“The Last Leaf” is a short story by O. Henry published in his 1907 collection The Trimmed Lamp and Other Stories. The story first appeared on October 15, 1905, in the New York World. The story is set in Greenwich Village during a pneumonia epidemic. It tells the story of an old artist who saves the life of a young neighboring artist, dying of pneumonia, by giving her a very special gift: the will to live.” ~Wikipedia~
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Lesson Plan for The Last Leaf By O. Henry
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: approximately 2 hours.
Materials: student handouts (from this lesson) access to short story and video (see below). Also examples of components for literary analysis
Objectives: Students will read and discuss the short story The Last Leaf by O. Henry. Students will achieve a better understanding of the story by learning literary devices and terms (e.g., imagery, symbolism, protagonist, antagonist, setting) used for analyzing stories. They will also learn how to analyze the relationship between characters, and events in the story by using these literary devices.
Biography of O. Henry http://esl-voices.com/library/13736-2/classic-short-stories/o-henry/
San Antonio College: Elements of Literary Analysis: https://www.alamo.edu/siteassets/sac/about-sac/college-offices/writing-center/elements-of-a-literary-analysis.pdf
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
A. Stimulating Background Knowledge
Directions: In groups, have students generate ideas that may be connected to the following list of words from the story: artist, studio, Pneumonia, thermometer, pharmacopeia, New York City, Greenwich Village.
B. Pre-reading Discussion Questions
Directions: Have students discuss the following questions.
- Did you ever have to take care of a good friend when they were very ill? If you have, describe the situation. How did you feel?
- Have you ever been very ill? If yes, describe what it was like. Did someone take care of you? Describe this person.
- If a good friend of your got sick, would you take care of them? Explain why or why not.
- In which season are people more likely to get sick? Why?
II. While Reading Tasks
1. Word Inference
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold (taken from the article) and use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance.They can use a dictionary to check their answers. Highlight any other unknown words they may come across.
- In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken.
- Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself?
- People went to quaint old Greenwich Village.
- They had met at the table and found their tastes in art, chicory salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.
- In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony.
- Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman.
- Then she swaggered into Johnsy’s room with her drawing board, whistling ragtime.
- As Sue was sketching a pair of elegant horses and riding trousers and a monocle on the figure of the hero.
- Sue looked solicitously out the window.
- When it was light enough Johnsy, the merciless, commanded that the shades be raised.
Questions for Comprehension
Directions: After students have reviewed Components for Literary Analysis have them answer the following questions from the story.
- From whose point of view is the story being told?
- Who is the protagonist in this story?
- Who is the antagonist?
- Where does the story take place? (Hint: Washington Square, Greenwich Village)
- Identify the main characters in the story.
- What are the professions of Sue and Johnsy?
- What is the following piece of writing an example of? “Pneumonia, stalked about the colony, touching one here and there with his icy fingers. Over on the east side this ravager strode boldly, smiting his victims by scores, but his feet trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown “places.”
- How was Sue taking her illness? Was she trying to get better? Explain why or why not.
- What did Mr. Behrman paint before he died?
Questions for Reflection
Directions: Students discuss the following questions.
- What are some of the conflicts in the story?
- What are some of the themes in the story?
- What are some of the symbols in the story?
- Identify one example of how O. Henry used imagery.
- Near the end of the story Johnsy states, “I’ve been a bad girl, Sudie… “Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to want to die.” What does she mean?
- Why does Sue refer to The Last Leaf as Behrman’s masterpiece?
Directions: Students choose a topic and write an essay to share with the class.
- Some of the themes in the story are death, friendship, love, and sacrifice. Choose one of these themes and write an essay describing your thoughts about the theme.
- Write a description for each character in the story.
- O. Henry, gives a surprise ending to this story. See if you can write a different ending for the story.
IV. Listening Activity
Directions: Students are to view the film and answer the following questions.
Video Clip: Adaption of the Last Leaf by Matt Gatlin & Co.
Questions for Discussion
- After viewing this version of the story, do you feel that you understand it better? If yes, describe in what way. If no, explain why not.
- Do you prefer the written version? Explain why or why not.