The Last Leaf by O. Henry

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 them the will to live.” ~Wikipedia~

Level: Intermediate -Advanced

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

Time: approximately 2 hours.

Materials:  Copy of story The Last Leaf,  biography of O. Henry, examples  of Components for Literary Analysis, and access to the video (below).

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, 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. Students will also practice their listening skills.

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.

  1. 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?
  2. Have you ever been very ill? If yes, describe what it was like.  Did someone take care of you? Describe this person.
  3. If a good friend of your got sick, would you take care of them? Explain why or why not.
  4. In which season are people more likely to get sick? Why?

Prediction and Character Organizer Charts

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

Pace High School- Character Prediction Chart

Pace High School- Character Prediction Chart


Pace High School- Prediction Outcomes Chart

Pace High School- Prediction Outcomes Chart


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 as a guide.


  1. In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken.
  2. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself.
  3. To quaint old Greenwich Village the art people soon came prowling.
  4. They had met at the table and found their tastes in art, chicory salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.
  5. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony.
  6. Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman.
  7. Then she swaggered into Johnsy’s room with her drawing board, whistling ragtime.
  8. Sue was sketching a pair of elegant horses how riding trousers and a monocle on the figure of the hero.
  9. Sue looked solicitously out the window.
  10. When it was light enough Johnsy, the merciless, commanded that the shade be raised.

Vocabulary Cluster By


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. Where does the story take place?
  2. Identify the main characters in the story.
  3. What are the professions of Sue and Johnsy?
  4. What did Mr. Behrman paint before he died?


III. Post-Reading Exercises

Questions for Reflection

Directions:  In groups have students discuss the following questions.

  1. What are some of the themes in the story?
  2.  What are some of the symbols in the story?
  3. Identify one example of how O. Henry used imagery.
  4. Why does Sue refer to the painting of  the  “Last Leaf “as Behrman™s masterpiece?

Writing Assignment 

Directions: Have students choose a topic and write an essay.

  1.  Some of the themes in the story are death, friendship, love, and sacrifice.
  2. Choose one of these themes and write an essay describing your thoughts about the theme.
  3. Write a description for each character in the story.
  4. O. Henry is famous for the surprise endings in his stories. In The Last Leaf, one of the surprises is that the last leaf was not real but a painting. See if you can write a different “surprise” ending for the story.

Visit  ESL Voices Modes of Essay Writing.


IV. Listening Activity  

Video Clip: Adaption of the Last Leaf by Matt Gatlin & Co.

“Adaptation of O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf”. Starring Mary Huse, Peter Xifo, Demi Dustman and Jonathan Salisbury. Directed by Matt Gatlin. Shot for Prof. Bloom’s MFA class at Cal State L.A. Shot with a crew of 3 people (incl. myself). Locations were at the studio at Cal State L.A., an apartment building in Highland Park, and street scene shot at Wall St. in downtown L.A.” -Matt Gatlin-


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 or visual version of The Last Leaf ? Provide reasons for your choice.

ANSWER KEY: The Last Leaf