“The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones…. And here I have related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.” O. Henry.
William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910), better known by his pen name O. Henry, was an American short story writer.
O. Henry’s stories frequently have surprise endings. In his day he was called the American answer to Guy de Maupassant. While both authors wrote plot twist endings, O. Henry’s stories were considerably more playful, and are also known for their witty narration.
Most of O. Henry’s stories are set in his own time, the early 20th century. Many take place in New York City and deal for the most part with ordinary people: policemen, waitresses, etc…He had an obvious affection for the city, which he called ‘Bagdad-on-the-Subway’ and many of his stories are set there—while others are set in small towns or in other cities.
One of his most favorite stories is The Gift of the Magi . It is about a young couple, Jim and Della, who are short of money but desperately want to buy each other Christmas gifts. The essential premise of this story has been copied, re-worked, parodied, and otherwise re-told countless times in the century since it was written.
Gift of the Magi by O. Henry — Short Story Film — 1980
NOTE: This is a short version for this lesson plan. For the extended version visit HERE
Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Objective: 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.
I. Pre-Reading Exercises
Stimulating Background Knowledge
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.
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.
- This is a story about the meaning of true love and unselfishness.
- Della sat down on the shabby little couch and howled.
- They lived in a furnished flat at $8 per week.
- In the vestibule below was a letter-box.
- Expenses had been greater than she had calculated.
- Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass
- There were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride.
- Once she faltered for a minute.
- She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.
- He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Questions for Comprehension
Directions: After students have read the short story, have them answer the following questions from the story.
- During what holiday does the story take place?
- Identify the characters in the story.
- What are the two valuable possessions belonging to Della and Jim?
- How much money did Della have at first to buy Jim’s gift?
- What did Della do to get additional money for his gift?
- What gift did Della buy for Jim?
- How did Jim get additional money to buy Della’s gift?
- What gift did Jim buy for Della?
- Did things work out the way Jim and Della planned? Explain why or why not.
III. Post-Reading Exercises
Questions for Reflection
Directions: In groups 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?
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.