Lesson Plan for Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Level: Intermediate -Advanced

Language Skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary activities are included.

Time: approximately 2 hours.

Materials:  Copy of story The Gift Of The Magi,  biography of O. Henry, examples of Components for Literary Analysis, and access to the video.

Objectives:  Students will  read and discuss the short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Students will achieve a better understanding of the story by learning literary devices and terms  (e.g., imagery, symbolism, 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.

I. Pre-Reading Exercises

 Stimulating Background Knowledge

Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Ask students to read the title of the short story. Then, have them  examine the photo carefully. Based on these sources,  ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article.

 Pre-reading Discussion Questions

Directions: Have students discuss the following questions.

The Gift of the Magi is a story about a young married couple who are very poor. This story tells of  how they handle the challenge of  secretly buying Christmas gifts for each other with very little money to spend. The questions below ask you to think about gifts and their value.  Discuss your ideas with your class members.

1. In your opinion what makes a gift  valuable?

2. Describe the most valuable gift you have ever received.

3. What was the most valuable gift you have given someone?

II. While Reading Tasks

Vocabulary:  Word Inference

Directions: Place students in groups and have them infer the meanings of the words in bold font taken from the story. They can use this great Vocabulary Chart by Learnnc.org as a guide.

Vocabulary Cluster By Learnnc.org

Vocabulary Cluster By Learnnc.org

  1. This is a  story about the meaning of true love and unselfishness.
  2. Della sat  down on the shabby little couch and howled.
  3. They lived in a furnished flat at $8 per week.
  4. In the vestibule below was a letter-box. 
  5. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated.
  6. Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass
  7. There were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride.
  8. Once she faltered for a minute.
  9. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.
  10. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Prediction and Character Organizer Charts

Directions: Students may use these Prediction and Character  profile charts by Pace High School as  a while-reading tool to aid in  their comprehension of the events and of the characters in the story.Pace High School- Character Prediction Chart

Pace High School- Prediction Outcomes Chart

Questions for Comprehension

Directions: After students have reviewed Components for Literary Analysis have them answer the following questions from the story. They can use their Character Profile chart as a guide.

  1. During what holiday does the story take place?
  2. Identify the characters in the story.
  3. What are the two valuable possessions  belonging to Della and Jim?
  4. How much money did Della have at first to buy Jim’s gift?
  5. What did Della do to get additional money for his gift?
  6. What gift did Della buy for Jim?
  7. How did Jim get additional money to buy Della’s gift?
  8. What gift did Jim buy for Della?
  9. Did things work out the way Jim and Della planned? Explain why or why not.

Questions for Reflection

Directions:  In groups have students discuss the following questions.

  1. Themes  are  messages or ideas in a story. Usually themes are some beliefs about life or life experiences the author is trying to express to the reader. (Examples: honesty, death and dying, love, importance of family) What are some of the themes in the story?
  2. Symbolism is the practice using an object, place,  person or words to represent an abstract idea in a story. When an author wants to suggest a certain mood or emotion they use symbolism to hint at it, as oppossed to just saying it.  (Examples: flowers can represent romance, fog might represent a bad omen) What are some of the symbols in the story?
  3.  Imagery is descriptive language authors use to  create a picture in the reader’s mind. Imagery usually involves the senses: sight, taste, sound, touch and  smell. (Examples: ‘the tangy taste of lemon’ ‘the loud ringing of the bells’, ‘the red and gold sunset’)  Identify some examples of how O. Henry used imagery.
  4. What  does the reference to the magi mean in this story?

Writing Assignment 

Directions: Have students choose a topic from below and write an essay to share with the class.

1. Some of the themes in this  story are selfless love, sacrifice, and the frustration of poverty. Choose one of these themes and write an essay describing your thoughts about the theme.

3. Write a description for each character  that appears in the story.

4. O. Henry is famous for the surprise endings in his stories. In The Gift of The Magi  the surprise is that both Jim and Della sacrificed their most cherished possession for the other. See if you can write a different “surprise” ending for the story. Share your ending with the class.

Visit  ESL Voices Modes of Essay Writing.

IV. Listening Activity  

Video Clip:  O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi (Free Audio Book with English Subtitles/Closed Captions)

Questions for Discussion (Listening)

• After listening to 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 or aural version of The Gift of the Magi? Provide reasons for your choice.

ANSWER KEY: The Gift of the Magi