What the Dickens? Analyzing the Author's Life to Understand the Novel

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SWBAT initiate and participate effectively in a collaborative discussion about the life of author Charles Dickens and how it overlaps with his characters by taking notes and learning about his biography.

Big Idea

An understanding of Dickens can help us know his characters in deeper, more meaningful ways.

Getting Started

5 minutes

At the beginning of Great Expectations, I like to give a motivational speech about the rigor of an honors class. I explain that only the honors level classes read this text because it’s lengthy and the language is difficult; therefore, they need to be focused and persistent. I tell them that I expect them to have a hard time, especially at first, but that it will get easier. 

Like all dedicated teachers, I have high expectations. This brief intro talk reminds them that the expectations are such and that they need to act accordingly. Plus, it makes them feel special-- most of their friends are not reading Dickens-- which in turn builds confidence. Only the honors classes read Great Expectations because it is complex and can require months of class time (RL.9-10.10), but I think that a motivational speech and a reminder that this is doable and worthwhile can make all the difference.

Background Information

50 minutes

Through powerpoint, I present on the life and career of Charles Dickens. The presentation is just under an hour and through it, I aim to make Dickens relatable and human, instead of an old, dead, white guy (SL.9-10.1). I’ve tried other ways to get this information across, such as through webquest, but ultimately, I’ve found that my presentation is more time-effective and thorough than the other methods I’ve tried. 

I lecture exactly three times a year. And today is one of those days. I don't really enjoy doing it; my theory is, if I'm doing all the work for an hour, what are they doing? But, at times, it is the best plan. I feel that I'm able to make Dickens more human and fun than a computer screen or the preface of a book can. I also try to integrate the information from today throughout the reading; here's one way I try to do that.


Wrapping Up

5 minutes

At the end of the presentations, students need to write two comments and a question on an exit slip. Since I did most of the talking this hour, I want to check in on their understanding (SL.9-10.1c). I find that this is a good way to do so, since it is quick and informal.