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Reading - Writing Lesson Plan Using Dickens' "Bleak House"

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I would like to thank Thomas C. Renzi Professor, Buffalo State College who was kind enough to submit this lesson idea. The first two paragraphs of Dickens' "Bleak House" serve as the basis for this lesson which is sure to be a fun challenge to upper level classes. The combination of structure on both the sentence and paragraph levels, as well as the challenging vocabulary, will help students improve their descriptive writing skills.

Aim: Study in sentence structure, vocabulary, imagery, and paragraph structure

Activity: Students choose one of the paragraphs and rewrite it in complete sentences

Level: Upper-intermediate to Advanced

Outline:

  • Distribute the first two paragraphs of Dickens' "Bleak House" to students and have them read the paragraphs.
  • Divide students into small groups and have them work together to look up meanings of unknown vocabulary.
  • Ask students to analyze the sentence structure and the images used in their groups and then discuss their ideas as a class.
  • Have students then analyze the paragraph structure and come up with reasons as to why Dickens has chosen to write using this style (hint: very visual style of writing, gives a first visual impression like the introduction to a movie). Discuss these ideas as a class.
  • In their groups, ask students to choose one of the paragraphs to rewrite. Thomas writes, "All the sentences are fragments, and the simplest way to change them is with "to be" verbs, but I suggest that they also consider action verbs to turn the fragments into complete sentences."
  • Have students who have re-written the same paragraph pair up with another student from a different group and ask them to compare their versions of that paragraph.
Extract of BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

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