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Give your students the Dickens!

Do you dread teaching the work of Charles Dickens? Do your students groan at the mere mention of his name? Explore some of the student-friendly Dickens Web sites we found and hear from some of the teachers and Dickens fans who created them. Included: Teacher-created ideas for extending the works of Dickens.

Charles Dickens wasn't perfect. He was stubborn and sometimes quick-tempered. He often blamed others for the problems that he himself caused. The force of will that enabled him to succeed prevented him from taking an honest look at his own life. While he was unable to learn from the lessons of his own life perhaps we, his readers, can be more fortunate. A study of his life reveals that perfection is not a qualification for success and that no one really defines us but ourselves.
---Marsha Perry, Charles Dickens Gad's Hill Place

What better place to begin your exploration of Dickens online than at Charles Dickens Gad's Hill Place, the author's home? This site, as the above quote demonstrates, emphasizes the value of teaching Dickens to young readers and introduces an approach that will likely appeal to them.

In brief, easily digestible sections, Gad's Hill Place highlights the childhood events and dreams that shaped Dickens's life as well as the values that influenced his writing. It introduces Dickens's friends as well as his work, and short quotes scattered throughout the site gently introduce students to the author's style and vocabulary.

The site also contains an interactive crossword puzzle that requires knowledge of Dickens to complete. It's an effective -- and fun -- evaluation tool!

"I've had an interest in Charles Dickens for several years," Marsha Perry, creator of Gad's Hill Place, told Education World. "All of us are familiar with his work, but I was surprised at the details of his personal life. From an early age, he dreamed about becoming 'someone.' He wanted to do great things. However, circumstances seemed against him. It was only through his own belief in himself and in his abilities that he was able to become a popular author. I firmly believe that this is a lesson we can all learn from."

One of the main features of Gad Hill Place is The Daily Dose of Dickens, which provides a new Dickens quote each day. "I have collected almost 400 quotes from his works and the database of quotes is continually growing," Perry told Education World. "Most of the quotes I have picked out from his works myself. I've been so busy building the quote database that there was a year when the only recreational reading I did was Dickens!"

"Visitors to the site have passed on their favorite quotes too," added Perry. "It's always interesting to see which phrases stand out for different people."

Although she's a Web designer, not a classroom teacher, Perry explained that one of her goals in creating the site was to make it available to students. "I don't have a background in education, so I sought advice on how to present information in a way that would be useful to students. For example, I took out information that scrolled across the screen after it was pointed out that students couldn't take notes fast enough to write everything down!"

Many schools and educational organizations link to Perry's site, including

You might want to add your school to the list!

A Christmas Carol

"Charles Dickens has probably had more influence on the way we celebrate Christmas today than any single individual in human history except one. It was the Christmas stories of Dickens, particularly his 1843 A Christmas Carol, that rekindled the joy of Christmas in Great Britain and America." -- David Perdue's Dickens Page

Of course, A Christmas Carol is probably the Dickens story most familiar to students. Have your students read the original? Encourage them to visit A Christmas Carol, a site that provides the complete text of the book as it was published in 1890. Only a reading of the full version of this holiday story will give students an accurate sense of Dickens's values, social awareness, and humor.

Jennifer Johns, who teaches sixth-grade English and science at Crestview Middle School in Huntington, Indiana, provides Education World readers with several additional activities to use with A Christmas Carol. She suggests that teachers

  • have students write obituaries for Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge.
  • encourage students to write an obituary for Scrooge before they read the story and after they read it.
  • invite students to write a diary entry about the Christmas Eve events from the point of view of Scrooge's nephew Fred.
  • ask students to make a Christmas card that Scrooge might have sent at the beginning of the story and one he might send at the end of the story.
  • encourage students to write a newspaper article explaining what happened between Marley and Scrooge.
  • have students draw each of the three ghosts, based on the descriptions in the story.

Additional Dickens Resources

Project Gutenberg This site provides etext of more than 50 of Dickens's works.

The Philadelphia Branch of the Dickens Fellowship This site includes the 19th Century Gallery, which contains quotes about Dickens from some of his contemporaries, including Louisa May Alcott, G. K. Chesterton, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The Dickens Project This scholarly site, maintained primarily by faculty and graduate students at the University of California, includes a Dickens biography and filmography, teaching resources, and links to other Dickens sites.

The Dickens House Museum The museum's online site includes information about Dickens and a virtual tour of the museum.

The Victorian Web This site, created by George P. Landow, professor of English and art history at Brown University, includes information about the Victorian Age's history, sociology, art, religion, economy, and more. The site also includes a section exclusively about Charles Dickens.

 

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2015 Education World

 

From the Education World Library

  • Don't miss Education World's December Holidays archive page. There you will find dozens of ideas for teaching about the holidays as well as craft activities, resources, and more.

 

Updated 12/13/2015