English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Imagery
  • Politics
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Dickens’s Biography

    Dickens’s Biography


    In this lesson, you will review Dickens’s biography and his concerns as a writer, and you will begin to read and annotate A Tale of Two Cities.

    In this lesson, students will review Dickens’s biography and his concerns as a writer, and they will begin to read and annotate A Tale of Two Cities.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.

    Dickens's Timeline

    • Recall your previous conversation about Dickens’s possible reasons for setting his novel where and when he did. What events on the timeline give you additional perspective on his choice?
    • The goal of the timeline is to help students visualize the historical novel aspect of the book.
    • Making reference to what the students remember from Lesson 1, make note of the time frames. Students may need reminders; for example, you can tell them that during this time period, people heated homes with fires. While this should be brief and introductory, refer back to this timeline during the rest of the class to help the students visualize the action.


    Look at the timeline of events from the novel and from Dickens’s time more generally.

    • How many years into the past is Dickens looking for the setting of his novel?
    • Recall your previous conversation about Dickens’s possible reasons for setting his novel where and when he did. What events on the timeline give you additional perspective on his choice?

    Dickens Biography Discussion

    • Project or display student instructions and questions for easier viewing.
    • Allow students the opportunity to reflect on their reading and to make further comments on the time in which Dickens lived. Along with the questions provided, you might ask them about their familiarity with Dickens’s work. For example, ask if they know about Scrooge. The main goals here are to help the students understand Dickens’s enormous popularity and the time frames.
    • Encourage students to cite source material that they are using to develop their claims and predictions.
    • SWD: Some students who have executive functioning difficulties can benefit from extra support as they cite the sections of the biography that they are using as the basis of their expectations. Check in with students who you know may struggle with this task and provide support as needed.
    • Keep this conversation short, leaving sufficient time for reading the chapter together.

    Work Time

    Using your homework writing as a resource, plus any ideas that came up in the previous task, discuss the following with your classmates.

    • What seems most interesting about Dickens as a man?
    • Now that you know more about Dickens, what do you expect from this novel? What do you expect to be Dickens’s main concerns?

    A Tale of Two Cities Introduction

    • Read aloud the first three paragraphs of the novel slowly, paragraph by paragraph. Ask students to listen for key ideas, and tell them to note their reactions and to formulate their questions about meaning and vocabulary words.
    • Model for students some reactions and questions that could be part of their annotations. For example, where things are confusing, they might note a question mark.
    • Explain your expectations for annotating and share the sample annotations in How to Annotate, if you wish.

    Work Time

    Listen as your teacher reads aloud the first few paragraphs of the novel.

    Then, follow along as your teacher models how to annotate.

    Language in the First Lines

    • If necessary, read the paragraphs aloud again.
    • Students may need to review the term parallel construction and explore paradox a bit more. Take the time that’s needed for your class.
    • ELL: Both parallel andparadox include the prefix “para-.” Have students discuss the meaning of this prefix and how it might contribute to the meaning of these two terms. Other examples of its use include “paragon” and “paranormal.”
    • As needed, define paradox: an apparent contradiction which is nevertheless true.

    Work Time

    Notice your reactions to these opening paragraphs and any questions you have about the text. Then add to your annotations with questions or comments.

    • In the first paragraph, what is the effect of the parallel construction of the sentences?
    • Again, in the first paragraph, Dickens presents us with a paradox . How can it have been both “the best of times and the worst of times”?
    • Use annotations to indicate ways in which that statement is proven true by circumstances described in the opening.

    A Tale of Two Cities, Chapter 1

    • After modeling, annotating, and explaining your expectations, return to the chapter and ask the following question about the opening:
    • ELL: The word tone can have multiple meanings. Check that students understand its use here in this context. You can also check for understanding of the term personification.
    • ✓ What seems to be his tone? (Introduce verbal irony—the effect created when the writer means something other—maybe even the opposite—of what he is saying.)
    • Students sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between tone and mood. It may help to ask them to add the words “of voice” after the term tone. Tone is therefore connected to the authorial point of view and intention, while mood is the way the literature makes a reader feel.
    • SWD: For students who have difficulties analyzing emotions, you can provide another example that can help illustrate the difference between tone and mood: when people are in a bad mood, their tone of voice can be angry or sad. Dramatically act out different vocal tones that can create a sample mood.
    • Then, continue to read aloud the rest of the chapter, facilitating discussion of the questions provided to the students. In addition:
      • ✓ Look at the discussion of the Woodman Fate and the Farmer Death. Explain the guillotine.
      • ✓ Introduce foreshadowing. What does this predict? How does this engage the readers’ interest in the revolution they know is about to come?


    As you listen to the rest of the chapter read aloud, continue to annotate the text. Then consider the following questions and discuss them with the rest of the class.

    • What is Dickens’s tone in this opening chapter?
    • What are the troubles he describes in England and France?
    • In what sense is Fate “a Woodman” and Death “a Farmer”? What is the effect of those personifications on the tone of the text?
    • How does he foreshadow the coming revolution?

    Book I, Chapters 2 and 3

    • Remind students to read and annotate carefully.You might consider asking for a certain number of annotations per chapter, such as five or six, to help students gauge your expectation.


    • Read Book I, Chapters 2 and 3.
    • Annotate for key ideas, personal reactions, questions, and vocabulary.