A great classic novel, "Oliver Twist," by Charles Dickens, describes the society of 19th-century London while following the story of an orphan boy. The novel is studied in high school and in the language arts classes in middle school with proper adaptations for their proficiency level. Classroom activities can include, besides the novel itself, films and plays inspired by it.
Dickens' Writing Style
After discussing the adventures of Oliver in London, ask students to try their hand at writing short narrative fragments in a Dickensian style. The subject of their writing doesn't need to be as old as the 19th century; the effect is even more interesting when they use Dickens' syntax and words to describe current events. Point out that the actual techniques are more important than the story itself.
Ask students to think of people they know who can match Dickens' characters: the rich Mr. Brownlow, with his kindness and outstanding modesty; the terrible Bill Sykes, caring only for money and possessions; and the petty Fagin, with his treasure chest and his army of pickpockets. Tell your students to think of a real person resembling Oliver, whose personality features and moral values make him the perfect target for the bullies. Ask them to write a few sentences about these people and what they have in common with Dickens' characters.
Questions & Answers
For this activity, students are asked to write at least three questions on what they want to know about Dickens and his novels. Tell them to address their questions directly to Dickens himself as if he were alive. You may also offer a symbolic reward for the most interesting question or for the correct answers that students can give on the spot. The "tough" questions can be answered by the teacher, or students can look for the answers on the Internet. Check and correct the answers together the next class.
Show the students posters of a movie version of "Oliver Twist," or posters of theatre or musical adaptations. Draw their attention to the details on the posters, the people and the clothes they wear, the buildings and streets and the appearance of Oliver himself. Ask them to draw similar movie posters, in pairs, so they contain: main image; other smaller images (optional) that render important aspects of the movie; names of the characters and the actors who play them. It can be quite fun to let them choose the actors they think best to render the characters in the novel.
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