Chris Adcock
English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Caricature
  • Characters
  • Grade 11 ELA
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    A Tale of Two Cities

    A Tale of Two Cities


    In this lesson, to help you enter into the world of A Tale of Two Cities, you will think about Dickens’s time period and the reasons that he wrote a novel that takes place before he was born.

    In this lesson, to help them enter into the world of A Tale of Two Cities, students will think about Dickens’s time period and the reasons that he wrote a novel that takes place before he was born.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Create small groups of mixed ability for the jigsaw exercise.
    • If necessary, prepare handouts of the information about London and Paris prior to and during the French Revolution for student research.

    Stories From the Past Quick Write

    • Offer a brief introduction to the unit by telling the students what they will be reading.
    • Ask students to write—in sentences or in bullet form—their answers to the questions posed. Ask them to share ideas and discuss the appeal of historical fiction.
    • Consider introducing historical fiction as a literary term. Historical fiction is a story set in a real past, sometimes with both real and imaginary characters. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens uses fictional characters and events in an historical context.
    • ELL: Encourage students to list non-English books, movies, and TV shows set in the past that they are familiar with. If they are comfortable sharing with the group, it can be a good opportunity to get a broader sense of the types of historical fiction that people find appealing.


    What kinds of stories capture your interest? In this unit, you will be introduced to Charles Dickens, a writer who was extremely popular in his own age and who continues to be considered one of the great writers in the English language. You will begin reading his novel A Tale of Two Cities, which takes place during the French Revolution, an exciting moment in world history.

    In a Quick Write, respond to the following questions.

    • What books, movies, or TV shows do you enjoy that take place in the past?
    • What are some reasons to read or watch things that are set in the past?

    Open Notebook

    Historical Research on Two Cities

    • Break the class into groups of two to four students as you have determined, assigning half the class to London and half to Paris, with individual questions to each group.
    • ELL: Provide helpful websites and possible search terms to help students find sources. Help them target the specific text they should read to avoid overwhelm.
    • If your classroom has connectivity, allow time for students to search the Internet for answers. If you do not have access to the Internet, prepare handouts for students that contain the necessary information.
    • SWD: Provide a map that shows where London and Paris are, relative to your classroom and to each other, to support visual learners. You can also use Google Earth or a similar mapping application and have students locate the cities and calculate the distance between them.
    • Have students assign roles within their groups:
    • SWD: Make sure the note taker captures helpful notes to share with the group.
    • ✓ Leader: The leader is in charge of making sure the tasks of the day get accomplished. It is the leader’s task to figure out what needs to be done and to make sure the group stays on track.
    • ✓ Note Taker: The note taker is in charge of taking notes during the group’s discussion and summarizing what the group has talked about.
    • ✓ Timekeeper: The timekeeper is in charge of watching the clock and making sure the group spends the right amount of time of each task.
    • In most small group work of this sort, a fourth role of Reporter will be necessary. However, because of the jigsaw that follows in this lesson, all members of the group need to report. Advise students of their coming roles as they work together in this first group.

    Work Time

    In small groups, investigate some of the key things to understand about the two cities in A Tale of Two Cities , London and Paris.

    As directed, determine individual roles within your group. Then using the questions provided, research the information that pertains to your assigned city at the prescribed time.

    • Answer the questions about your assigned city in writing.
    • Find and capture images of life in your city at that time using the keywords provided in the document.

    Open Notebook

    Each member of the group needs to report the information gathered, so make sure you are able to do so.

    Two Cities Jigsaw

    • Regroup as a “jigsaw,” making new groups that have representatives from the various groups so that students must “teach” (present informally) what they have found to the new groups.

    Work Time

    As directed, move to new groups.

    • When it is your turn, share the information that you gathered in your previous group.
    • Observe, listen carefully, and record in writing the information you hear from other members of your new group.

    Open Notebook

    Two Cities Research Group Discussion

    • Once the students have shared their information in their groups, pose the question about Dickens writing about the past to the whole class, then field responses.
    • SWD: Students who struggle with inferential thinking can benefit from step-by-step scaffolding here. Capture student thinking on the board to illustrate the progression of ideas towards a meaningful conclusion, to support concrete thinkers and visual learners.
    • Emphasize students’ key observations about the setting of the novel and Dickens’s reasons for choosing it.

    Work Time

    Rejoin the whole class and share your thoughts about the images and information you discovered and learned from classmates. Finally, discuss the following question.

    • Why might Dickens, who was writing in the 1850s, in England, want to write about France during 1775–1799?

    Unit Accomplishments

    • Review the Unit Accomplishments with your class.
    • Assure your students as necessary that there isn’t any reason for them to grasp all that the document lays out at this point, but do encourage them to ask questions if they have them.
    • Lead students in a discussion of the Guiding Questions and answer any questions that they have. Students will revisit the Guiding Questions at the end of the unit.
    • SWD: If you have students who will need extra time for assignments, set a time to meet to discuss and set specific deadlines that allow the time needed for successful completion.

    Work Time

    Your teacher will go over the Unit Accomplishments with you. It isn’t necessary that you understand all parts of the unit assignments now, but do pay attention to specific due dates and mark them on your calendars.

    Next, consider the Guiding Questions for this unit and discuss them with your class.

    • How does good storytelling affect the reader, and how can a good story promote change in the world?
    • What was the Victorian view of gender roles?
    • How can power be abused?
    • What is loyalty ? What are the limits of loyalty?

    You'll revisit these questions at the end of the unit.

    Expectations for the Novel

    • From your research into the two cities in the title and the time period, what do you expect this novel to be about?
    • Allow students brief time to share their expectations with partners. Allow a few moments to share as a whole class, trying to generate enthusiasm and curiosity about the time periods.


    Return to your most recent small group. Discuss the following with your partners.

    • From your research into the two cities in the title and the time period, what do you expect this novel to be about?

    Dickens Biography

    • Based on what you’ve read, what expectations do you have about Dickens’s writing style?
    • An alternative biography by C.D. Merriman is also available in the Teacher Support.
    • Students can write their sentences in annotations or in the Notebook.


    Read the biography of Charles Dickens.

    • Write two to three sentences that express your reactions to the reading. Your sentences may be questions.
    • Based on what you’ve read, what expectations do you have about Dickens’s writing style?

    Open Notebook