Chris Adcock
English Language Arts, Composition and Rhetoric
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Details
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Writing
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Novel Settings

    Novel Settings


    In this lesson, after they envision the setting of the novel, students will hear about a tableau and take part in creating one for presentation to the class. Finally, students will consider ways in which Dickens creates suspense and mystery.


    • 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.
    • Decide how you want groups to choose scenes for their tableau, whether assigned or chosen by them. Suggest the meeting of the horseman and the Dover mail, or Jarvis Lorry’s imagined conversations in Chapter 3.


    • Begin by reviewing the term setting: the time and place in which a story occurs. As the novel was not set in Dickens’s own lifetime, you can begin to explore the reasons he might have had for choosing the period he did. That will lay the groundwork for the concept of the historical novel.
    • Ask students to give examples of remote settings from texts they know well. This need not be an extensive exploration. Rather, just help the students ground their thinking about setting and its possible relationship to theme.
    • If students are struggling, you can encourage them to recall settings from works that they have read in class earlier in the year.


    Listen as your teacher reminds you of the term setting , and then look at the way Dickens creates setting in the early section of the novel.

    A Tableau

    • Then assign roles and create a live painting—a tableau—to illustrate a scene from the reading.
    • Explain that during the Victorian Age, many people would choose scenes from literature and pose the scene for their friends at parties. Some would even dress in costumes. There is a very good chance that Dickens made tableaux vivants with his friends. Let students know that tableaux vivants is the plural form of tableau vivant.
    • Assign the students sections from the first three chapters of the novel and assign them scenes or allow them to choose the moments within those sections that they would like to convey. For example, you might suggest one group choose the meeting of the Dover mail with the anonymous horseman in Chapter 2, beginning at “‘So-ho!’ the guard sang out” or Lorry’s imaginary conversations near the end of Chapter 3, beginning “Dig-dig-dig.”
    • Encourage students to choose well, to choose a moment that seems especially powerful or meaningful.
    • SWD: Students who struggle to filter important from unimportant information will benefit from guidance on appropriate criteria for determining which scenes are more powerful or meaningful than others. Discuss strategies for deciding if a scene is or isn’t an appropriate choice for this assignment.
    • As a way of introducing a more contemporary element to the presentation, and as a way of helping students who are playing roles within the tableau, consider having members of the audience verbally “click on” individuals in the scene. The selected individual then speaks one line of dialogue he or she has created which captures his or her motivation or emotion in that moment. This addition helps participants consider more specifically their posture, gestures, and facial expressions.
    • If you choose the “click on” option, add instructions to students during their preparation. Direct them to imagine what their characters would be thinking or feeling at that moment, whether or not they would be speaking.

    Work Time

    A tableau vivant, or a live painting, provided Victorians, who had no television after all, with hours of entertainment.

    Join a group as directed and together review the section of text that you have been assigned. Then do the following.

    • Choose a scene from within your section of text that you find meaningful, and work to reveal the feeling of the scene in your tableau .
    • Then assign roles and create a live painting—a tableau —to illustrate a scene from the reading.

    Tableau Presentations

    • After an agreed-upon amount of time, students will present their tableau to the class. If they present in the order of the action of the novel, then you can also review plot with them.
    • After each group presents, elicit from the students the motivations for their decisions and the sense of mood that their tableau is trying to convey.
    • If you haven’t already done so, define mood as the way that a work of literature makes the reader feel.
    • ELL: After each presentation, brainstorm with the whole class to come up with an expressive academic word bank for students to use when writing their reflections.

    Work Time

    When directed, rejoin the class.

    • When it is your group’s turn, share your tableau with the whole class.
    • Pay careful attention while other groups are presenting their own tableau .
    • Jot down your impressions of the feeling and impact of the presentations made by other groups.

    Open Notebook

    Serial Dickens

    • Ask students to name some present day, serialized television programs that they are familiar with.
    • Point out that serials leave the readers with questions. You may want to reassure students that when they feel “lost” in the reading, it may be because Dickens wants them to be a bit lost in order to develop mystery.
    • Facilitate discussion about the mysteries in the opening chapters.
    • ELL: Some ELLs may be familiar with serialized television programs. If this is the case for your students, encourage them to share what they know about the rhythm of serialized programs and how they create suspense.


    The novel will take us on a journey, which is symbolized by the carriage. Since Dickens wrote his novels in serial form, or in pieces, he deliberately kept his readers guessing, just as travelers journeying by carriage wonder what they will see next.

    • Think about the first section of the novel that you have just read.
    • Jot down annotations about details that still seem unclear or mysterious to you.

    Share your thoughts and questions with the class.

    Book I, Chapter 4

    • If time allows, have students discuss some helpful annotation strategies and/or questions.
    • SWD: Some students may benefit from having access to an audio version of A Tale of Two Cities , either to listen to as they read or in place of reading. A free version is available online at Librivox and many other versions are easily accessible via school and public libraries.


    • Read Book I, Chapter 4.
    • Annotate for key ideas, personal reactions, questions, and vocabulary.