them to have an abundance of opportunities this year to give feedback. Not only are we assessing their reading of informational texts, but also, we are assessing their ability to propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate to broader themes and ideas (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1c).

This is their first Socratic Seminar, so I will explain to them that I am merely an observer, and I will not facilitate the conversation or intervene. Fingers crossed that I don't have to eat those words!


Application: Developing Questions

10 minutes

For this part of the lesson, I will be providing question stems for their student-created questions. I am doing this because I want my students to develop higher level questions for the discussion. I'll give them a few examples of questions that would be appropriate for the Socratic Seminar in order to propel the conversation about O. Henry's use of allusions. Check out this video  that shows the document that I will provide to my students to help them write their questions. I found it at


10 minutes

For closure today, student will get to read the feedback from their peers on their performance during the seminar. Their closure question is to write about what they learned during the triad discussions and during the Socratic Seminar. This is also a time to meta-cognitively reflect on our process. What went well? What didn't? They will also note one thing that they want to work on for the next seminar. 

I really want to analyze this data to see if this was an effective way to meet today's objective. In other words, can students analyze O. Henry's use of biblical allusions? We'll see...