A Tale of a Few Text Messages: A Character Study of A Tale of Two Cities
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Students engage in a character study of the numerous figures created by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. Students first compare and contrast several forms of communication: email, text message, and telephone. They then complete a character study chart that breaks down physical background, character traits, social status/background, unanswered questions about the character, and a final judgment about the character. Next, students will create text messages between numerous characters that show the relationship between the characters, their background, and plot points that they are involved in. The lesson concludes with students sharing their text messages and a discussion of the rationales behind their choices.
- A Tale of Two Cities: A Masterpiece Teacher’s Guide: This guide, created by PBS Masterpiece, is used by the teacher for much of the instruction in this lesson.
- Venn Diagram, 3 Circles printout: Students use this printout to compare and contrast modern modes of communication.
- A Tale of Two Cities Texting printout: On this handout, students write text messages that could have been communicated between two characters from the novel.
From Theory to Practice
In the NCTE Council Chronicle article “The Shift to 21st-Century Literacies, Sara Kajder explains that as information technologies continue to progress, teachers have opened up what counts as valued communication in the classroom” (4). One of the many ways that teachers can use the various types of communication is to incorporate the ways that their students are communicating each and every day. Furthermore, William Kist explains the transition from “page-based to a screen-based society,” contending that "'[i]t's a different way of encountering communication or thought or human expression'" (5). Inviting students to respond to literature in the format of a series of text messages achieves two goals: It shows that teachers value forms of communication in which students already engage, and it allows teachers to discuss with students ways in which new means of communication are similar to and different from more traditional ways expressing meaning.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
This link connects you to a PDF version of the PBS Teaching guide about the Dickens' classic. This guide presents an integrated approach to teaching A Tale of Two Cities. The lessons draw parallels between social conditions of the past and present and compare the development of democracy in England, France, and the United States. The activities in the guide help to develop research, speaking, and debating skills, and promote cooperative learning.
This online guide offers general lesson plans about Dickens and specific discussion questions and activities for various Dickens classics.
This link connects you to a PDF version of a PBS Teaching Guide about various Dickens books. This guide does not discuss exclusively A Tale of Two Cities, however it does offer background information on Dickens and general lesson plans.
- Because of the nature of this lesson as a culminating review, students need to have completed reading the novel A Tale of Two Cities prior to this assignment. Alternatively, elements of this lesson could be woven into the reading of the novel, with students stopping to create text responses as the appropriate events occur.
- Make copies of the necessary handouts.
- Arrange for students to have access to computers with Internet access during Session One.
- Test and bookmark the Venn Diagram, 3 Circles student interactive. Ensure that you have the latest version of Flash on student computers. If you wish to use the Venn Diagram, 3 Circles printout make sure to make enough copies.
- consider ways in which three major forms of personal communication are similar and different.
- compare and contrast selections of classmates.
- create text messages that one character could have sent to another character in the story.
- create text messages that portray the attributes, relationships, motives, and plot points surrounding the characters.
- reflect and revise their text messages after sharing with classmates.
- After finishing the novel A Tale of Two Cities and discussing the text, direct the students to read the two essays about Dickens. The students could either read the essays online or they could be printed out.
- Once all students have completed the essays, lead a class discussion that focuses on the time period that Dickens was writing from, poverty, and how it affects his literature. Use the questions from p.3 of Teaching Dickens: A Masterpiece Guide.
- Preview session two with the class orally. Informally discuss Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Wikis. Take an informal survey on how many of the students use these contemporary communications, and explain to students that they will be comparing and contrasting these in the next session.
- Explain to students that they will be comparing and contrasting communication through telephone, text messages, and email by considering these questions (put them on the board/chart paper for students to reference):
- When do people use this mode of communication? In what situations and at what times of day is it appropriate to communicate this way?
- With whom do people use each of the forms of communication?
- How does this form of communication actually function?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each form of communication?
- As students work to compare and contrast using the Venn Diagram, 3 Circles, circulate the room to answer questions and help groups that might need additional assistance or prompting.
- Ask students to print their work and facilitate a discussion of the ways these three modes of communicating are similar and different. Be sure students cover issues such as the informality and perceived non-intrusiveness of sending a text message, the expectation of a caller on a cell phone that the owner of the phone will answer (as opposed to a family member with traditional land lines), and the personal/more permanent nature of an email.
- Handout and explain the Character Chart, which can be found on p. 24 of the A Tale of Two Cities: A Masterpiece Guide. Ask the students to complete this before Session Three.
- Remind students of their work in the previous session, including the communication activity with the Venn Diagram, 3 Circles. Allow a few students to share their printed work as examples.
- Ask the students if they have ever been more open and less inhibited using contemporary communications (email, text message, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wikis, etc). Facilitate a short discussion using the following questions, if you choose:
- How many of you use text messages, Tweets, or Facebook to communicate with your friends, family, etc.?
- Have you ever said more in a text message, Tweet, or on Facebook post than you would have face-to-face? If yes, why you did say more?
- Do you believe that these contemporary forms of communication will create better relationships? Why or why not?
- Review the Character Chart. Explain to the students that they will use this chart to construct their text messages. Share the A Tale of Two Cities Texting printout (Example) and have a short discussion of the samples provided.
- From this discussion, challenge students to create text messages between characters focusing on 6 main points, using the questions on the A Tale of Two Cities Texting printout.
- What does this text reveal about your character’s background?
- What does this text reveal about your character’s personality?
- What does this text reveal about your character’s social status or background?
- Does your character’s text message reveal more information about him/her than they reveal initially in the novel.
- What does this text reveal about your character’s relationship with other characters in the novel.
- What does this text reveal about your character’s involvement in a major plot point.
- What does this text reveal about your character’s background?
- Remind the students to use appropriate texting abbreviations, if needed, using the Common Texting Abbreviations printout.
- Have students complete as much of the A Tale of Two Cities Texting printout as possible. Students should finish the printout for the next session.
- Have students get out their completed A Tale of Two Cities Texting printout.
- Direct students to get into groups, where they will have time to select the best texts that represent the character, his/her relationships, inhibition due to the technology, and involvement in the plot. As a group work together to improve one another’s texts. Have the students make revisions as needed.
- When students are finished, facilitate an organized sharing of their work.
- Have students take out their copies of the novel, and ask groups to share their invented text messages. Display the text messages on a bulletin board or compile the messages in a book.
- Have students choose two characters in the book. Compose a series of text messages between the characters about what is occurring in the book as a review.
- Have students do the same lesson using Twitter. Use the following links for more information on how to use Twitter and how to incorporate Twitter into the classroom.
- After reading the 2 essays about Dickens and poverty in England, have students work in pairs, record an audio, video, or podcast interview, with one student playing the part of the interviewer and one student playing the part of Dickens himself discussing why poverty is a common theme in his writings. For more information please use Teaching Dickens: A Masterpiece Guide.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Provide feedback to individuals as they complete the A Tale of Two Cities Texting printout paying special attention to the quality of their responses in the rationale column.
- Observe student participation in the conversation during the sharing process. Encourage students to think critically about their choices (and those of their classmates).