Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Schools : Teaching Charles Dickens in Languages curriculum !

Charles Dickens
Reading Desk
colourised images from #TechnicolourDickens

Charles Dickens would be 209 years on this day, the 7 January. He was born in 1812. Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era

His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

 Charles Dickens

Frith, William Powell RA

Portrait Daniel Maclise

National Portrait Gallery, London


In 2012, we celebrated the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, one of the greatest authors.

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

In 2005, the world celebrated the bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen

Institutions, schools, colleges and organisations from all over the world celebrated HCA2005 and in 2012 we celebrated  Dickens 2012  in commemoration of his 200th birthday on February 7.

Together we worked to deliver a program of events and activities to commemorate into school curricula this very special anniversary like we did in 2005 about HCD.

Google Doodle Charles Dickens 200th Birthday
Mike Dutton

Google Doodle:

Google joined the celebration with a Doodle, February 7, 2012 that reflects the world of Dickens' books.

"We have quite a number of characters who showed up today to help celebrate Charles Dickens' 200th birthday. Twelve recognizable ones at least. This naturally made for a pretty busy doodle, and while we managed to squeeze in a few extra pixels to make the logo slightly larger than usual, we thought it'd be kind of nice to show you a couple close-ups here".

Google Doodle Charles Dickens 200th Birthday
a close-up
Mike Dutton

As anyone who has read a Dickens novel can attest, they are full of memorable characters, realism, humor, lyricism, and social commentary. He is considered one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era, and responsible for some of the most iconic stories in English literature. Contemplating Dickens’ diversity of characters and themes, we wondered how the artist who created the Dickens Doodle, Mike Dutton, handled the challenge.


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 with other students. They prefer a dynamic class.

“Although a writer from the Victorian era, Dickens’s work transcends his time, language and culture. He remains a massive contemporary influence throughout the world and his writings continue to inspire film, TV, art, literature, artists and academia,” 

in Forbes, 2012

Charles Dickens is the kind of an author every teacher include into school curricula as well Hans Christian Andersen

Both had a painful childhood 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.

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens

"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 in Dickens, this is very present, 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 & literature

Level: All levels (from primary to high education)

Reading Dickens:

  • Oliver Twist : book & film

He wrote 14 and a half novels. He died in the middle of the writing book The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Charles Dickens

When you and your students are reading any book by 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 (subtitle) is one of the best to explore into our lessons.

Poverty is the main theme in this book. Oliver is confronted with poor people and slums and he has no money himself.

Oliver Twist or The Parish's Boy Progress
Charles Dickens


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.

Oliver Twist
Roman Polansky, 2005

Today, his popularity continues unabated, and his work remains not only widely read but widely adapted for stage and screen.

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

An adaptation of the classic Dickens tale, where an orphan meets a pickpocket on the streets of London. From there, he joins a household of boys who are trained to steal for their master.

Oliver Twist
Roman Polansky, 2005

Polansky 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 books are an attractive and enjoyable digital resource to motivate students to read at 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: Apps

There are great educational digital resources about Charles Dickens. Let your students discover Dickens 2012 or Charles Dickens Museum (different stages for different ages). 

Teachers must help the young students to explore the resources online.

Dickens 2012 partner the University of Warwick has released also an App - Apple and  Google Play - as part of its Celebrating Dickens project

screenshot Celebrating Charles Dickens app

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

Last update: 2018

Good! Students can use their smartphones and tablets 
in the classroom to explore some of those digital resources. Don't miss that!

You must not underestimate the use of social media as Twitter or Facebook, or Instagram 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 social media 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'."

Charles Dickens reading to his daughters  at Gad's Hill Place
. National Portrait Gallery

Some thoughts:

"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. They love to 'read' from the authors, the real story about their life on theirs books. 

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

Alfred Bryan (1852–1899)
 Caricature of Charles Dickens, [18--]
Gift of Miss Caroline Newton, 1974.1974.7

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

Many chidren's literature classics have been adapted to movies. So, we can capture new young readers, presenting literary books trough movies. Gorgeous educational resource, movies!

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.

Charles Dickens dream
credits: Robert Buss

Other resources:

Technicolour Dickens:
The Living Image of Charles Dickens exhibition

Dickens Museum: 

Marking the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s death, this exhibition explores the power of the writer’s image. Starting in his own lifetime, we trace his image through artist interpretations, radical rethinking in popular culture and new digital technologies and re-imaginings. Read more here

Europeana: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens at 200

Charles Dickens em Portugal/ BN Portugal, 2012

Students blogs (Languages curriculum):

Charles Dickens: 200 ans | French language

Bicentenário de Charles Dickens | Portuguese language

"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



update: 07.01.2021
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