Harnessing the Holiday Spirit: Reading "The Gift of the Magi"

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SWBAT analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work by reflecting upon the title of the short story, "The Gift of the Magi."

Big Idea

How I harnessing the spirit of the season in English class.

Note to the Teacher

For over 30 years, our school has participated in The Student Santa Program, where high school students buy Christmas gifts for over 300 children in our city. This activity builds classroom community as well as teaches the universal theme of the importance of generosity at this time of year and always. My freshmen class raised enough money to buy gifts for two children. To highlight their generosity and the importance of generosity in general, I decided to read "The Gift of the Magi" together  here.



Popcorn Reading

25 minutes

Together we will read O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," a beautiful short story about a married couple that secretly sells their most prized possession so that they can give a meaningful gift to the other. Before reading aloud, I will ask each person to read the prescript to themselves. This short paragraph explains the allusion "Magi," a term that refers to The Three Wise Men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Understanding this term will help them understand the sacrifice that both characters in the short story makes for the other (RL.9-10.9).

Then we will read the story, popcorn style, so that each reader passes the reading to someone else when he or she is finished. After reading, we will discuss the meaning of the title: why did O. Henry title his short story after an early Christian image when it is about a 1900s story of a young couple? What can it mean for us now?


15 minutes

In an attempt to personalize the message of sacrifice, I will ask students to journal about what the story can mean for them over vacation and in context of the Student Santa Program (W.9-10.10). I will ask some probing questions, such as:

  • What can you give up for someone else?
  • It's not always about giving something away. What can you do for someone else? What would your mom appreciate?
  • Think beyond money and expensive gifts. What is most important to your family and friends?

I do not plan to ask anyone to share. I want this to be personal and reflective. Sharing may actually undermined it.

Wrapping Up

5 minutes

Before the period ends, we will spend some time talking about plans for break. Who's traveling? Who's skiing? Who's working or has sports responsibilities? It's a nice, relaxing way to leave each other for almost two weeks and a great way to build community (SL.9-10.1).