In the United Kingdom the famous ‘Panto’ season has started, with all the famous fairytales and folktales acted out in hilarious ways and with talented (and hard working!) casts. Audiences participate in the fun with regular commenting on what they see (“He’s behind you!” or “No, she’s not!”, etcetera) and a feel of community is achieved through these festive performances. Elsewhere in the world other equally festive performances are given, whether in plays, ballets, ice-skating or operas. And let’s not forget films for the holiday season.
My activity this time uses the famous ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens as a starting point, but if you want to take a different story, that will work just as well; think of fairy- or folktales, for example.
The aim is to get all students involved in acting out the story, to discuss the central theme and relate it to their own lives, and to have fun with one-liners.
This activity can be modified to suit your learners’ age and level of English, and if you have more time you can extend it to become a unit.
Reflections are, as always, optional for the lessons and can be written in workbooks or on computers, or communicated as discussions.
There’s something for different learner-styles, and it lends itself as well for making creative hand-outs with vocab lists that suit your learners’ level of English.
Get into the spirit – actually, get into three spirits with this activity for ‘A Christmas Carol’! Bah! Humbug!
TOPIC – making a performance
You can choose whether this is a topic for one lesson, or for a series of lessons, or unit.
The aim is to use inquiry, which lends itself well to this activity but also for an extension of activities.
1. Find a version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that you like, many written versions are available free online, but you might want to use a simplified version for your students, or even let them watch a (short) film.
This is the link to ‘Sparknotes’ on the story: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/christmascarol/summary.html
(SparkNotes Editors. (n.d.). SparkNote on A Christmas Carol. Retrieved December 9, 2015)
2. Introduce the basic storyline (this is a story about a greedy man who is shown how bad he really is, and he then decides to become a generous man) and then the most important people in the story.
Please refer to the list of Characters at the bottom of this activity sheet.
If you have time, ask students to describe one, or more, characters in their workbooks using criteria like age, physical appearance, voice and costume. For more advanced students, ask them to describe characteristics for one or more characters, like ‘generous’, ‘unkind’, ‘selfish’, ‘scared’, ‘greed’ etc.
3. Introduce the concept of ‘sharing’ and discuss with your students what they need to share at home (sharing a house, toys, food), then what they share at school, leading up to what sharing means in city, a country, different countries and the whole world.
You can also introduce other concepts than sharing, for example empathy, greed, or redemption.
4. Practice the line “Bah! Humbug!”, “Merry Christmas!” (or “Happy Holidays!”) and “Work, work, work!”.
These lines can be used to get the students energized again after the serious discussion or the writing exercises by doing the following:
Make three groups, who have only one line to say. As a group they say their line to the other group, who reacts with their own line. The third group then says their line to the first group. Ask them to start saying their line quietly and in a normal fashion, but while they repeat their lines, they need to build up the emotion and volume. After that they need to calm their way of saying their line, and they can even try out other approaches, like finding the line funny, trying to make the other groups laugh, being very sad, putting a question mark at the end of the line rather than an exclamation mark. Ask them also to explore a movement that goes with the line; they can start with a small movement of the hands and build this up to a full-body movement.
5. Ask the students to divide the story into five scenes. This should result in:
1. Jacob Marley’s visit
2. Spirit of the Past
3. Spirit of the Present
4. Spirit of the Future
5. The End scene
Ask your students to tell you in the shortest way possible what happens in each scene. Please refer to the Short Breakdown of each scene at the end of this activity sheet.
They now need to act out each scene in the shortest way possible.
6. Depending on the size of your class you can have one cast to act out the whole story, or a different cast for every of the five scenes.
You are the narrator for now and you talk your students through the scene, while they have to act out what you’re narrating. You can use the Short Breakdown for this at the end of this worksheet, your students’ work, or your own book.
7. Now that the students have ‘walked’ through the scenes, they need some dialogue. If you are strapped for time, give them a time limit on the length of each scene.
Let them improvise and practice their scenes several times. They might want to appoint someone to write down some of the dialogue, or they should memorise some of their lines.
8. Rehearse all five scenes; please allow them to make mistakes, in this short a time, it is impossible to get a polished performance. Let them have fun with the exaggerating of certain characters, with ghosts or spirits speaking and moving, and with the one-liners.
You can decide to present the performance to others at this stage, or you can spend more time on it, find costumes and props and a good time to show it.
9. If you want to keep working on the play without showing it to an audience, you can ask your actors to play it at double, or triple speed, or perform it backwards.
This will enhance their improvisation skills, their flexibility with language and they have to think on the spot. And you will be guaranteed some good laughs!
CHARACTERS from A Christmas Carol
HIS CRIPPLED SON TINY TIM
HIS FAMILY, WITH WIFE AND OTHER CHILDREN PETER AND MARTHA
JACOB MARLEY – SCROOGES FORMER PARTNER
SPIRIT OF THE PAST
– (WITH OTHER CHARACTERS, LIKE FIANCEE BELLE, AND FEZZIWIG)
SPIRIT OF THE PRESENT
– (WITH TWO CHARACTERS CALLED ‘IGNORANCE’ AND ‘WANT’, THE CRATCHIT FAMILY CELEBRATING, AND THEN SCROOGE’S NEPHEW CELEBRATING)
SPIRIT OF THE FUTURE
– (WITH SEVERAL CHARACTERS WHO ARE HAPPY ABOUT SCROOGE’S DEATH)
SHORT BREAKDOWN OF EACH SCENE
1. Ebenezer Scrooge is shown to be a mean employer who makes his poor workers work while they should be celebrating with their families. At night, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former partner, Marley, who tells him he’s a bad man, and that he will be visited by three spirits that night.
2. Scrooge wakes up in the middle of the night and is visited by the Spirit of the Past, who takes him back to his childhood. What and who he sees there makes Scrooge very sad. The scene finishes with Scrooge being back in his bed.
3. Scrooge wakes up a bit later to find the Spirit of the present in his house. This Spirit shows him what happens in the Cratchit family, and Scrooge gets to know Tiny Tim. Scrooge also gets to celebrate with his nephew and has a good time. He is then shown two starving children, called Ignorance and Want, and realises that he himself is to blame for their misery.
4. The Spirit of the future visits Scrooge, and shows him what happens after Scrooge dies. Also, Tiny Tim has died by now, which saddens Scrooge very much. He begs the spirit for forgiveness, and wakes up in his bed.
5. Scrooge is happy to find himself alive and having learned valuable lessons from the Spirits. He is a changed man, and surprises everyone with his generous Holiday spirit. He celebrates with the Cratchit family, and is glad to live a different life.
Concepts to be discussed according to the level of your students:
Spirit of the Past: memory
Spirit of the Present: empathy
Spirit of the Future: mourning, fear of death