Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Teaching Dickens in Languages curriculum

Charles Dickens dream | Robert Buss

We celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, one of the greatest authors.

Dickens 2012 is a world celebration of life and work of Charles Dickens to mark the bicentenary of his birth, which felt on 7 February 2012. 

As 2005 was the bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen

Institutions, organisations and schools from all over the world celebrated "HCA2005" and this year are celebrating  Dickens 2012.

Together we are working to deliver a programme of events and activities to commemorate this very special anniversary like we did in 2005.

Google joined the celebration with a doodle, last February 7 that reflects the world of Dickens' books.


Reading is one of the most important activities in Languages curriculum. Of course we are doing it all the time. However this kind of world celebrations are important because students love to interact in different situations. Students like to do not only to listen.

Charles Dickens is one the authors that all teachers include in school curriculum as well Hans Christian Andersen

Both had a difficult youth that they describe in their books, some of them autobiographic.

Young Dickens experienced child labor in factories. Lack of money, Charles Dickens had experienced a chaotic school, and left school. Dickens's own father was sent to prison for debt, and the family struggled to survive. This became a common theme in many of his books

"He spoke later in life of his poignant memories of childhood and of his near-photographic memory of the people and events, which he used in his writing."

All authors might be said to incorporate autobiographical elements in their fiction, Hans Christian Andersen incorporated too, but with Dickens, this is very noticeable, even though he took pains to mask what he considered his shameful, lowly past. 

As his biographer demonstrates, this humiliating experience traumatized the young boy. It will nourish many of his works. David Copperfield is one of the most clearly autobiographical.

Curriculum: Languages

Level: All levels (from primary to high education)

Reading Dickens:

He wrote 14 and a half novels (he died in the middle of The Mystery of Edwin Drood).

When you and your students are reading anything about Dickens, you will see his great sympathy for children, his angelic heroines, the way his serial composition lends itself so beautifully to television or cinema.

Oliver Twist or The Parish's Boy Progress is one of the best to explore in curriculum.
Poverty is the main theme in this book. Oliver is confronted with poor people and slums and he has no money himself.
Oliver is a good child that’s put in very sad place. He lives as an orphan without friends. He is confronted with very vicious people like Fagin, Sikes and Noah Claypole, but he is also confronted with a lot of charity and love.

A typical thing in this book is that Dickens uses some speaking names. The names say something about the characters. 

For example "Mr. Grimweg who seems to be very ‘grim’ or Mrs. Mann who isn’t a very womanly and motherly person. Mr. and Mrs Sowerberries are sour berries witch refers to the grouchy Mrs. Sowerberry and the profession as undertaker of Mr. Sowerberry. Rose Maylie says something about her association with flowers and springtime while Toby Crackit is a reference to his chosen profession: housebreaking.

Another beautiful resource is Roman Polansky's film based on Oliver Twist novel. 

He narrated in a sensitive way the child labour and the recruitment of children as criminals. Very touching.

As I wrote in different posts about reading, movies based on children or youth Literature books are an attractive and enjoyable digital resource to motivate students reading in the school. 

Oliver Twist | Roman Polansky (2005)

Exploring the importance of names and characters in Dickens' books:

Many of his characters' names provide us with a hint as to the roles played in advancing the storyline, such as Mr. Murdstone in the novel "David Copperfield", which is clearly a combination of "murder" and stony coldness. 

"Dickensian characters, especially their typically whimsical names, are among the most memorable in English literature." 

screenshot Celebrating Charles Dickens app
Dickens going digital:

There are great educational digital resources about Charles Dickens. Let your students discover Dickens 2012 or Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens 2012 partner the University of Warwick has released also an App (Apple and  Google Playas part of its "Celebrating Dickens project". 

The App offers podcasts, articles and videos featuring experts which explore aspects of Victorian Britain, Dickens’s novels and adaptations of his works.

Good! Students can use their smartphones or iphones in the classroom to explore some of those resources.

Don't forget. Charles Dickens is on Facebook and on Twitter hashtag @Dickens2012

You must not underestimate the use of social media as Twitter or Facebook in the classroom. Powerful resources to involve your students in national and international projects, checking for schools and projects on social media networks.

Exchanging experiences on Twitter or Facebook enrich your students' learning process and your own teaching.

Dickens "would have been fascinated by Twitter, for example, he loved the telegraph, the railways, all sorts of modern communications technology, he was very 'on the button'."

Some conclusions:

"The marginalia, the backstory and the language - all the tiny touches that make his work entertaining and inventive and special, two centuries on."

Radhka Jones

Dickens literary style is a mixture of fantasy and realism.

Students are very curious about autobiographical books and they love to "listen" from the author the real story about his life on his books. 

Books based on the gripping real-life stories of an author as Charles Dickens are true values to show young people how they can get out from a difficult youth or childhood and become well succeed adults as Dickens or Andersen

Another point, reading aloud, bringing characters to life, is a crucial part of reading in the classroom.

Many literature classics for kids and adolescents have been made into movies. So, we can capture new young readers, presenting literature books trough movies.  Gorgeous educational resource!

Reading a book and after, in a comparative process of learning, displaying the movie in the classroom, even go to the movies with our students, are interesting strategies that educators can't throw way.

Students blogs (Languages curriculum):

Charles Dickens: 200 ans | French

Bicentenário de Charles Dickens | Portuguese

"Dickens really was a peculiarly modern writer, very attuned to what was new; he was writing at the beginning of the industrial revolution which, effectively, we are still in."

Clare Petitt, Dickens specialist at King's College, London


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Licença Creative Commons
Teaching Dickens in Languages curriculum by G-Souto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

References for Teachers:

Dickens 2012

Charles Dickens Museum

Celebrating Dickens | University of Warwick

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens at 200 | The The Guardian (very complete resource)

Charles Dickens em Portugal | Bibiioteca Nacional de Portugal

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