English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Drama
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Language
  • Performance
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Messages Through Images

    Messages Through Images


    In this lesson, you will talk about the ways in which images send social and political messages to the reader.

    In this lesson, students will talk about the ways in which images send social and political messages to the reader.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Create partner groups as you deem appropriate.

    Walker Evans's Images

    • Introduce Walker Evans.
    • Elicit what the students know about the Great Depression.
    • Establish a brief amount of time for them to view and respond.
    • Encourage students to write, quickly, whatever comes to them about their chosen photographs, reminding them there is no right answer.
    • ELL: After students have viewed the photos, but before they start writing, brainstorm with students to create a word bank that they will be able to use when writing. If there is no time to brainstorm, provide the word bank. Words to include might be “hungry,” “lost,” and “tragic.” Provide access to dictionaries and thesauruses for students with limited English vocabularies. Taking the time to build a word bank can significantly improve writing outcomes.


    During the Great Depression, when many Americans were suffering from extreme poverty, Walker Evans, a photographer, took a series of pictures of tenant farmers in Alabama. Many of his images were published in a book written by James Agee, titled Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a book that tried to inform Americans about the Great Depression.

    • Explore the images.
    • Choose one that seems powerful to you, and write, in a few sentences, the ideas and emotions you find in the photograph.

    Open Notebook

    Walker Evans Discussion

    • Facilitate a discussion about the questions.
    • Help students see that there is an effort to make social change behind Evans’s work.
    • While this lesson is still an introduction, you might want to begin talking about Dickens’s motive of trying to change what he felt was wrong with Victorian England. This should be a brief introduction to get students thinking about the power of images.

    Work Time

    Consider the following questions with your classmates.

    • Why would Evans publish photos like these?
    • Do these photos remind you of the people in the chapters?
    • What motives might Dickens have for describing the poor in France?

    The Wine Cask

    • Respond to your partner’s comments and dig more deeply into the text, noting observations.
    • Set students into partnerships and give them time to close read the passages and to share and comment on each other’s thoughts.
    • SWD: Provide direction in what it means to “dig more deeply into the text” by providing question frames that students can use to inquire about their partner’s thinking. Examples include “Are there any other passages that this passage is connected to?” and “What makes this an important section of the passage?”
    • The first round of investigations examines the Wine Cask passage, from the start of Chapter 5 to the paragraph that ends with “red upon many there.”
    • Direct students to the passage.
    • If necessary, review with students the following definitions:
    • SWD: If your students will benefit, you can provide examples from the text to illustrate these definitions.
    • ✓ A simile is a direct comparison between two unlike things.
    • ✓ A metaphor is an indirect comparison between two unlike things.
    • Personification is a special kind of metaphor that gives human qualities to things that are not human.
    • Students can exchange tablets, copy and paste annotations into the Notebook, or use paper.

    Work Time

    When directed, join a partner. First, read the passage from the novel independently, annotating as you read. Then have a “silent conversation” by sharing your written comments with your partner.

    • Following your teacher’s direction, pick out sections of the passage that you find powerful, noting interesting metaphors and similes.
    • Mark figures of speech (metaphors, similes, and personification) that seem important and add your comments and reactions.
    • Swap with your partner, and read each other’s comments.
    • Respond to your partner’s comments and dig more deeply into the text, noting observations.

    The Wine Cask Discussion

    • When students move to a Whole Class Discussion, be sure to discuss the following:
    • ✓ What is Dickens’s attitude toward the poor? Note, along with sympathy for the suffering, words like “tigerish” which suggest animal depravity. Point out any key figures of speech that students themselves did not notice.
    • ✓ Discuss the foreshadowing of the French Revolution and the references to blood. (Foreshadowing: hints at what will happen.)
    • ✓ Define allusion (a reference to another work of literature, art or history), and explain the word “Blood” upon the wall as an allusion to the Biblical warning of the Handwriting on the Wall. (See Daniel 5:25.)
    • ✓ Ask students whether or not, based on what they have read so far, they think Dickens was in favor of change for France.
    • ELL: Remind students of the word paradox, used earlier in the unit. How is Dickens’s position paradoxical?

    Work Time

    Rejoin the whole class and share your observations about the passage, paying particular attention to the metaphors and similes that you have found.

    • What observations about the figures of speech did you make?
    • What overall impression does the scene in the passage create?
    • What does Dickens want his readers to think and to feel about the poor people in Paris?

    Doctor Manette

    • The second round of investigation examines Doctor Manette from Chapter 6, the fifth paragraph in, beginning with, “The faintness of the voice” and continuing until “forgetting to speak,” about half a page later.
    • Direct students to the passage.
    • Give students time to close read and annotate the passages and then to share and comment on each other’s thoughts in the same way that they have done with the Wine Cask passage. If time seems short, reduce the amount of sharing.

    Work Time

    As your teacher directs, turn to the description of Doctor Manette. Once again, read and annotate by yourself first, and then share your observations with your partner.

    • Just as you did for the Wine Cask passage, annotate the passage with your comments on the language—the metaphors and similes.
    • Exchange your work with your partner and have another “silent conversation” as you read each other’s comments.

    Doctor Manette Discussion

    When the students move to Whole Class Discussion of this second round, be sure to discuss the following:

    • ✓ Call students’ attention to shoemaking. If they don’t go there on their own, ask them to consider a possible allusion to the popular fairytale The Elves and the Shoemaker, which is about a kind-hearted, simple shoemaker. What might Dickens have intended by such a reference?
    • ✓ Call attention to the repeated mention of the word light and ask students what it suggests. Explain that Lucie’s name means light, and explore with them the symbolism of light in the scene and the rest of the chapter (e.g., with Lucie as the “light” in his life, and restoring life/light). A symbol is something that stands for something else, often a material object representing something invisible or abstract.


    • Students may need some explanation of the plot, especially a review of what has happened to Lucie.
    • ELL: The word “touching” has multiple meanings. Discuss its uses with students to check for understanding.

    Work Time

    Share your observations with the class and discuss these questions.

    • What does Dickens want the reader to think about the Manette family?
    • How do you know?
    • How does Dickens develop the reader’s sympathy specifically for Doctor Manette?

    Point to details that you find especially touching.

    Imagery Quick Write

    • Give the students a chance for reflection on the lesson and a brief recap of the moments in the chapters that have left strong impressions on them.
    • SWD: For students who benefit from using graphic organizers, provide a table that students can use to list the effects created by Evans and by Dickens, and then identify the shared effects to prepare for writing.
    • Use the Quick Write as an opportunity to gauge student understanding and level of engagement with the text.


    Walker Evans works with photographs—literal images, while Dickens works with language. In a Quick Write, do the following.

    • Comment on the similarities you see in the effect or impact Evans and Dickens create, even in different media.
    • How do they create that effect or impact?
    • What are the images—the photos in your mind—that you think are most effective in gaining your sympathy for the poor or for Doctor Manette?

    Open Notebook

    Submit your writing to your teacher.

    Madame and Monsieur Defarge

    • Explain that students will review the use of detail to describe the DeFarges because they will be focusing on the use of detail in their next assignment.
    • Remind students to read and annotate carefully.
    • If necessary, make the Dickens Character Descriptions Annotations available to students who are struggling with this exercise.


    • Complete the homework on Madame and Monsieur Defarge.
    • If necessary, complete reading and annotating Book I, Chapter 6