If Dickens Were a Speech Writer: An Introduction to A Tale of Two Cities

5 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT apply knowledge of language to determine how an author creates meaning by reading and analyzing Dickens' style in Book 1 of A Tale of Two Cities.

Big Idea

Dickens is the master of language. As we carry our study of persuasive language over, we will consider how and why Dickens writes what he does in book 1 of A Tale of Two Cities.


10 minutes

We will start class with ten minutes of reading time. I will hand out copies of A Tale of Two Cities during this time.

Review of Language Features

10 minutes

This lesson fits sort of awkwardly. That has much to do with the calendar/vacation days and the impending end of 1st semester. But it also has to do with an experiment I am trying with my students.

A friend of mine just released a book (Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student Centered Approach) about the importance of letting students read a whole text prior to discussion or analysis in class. I don't feel comfortable having students read all of A Tale of Two Cities with no support, but I want to see how the students will do with the first section of the text. As such, I will be assigning all of Book 1 to them over Thanksgiving break.

We are not done with our speech unit yet, so I needed to find a parallel to what we have been talking about with our persuasive speaking and what Dickens is doing with his language at the beginning of the novel. Thankfully, ol' Charles is pretty obliging with this.

I will have the students pull out their language features sheet from last week and ask them to spend a little time reviewing the devices and features on the back page. I will be sure to point out the different kinds of parallel structure as this will be my main point of discussion once we dive into the book and something that I am going to encourage them to use in their speeches (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1a).

Just as a side note for those who have likely noticed, I am pretty literature heavy this semester, which is not totally aligned with Common Core philosophy. I have definitely had some internal struggles over whether or not to teach this novel this year. My teaching colleagues and I have been discussing the merits of this vs. doing shorter texts to finish the semester. I decided to go with Dickens for many reasons, but mainly I feel like there are so many great things that can be done to meet the standards with a book of this rigor. Hopefully I'm not shooting myself in the foot here...time will tell!

Whole Class Reading and Analysis: A Tale of Two Cities, Book 1-chapters 1 and 2

25 minutes

Once we've set the stage, I will ask the students to read along with me from the first two chapters of Book 1.

This may seem counter intuitive to read with them from this first part of the novel given my experiment with independent reading, but I think it is important to make sure their foundation is firm enough to support their independent reading moving forward.

The beginning of A Tale of Two Cities is complicated in that Dickens spends the entire first chapter pontificating about the time period his story is set in. I will use this chapter to talk to them about his style, the fact that he was being paid per word and that his novels were serialized. We will talk about word choice and I will ask them to use their language features sheet to comment on what Dickens is doing and why he is doing it (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3). 

We will use the reading guide to track our discussion so that students can have something to work with while they read independently over the break.

You'll likely note that this is not a very traditional reading guide. My goal with creating it this way is to hold myself accountable to focusing on analysis of character development and Dickens' methods/strategies with this. I know that there are many resources available for basic plot comprehension, but I want both my students and myself to engage with the book on a deeper level than basic. As such, I purposefully worked to create questions/tasks that require students to not only identify key players/scenes, but also analyze purpose for these parts of the text as they relate to the book as a whole.

Discussion: How does this apply to our speeches?

10 minutes

This will be the true experiment. After we have read for a little bit, I am going to ask the students to reflect on Dickens' style and how they might be able to blend some of his techinques (specifically parallel structure, anecdote, metaphor and diction) in their speeches.

I will assign the rest of Book 1: Recalled to Life as homework over the break and encourage them to use their reading guides to help them focus as they go.