Introductory Lecture and Objectives

A Christmas Carol eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

Published in England in 1843, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol had both an immediate and lasting impact on the Christmas holiday. It is credited with reviving interest in Christmas at a time when its traditions were falling out of fashion. The novella’s lessons of charity, family, and a shared humanity spoke directly to a Victorian society that, in Dickens’s view, oppressed the poor and the working class in the name of industry. The work’s impact has endured far beyond the nineteenth century, and its message has reached audiences far beyond Great Britain. Each holiday season we continue to read, watch, and listen to adaptations of the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a selfish man whose life is changed after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. The novella’s main character became the archetype for grumpy and greedy, and the word “Scrooge” has entered our lexicon as a synonym for miser. Ebenezer Scrooge has inspired numerous takeoffs and tributes, including Disney’s cartoon character, Scrooge McDuck; the movie Scrooged, with Bill Murray playing a cynical television executive; and even Dr. Seuss’s Grinch. 

Though the novella is set during a Christian holiday, its message is one to which every person, everywhere can relate: Relentless pursuit of wealth comes at a great price. The descent into greed, Dickens shows, is a slippery slope; the more we worship the “golden idol,” the easier it is to forget the genuine value of having money—the ability to improve the quality of life for others and, in doing so, to  enrich our own lives in truly meaningful ways. Beyond its exploration of greed, A Christmas Carol emphasizes the impossibility of isolation in a shared world. We walk through life as “fellow passengers to the grave,” as Scrooge’s nephew Fred points out. When fellow passengers are left ignorant and needy, they are not the only ones who suffer; society itself suffers. 

Charles Dickens was already a successful novelist at the time he wrote A Christmas Carol. His work often served as societal critique, returning again and again to the plight of the poor and oppressed. It was territory with which Dickens was uncomfortably familiar. Dickens’s father and much of his family lived in a debtor’s prison when Dickens was a boy. Only twelve years old, he was sent to work in a blacking warehouse, a soul-killing experience he never forgot. In Stave One, Scrooge refers to the Poor Law, which allowed debtors to be imprisoned until they were financially solvent. A Christmas Carol is a criticism of this law, which Dickens felt unfairly penalized the already disadvantaged. 

It is impossible to read A Christmas Carol without heeding the rich, visual language and the multitude of literary devices Dickens employs throughout (personification, mood, and characterization, to name just a few). In a Dickensian world, onions become flirtatious Spanish friars, Ebenezer Scrooge appears as frosty as the weather, and characters with whimsical names like Fezziwig and Topper dance on and off the pages. Dickens was a very visual writer, often working closely with his illustrators so that they grasped precisely what his characters looked like. He seemed to anticipate that his books would be performed theatrically. Indeed they were, and they continue to be enormously popular with audiences. As an artist and a populist, Dickens would have been thrilled to see how many adaptations of A Christmas Carol have graced our culture and how its messages of charity and family have endured. 

By the end of the unit the student will be able to: 

1. Explain Scrooge’s path from innocent schoolboy to crotchety miser. 

2. Describe the criticisms Dickens makes of his Victorian society and the moral landscape he  champions. 

3. Identify the literary devices Dickens employs and how they enrich the story. 

4. Compare and contrast the three ghosts and the effects they have on Scrooge. 

5. Understand the crucial role children and family play in the novella. 

6. Identify the major turning points on Scrooge’s path to redemption.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom. 

Student Study Guide 

  • The Study Guide is organized for a stave-by-stave study of the novella. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace. 
  • Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each stave and to acquaint them generally with the stave’s content. 
  • Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension. 
  • Study Guide vocabulary lists include words from the novella that vary in difficulty. 

1. The vocabulary lists for each stave are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them. 

2. Working from the lesson plan’s stave vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each stave that are most appropriate for them. 

Discussion Questions 

The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty. 

1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry. 

2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion. 

Multiple-Choice/Essay Test 

Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty. 

1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the novella; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences. 

2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the novella. 

3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.

Before students read through the novella, explain that themes are universal ideas developed in literature. Point out that these themes will be developed in the novella; discuss them with students as they read and/or after they finish reading: 

  • Greed 
  • Poverty 
  • Charity and compassion 
  • Religion 
  • Importance of family 
  • Memory 
  • Change and redemption 

Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or a repeated action, element, or idea in a work of literature. As they read, have them pay attention to the following motifs: 

  • Music 
  • Games 
  • Dance 
  • Feasts 
  • Warmth vs. cold 

A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have students discuss how the author develops the following symbols and what ideas the symbols could suggest. Have them look for other symbols on their own. 

  • Jacob Marley’s chains 
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past 
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present 
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future 
  • Plenty’s horn

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Compare the depiction of Scrooge to recent depictions of Wall Street bankers. How are they similar? How are they different?

2. How do the physical attributes of the spirits reflect their symbolic purpose?

3. Upon its publication, A Christmas Carol was criticized by some as being overly sentimental. Do you agree with this critique? Why or why not?

4. A foil is a character used to provide a contrast to a major character and highlight that character’s main attributes. Explain how Bob Cratchit, Mr. Fezziwig, and Fred serve as foils for Scrooge.

5. Discuss how the notions of optimism and pessimism are reflected in the novella. Do you think that Dickens himself was an optimist? Why or why not?

6. A Christmas Carol is consistently popular in readers theater and radio productions. Why is hearing it read aloud so entertaining? What might be gained from hearing it versus reading it, and what might be lost?

7. Contrast “cold scenes,” in which the setting is bleak and frigid, with “warm scenes,” in which the setting is cheerful and cozy. How does the weather serve the author’s purpose?

8. Young Scrooge points out that the world is unfair in that “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty, and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth.” What does he mean? Do you agree with him? Is this still true today?

9. Scrooge ultimately dims the light on the head of the Ghost of Christmas Past—something he wanted to do from the moment he first saw the spirit. What does the light represent? What does Scrooge desire instead?

10. Children abound in the novella, including Tiny Tim, Belle’s boisterous children, and the young boy Scrooge employs to get a turkey for the Cratchits. How would you describe Dickens’s feelings about children, from a familial...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Stave One


assign: a person to whom the property or interest of another is transferred

Bedlam: a popular name for the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London, which served as a lunatic asylum

bestow: to give

brazier: a metal receptacle for holding live coals or other fuel

covetous: greedy

cravat: a necktie

credentials: evidence of authority

dismal: gloomy

entreaty: an earnest request

fain: eager

flint: a small piece of metal used to produce a spark

gait: a manner of walking

garret: a small attic

gladsome: delightful

hob: a shelf around a fireplace used to keep food warm

humbug: nonsense

intimation: a hint

ironmongery: hardware

lumber room: a storage room

morose: moody

palpable: capable of being touched or felt

pelt: variant to hurry

pelting: an unrelenting beating, as of rain or wind

portly: heavy, fat

provision: something provided

ramparts: broad elevations of earth raised as fortifications around a site

replenish: to supply with fresh fuel

residuary legatee: one designated to receive the residue of an estate

rime: a coating of tiny, white granules of ice

ruddy: reddish

stave: a verse or stanza of a poem or song

trifle: a very small sum of money

unhallowed: not regarded as holy or sacred

veneration: a feeling of awe or reverence

withal: as well

workhouses: poorhouses in which paupers were given work

Study Questions

Study Questions
Study Questions

1. Why is the novella broken down into staves instead of chapters?

The title of the novella suggests a carol, or song, and songs have verses, or staves, instead of chapters. Dickens is continuing the metaphor he established in the title.

2. What comparison is made between Scrooge and rough weather? How are they contrasted?

Scrooge is as cold, mean, and biting as wintry weather. However, the narrator points out that even hard weather can be handsome, but Scrooge is never handsome.

3. Describe the setting of...

(The entire section is 1004 words.)

Stave Two


avarice: an immoderate desire for wealth; greed

brigands: robbers or bandits

brimful: full to the maximum level

capacious: capable of containing a large quantity

chaise: a light, open carriage

cupola: a dome

dainties: delicacies

dowerless: lacking property brought by a bride to a husband at marriage (a dowry)

ferret: a red-eyed domestic animal

forfeits: variant a game in which a player has to give up an object, or perform a specified action if he commits a fault

hoar frost: frozen dew that forms a light coating

jocund: joyous

latent: existing in a potential state

laths: thin, flat...

(The entire section is 1036 words.)

Stave Three


affability: pleasantness; congeniality

aught: anything whatever

baleful: harmful

bedight: adorned

biffins: dried apples used in cooking

bilious: affected by gastric distress

bob: a shilling

cant: hypocritically pious language

capital: excellent

daws: birds; jackdaws

declension: a descending slope

diffuse: to spread or scatter widely or thinly

execrable: hateful

facetious: lacking serious intent

filberts: hazelnuts

forbear: to resist

furrows: narrow grooves in the ground

furze: an evergreen shrub

hearth: the floor of a fireplace; the area directly before a fireplace


(The entire section is 1071 words.)

Stave Four


breach: an opening

cesspools: filthy or corrupt places

curtaining: covering

disgorged: spewed

entreaty: a plea

excrescence: an abnormal growth

frowzy: musty

laden: burdened

offal: garbage

pendulous: swinging freely

skreeks: variant spelling screeches

slipshod: shabby

snuff: tobacco

spectral: ghostly

stair rod: a rod that holds a stair-carpet in the angle between two steps

Study Questions

1. How does the final spirit communicate?

It gestures but does not speak.

2. What...

(The entire section is 634 words.)

Stave Five


array: an impressive display

bishop: a port wine flavored with oranges and cloves

blithe: lighthearted

buck: a spirited youth

dispelled: caused to move widely apart

frisked: frolicked

garments: clothing

illustrious: glorious

Joe Miller: a book of jokes

Laocoön: a Trojan priest killed with his sons by two sea serpents

loitered: lingered aimlessly

malady: a disorder

recompensed: repaid

scuttle: a broad, shallow basket

sidled: edged along furtively

transports: movements from one place to another

unanimity: harmony; being in agreement

Study Questions


(The entire section is 385 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. What important point does the narrator make in the novella’s beginning?

A. Hamlet’s father is dead.

B. Scrooge is going to die.

C. Jacob Marley is dead.

D. Tiny Tim is going to die.

E. Ghosts are not real.

2. At the beginning of the novella, how do people respond when they pass Scrooge on the street?

A. They nod their heads.

B. They avoid him.

C. They ask him for money.

D. They smile cheerfully but then are deterred.


(The entire section is 1179 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. What conclusion about children and family does A Christmas Carol offer? Cite at least three examples from the novella to support your discussion.

Although the main character of A Christmas Carol is an old man, children abound in the story, and the book’s moral heart takes the form of young Tiny Tim. A Christmas Carol suggests that children are a source of great pleasure and comfort and that they represent an important responsibility: We all have to take care of those who are weak.

One of the first children we meet is the young caroler whom Scrooge frightens away. The child is a pitiful sight, having a nose that is “gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by...

(The entire section is 1797 words.)