Primary Primary Literacy

Primary – Literacy Activities for Dickens

Activity One – Beat the Deadline
Year 2 to Year 6

This activity helps pupils to write to a deadline including structuring and editing. It encourages them to take notes and then expand upon them.

Charles Dickens early career was as a journalist and like journalists throughout history, he had to work to a deadline. At a certain time of day the newspaper had to be printed, no matter what or it wouldn’t be out on the streets in time for sale the next day. Everyone had to work to a deadline; the journalists collecting and writing the story, the editors who had to check and agree the stories, the typesetters who got the printing plates ready and the printers who got the presses rolling to produce the daily news.

Children are occasionally given the chance to work to a deadline – you may say ‘I need this story finished by break’ or ‘I want you to do twenty questions in the next hour’. The notion is sometimes a little abstract to some children because they can’t see why it must be done by then but with this activity and the explanation around it, they’ll soon see why deadlines can be important.

Introduction:

Tell the children about Charles Dickens’ life as a reporter and journalist and discuss what his typical day may be like. You may have suggestions such as:

–    He sees something happening like a fire or a robbery
–    He asks other people what they saw and may interview those affected.
–    He’ll go to his office and write the story
–    Someone will check what he has written
–    He’ll find a picture to go with it
–    The story will be printed

Tell the children that they are going to work like they were Charles Dickens and that you will be their ‘editor’ keeping track of time. You can set the children up in groups and give them the name of a newspaper they work for. Set up a news ‘event’ which can either be a trivial one for younger pupils or a more serious issue for older ones. We’ve used a cake left on a teacher’s car; how did it get there, who put it there, who saw anything? etc. If possible, get other members of staff to act as eyewitnesses or a ‘victim’ who can give the children information. You could also report on a school sports fixture, a charity or school event or anything that is appropriate to your school.

Tell the children what you require of them in terms of the writing, the length of the piece and the deadline. Tell them that they can visit the scene of the event they’re reporting on (as long as it’s school based!) and interview eyewitnesses, victims or participants.  If you want to really test them you can throw in new information for the older journalists and ask them to update or amend their story.

Activity Two – What’s in a Name?
Year 2 to Year 6

This activity helps pupils to develop characters for their stories.
Dickens uses some marvellously creative names for his characters, many of which tell a lot about their looks and character. Use a selection from his books and ask the children to sort them under the headings of good or bad people. Ask then to explain why they put them under the particular headings.

Next you can ask them to draw how they would imagine the characters looked before comparing them to the illustrations of the time. Not all characters were illustrated but many were and plates of the illustration are available on Google Images. Try this list:

Mr M’Choakumchild – Hard Times
The Cheeryble Brothers –  Nicholas Nickleby
Anne Chickenstalker – The Chimes
Tiny Tim Cratchit – A Christmas Carol
Creakle – David Copperfield
Canon Crisparkle – The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Mrs Cruncher – A Tale of Two Cities
Captain Cuttle – Dombey and Son
Lady Honoraria Dedlock – Bleak House
Abel Magwitch – Great Expectations

There are plenty more suggestions to be found on Wikipedia.

Now give the children brief descriptions of some new characters and ask them to come up with a suitable name for them.  Select the best of the children’s ideas and for the next lesson ask them to pair the names up with the description.

Activity 3 – Writing from a Different Age

Year 5 and 6

This activity helps children to understand the different styles of writing that have been used over the centuries and the changing use and meaning of words.

The activity is quite difficult but can be very rewarding. Often, especially in history, children are asked to write as a character from the period but so often their choice of language reflects their existence in the modern age which then detracts from the content of their work. Working on a piece written in contemporary language helps children to understand not only the meaning of different styles of writing but also how language has changed over the centuries.

Use the extract from Oliver Twist and begin by reading it through. Highlight all the unfamiliar words and discuss what they mean in the context of the passage. Ask the children which words we would use these days to replace them.

You can then go on to do a verbal comprehension on the passage or in written form using questions such as:

1.    What aspect of daily life is being described in the text?
2.    Where do you think the piece of writing was set?
3.    How did the children decide who would go up and ask for more?
4.    Why do you think they get one of their number to go up and ask?
5.    What was the reaction from the master?

You’ll need to adjust the complexity of the questions depending on the age and ability of the children but try to draw out of them an understanding of the scenario and how it may differ from a school dining room today.

Activity 4 – Writing for a Different Era
Year 5 and 6

After working on a piece of writing completed in Victorian times, the children should have a good idea of how the language differed and how the author used objects and scenarios common to their era.
This activity is quite difficult as it relies on children focusing completely on a past time. It will help them practise sticking to a theme in a piece of creative writing.
It’s best to start with a piece of descriptive writing:

Ask the children to research information for a street scene from Victorian times. They should consider transport, buildings, people, their dress and occupation. From the information they have collected, ask them to describe a typical street scene. You’ll have to remind them to stick only to what they have researched as the temptation is to add in bits which usually end up as being out of context. Those who performed well on the comprehension exercise looking at an extract of Victorian writing may be able to adapt the style of their writing similarly.

Activity One – Beat the Deadline
Year 2 to Year 6

This activity helps pupils to write to a deadline including structuring and editing. It encourages them to take notes and then expand upon them.

Charles Dickens early career was as a journalist and like journalists throughout history, he had to work to a deadline. At a certain time of day the newspaper had to be printed, no matter what or it wouldn’t be out on the streets in time for sale the next day. Everyone had to work to a deadline; the journalists collecting and writing the story, the editors who had to check and agree the stories, the typesetters who got the printing plates ready and the printers who got the presses rolling to produce the daily news.

Children are occasionally given the chance to work to a deadline – you may say ‘I need this story finished by break’ or ‘I want you to do twenty questions in the next hour’. The notion is sometimes a little abstract to some children because they can’t see why it must be done by then but with this activity and the explanation around it, they’ll soon see why deadlines can be important.

Introduction:
Tell the children about Charles Dickens’ life as a reporter and journalist and discuss what his typical day may be like. You may have suggestions such as:

–    He sees something happening like a fire or a robbery
–    He asks other people what they saw and may interview those affected.
–    He’ll go to his office and write the story
–    Someone will check what he has written
–    He’ll find a picture to go with it
–    The story will be printed

Tell the children that they are going to work like they were Charles Dickens and that you will be their ‘editor’ keeping track of time. You can set the children up in groups and give them the name of a newspaper they work for. Set up a news ‘event’ which can either be a trivial one for younger pupils or a more serious issue for older ones. We’ve used a cake left on a teacher’s car; how did it get there, who put it there, who saw anything? etc. If possible, get other members of staff to act as eyewitnesses or a ‘victim’ who can give the children information. You could also report on a school sports fixture, a charity or school event or anything that is appropriate to your school.

Tell the children what you require of them in terms of the writing, the length of the piece and the deadline. Tell them that they can visit the scene of the event they’re reporting on (as long as it’s school based!) and interview eyewitnesses, victims or participants.  If you want to really test them you can throw in new information for the older journalists and ask them to update or amend their story.

Activity Two – What’s in a Name?
Year 2 to Year 6

This activity helps pupils to develop characters for their stories
Dickens uses some marvellously creative names for his characters, many of which tell a lot about their looks and character. Use a selection from his books and ask the children to sort them under the headings of good or bad people. Ask then to explain why they put them under the particular headings.
Next you can ask them to draw how they would imagine the characters looked before comparing them to the illustrations of the time. Not all characters were illustrated but many were and plates of the illustration are available on Google Images. Try this list…

Mr M’Choakumchild – Hard Times
The Cheeryble Brothers –  Nicholas Nickleby
Anne Chickenstalker – The Chimes
Tiny Tim Cratchit – A Christmas Carol
Creakle – David Copperfield
Canon Crisparkle – The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Mrs Cruncher – A Tale of Two Cities
Captain Cuttle – Dombey and Son
Lady Honoraria Dedlock – Bleak House
Abel Magwitch – Great Expectations

There are plenty more suggestions to be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Dickensian_characters
Now give the children brief descriptions of some new characters and ask them to come up with a suitable name for them.  Select the best of the children’s ideas and for the next lesson ask them to pair the names up with the description.

Activity 3 – Writing from a Different Age
Year 5 and 6

This activity helps children to understand the different styles of writing that have been used over the centuries and the changing use and meaning of words.
The activity is quite difficult but can be very rewarding. Often, especially in history, children are asked to write as a character from the period but so often their choice of language reflects their existence in the modern age which then detracts from the content of their work. Working on a piece written in contemporary language helps children to understand not only the meaning of different styles of writing but also how language has changed over the centuries.

Use the extract from Oliver Twist and begin by reading it through. Highlight all the unfamiliar words and discuss what they mean in the context of the passage. Ask the children which words we would use these days to replace them.

You can then go on to do a verbal comprehension on the passage or in written form using questions such as:

1.    What aspect of daily life is being described in the text?
2.    Where do you think the piece of writing was set?
3.    How did the children decide who would go up and ask for more?
4.    Why do you think they get one of their number to go up and ask?
5.    What was the reaction from the master?

You’ll need to adjust the complexity of the questions depending on the age and ability of the children but try to draw out of them an understanding of the scenario and how it may differ from a school dining room today.

Activity 4 – Writing for a Different Era
Year 5 and 6

After working on a piece of writing completed in Victorian times, the children should have a good idea of how the language differed and how the author used objects and scenarios common to their era. This activity is quite difficult as it relies on children focusing completely on a past time. It will help them practise sticking to a theme in a piece of creative writing.

It’s best to start with a piece of descriptive writing:
Ask the children to research information for a street scene from Victorian times. They should consider transport, buildings, people, their dress and occupation. From the information they have collected, ask them to describe a typical street scene. You’ll have to remind them to stick only to what they have researched as the temptation is to add in bits which usually end up as being out of context. Those who performed well on the comprehension exercise looking at an extract of Victorian writing may be able to adapt the style of their writing similarly.

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

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