Teaching “The Gift of The Magi”
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times the teacher counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be an evaluation from the principal and the teacher had no “Gift of the Magi” Activities or “Gift of the Magi” lesson ideas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little teachers’ lounge couch and howl. So the teacher did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that teaching is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
Then the Internet was invented and “Gift of the Magi” activities and lesson plans became easy to find. Which instigates the moral reflection that teaching is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with smiles predominating.
Post Reading Assignment for “The Gift of the Magi”
Telling students what you want before they finish is a good idea. Use this activity for teaching “The Gift of the Magi” and teaching writing. Have each student do the following after reading the short story:
- Write a brief summary, 100-200 words.
- Write a brief analysis, extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words.
- List potential lesson activities, 3-4 ideas in a bulleted list.
- Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.
I’ve cleverly written this teacher’s guide as an example.
Summary of “The Gift of the Magi”
Rating: 5/5 – Even though I’d never buy anyone a set of combs for Christmas, I get choked up every time I read this story. That’s the sensitive kind of guy I am.
Della has $1.87 and it’s near Christmas. I’m not sure how much Jim has, but it’s not much. Jim and Della love each other. They want to buy each other really nice gifts, but as you know, it’s hard to buy really nice gifts for a $1.87 or less. Jim has this really nice watch that Della thinks would look really good on a brand new chain. Della has really nice hair that Jim thinks would look great adorned with brand new combs.
Jim sells his watch to buy Della the combs. Della sells her hair to buy Jim’s watch chain. They both feel really stupid, but the narrator calls them wise.
Analysis of “Gift of the Magi”
The following is worth analyzing in “The Gift of the Magi.”
- Irony in “The Gift of the Magi”: Even really dumb students will recognize irony in “The Gift of the Magi.” For example, Jim and Della give the perfect gift, yet neither has any use for it. Both receive useless gifts, yet both gifts are considered more valuable than any gift anyone could possibly give. Have fun as a class finding more examples of irony in “The Gift of the Magi.” By the way, If you were to stack up all the free things in the world from end to end and ask me to pick my favorite, I would choose irony. That’s why I listen to time management audio books while playing Wii bowling.
- Character Analysis in “The Gift of the Magi”: There are only two characters in the story. Doing a character analysis in “The Gift of the Magi” is quite simple: Jim and Della give up their most valuable possession to make the person they love happy. Their actions speak louder than their words. How’s that for a character analysis in “The Gift of the Magi.”
- The Spirit of Christmas: I had an administrator who told us we couldn’t wish students a Merry Christmas. We had to say “Happy Holidays.” I said, “Go to hell!” which, ironically, is about as far from the spirit of Christmas as one gets, especially because, at that moment, I really did want her to go to hell. I then read “The Gift of the Magi” and immediately regained the Christmas spirit and put together a multicultural holiday lesson plan that included Christmas and other winter holidays just so she’d feel (self) important again.
The “Gift of the Magi” Learning Activities
Use these “Gift of the Magi” Activities to make the week before Christmas break productive and fun. Of course, you can use these “Gift of the Magi” activities any time of year.
- Have a gift exchange. Most government run schools frown on gift exchanges. Most government run schools have teacher shortages. Have the darn gift exchange! If a parent gives you any flack, tell them it’s only one of many great multicultural “Gift of the Magi” activities.
- Teach Plot. Remind students that plot is divided into five stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Give them a chart. Make them fill it out. Have them write a “Gift of the Magi” summary.
- Write a sequel. Pretend it’s 10 years down the road and Jim and Della got a divorce. Does Jim strangle Della with his watch chain? Does Della poke Jim’s eye with the combs? Do they get each other sticks and coal for Christmas?
- Instruct students to write a story about a time they got a really crappy gift for Christmas.
- You could always fill out an irony chart.
- You can’t ignore allusions in “The Gift of the Magi.” Well, actually you could, but it would be unwise.
ELA Common Core Standards Covered
These assignments cover the following ELA common core standards for reading and writing. This is for your administrator, not your kids. Kids need student-friendly worded objectives.
- RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
- RL.9-10.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
- W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
- W.9-10.3d Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
- L.9-10.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
- SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
- W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Bert and Ernie’s Gift of the Magi
Nothing like a little Sesame Street to spruce up the holidays. If anyone questions you, just cite common core standard SL 9-10.2 (kind of) and tell them to shut up.
Short Story Guides
Teaching the Reading Literature Common Core Standards are easy with short stories.
- The Black Cat
- The Cask of Amontillado
- The Masque of the Red Death
- The Necklace
- The Most Dangerous Game
- The Interlopers
- The Gift of the Magi