Chris Adcock
English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Dickens
  • French Revolution
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Heroism
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Symbolism & Direction

    Symbolism & Direction


    In this lesson, students will explore the ways that Dickens points his readers at meaning through symbolism, and they will consider Dickens’s opinion of the Revolution.


    • 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.
    • Find and share additional images of knitting, if appropriate for your class.

    Symbolism and Chapter Titles

    • If necessary, direct students to other images of knitting, or, if you can, demonstrate some knitting for them.
    • Remind the students that a symbol is something that stands for something else, and ask them what possible symbolism lies in knitting.
    • Have students consider what the act of knitting looks like, and if they don’t see it themselves, note the pointing, the stabbing, the building of something, through repetitive action.
    • By now, students have probably accepted the symbolism of knitting as also an allusion to the Fates. But ask them if they feel more confident of the intentionality of the allusion. (Students are sometimes reluctant to believe that authors intend certain interpretations of their work. Use this instance as an opportunity to convince them otherwise.)
    • Students may have questions about how knitting and weaving are similar, since the Fates weave and don’t knit. Explain that weaving is also a process of many repetitive motions that build up to create fabric.


    The titles of the chapters in the novel often have symbolic significance. The titles of Chapters 15 and 16 seem worth noting. They are “Knitting” and “Still Knitting.” Look at the image, and then discuss knitting from the following perspectives.

    • Considered only for its tools and the actions involved in doing it, what does knitting remind you of?
    • How is knitting different from sewing in the way it is done?
    • Does the knitting of the novel seem to be more of an allusion, now that you have seen more of it? How so?

    The Wine Shop by Fred Barnard

    More Knitting

    • Locate the passage at the end of Chapter 16, from “So much was closing in about the women” to the end of the chapter. Read it aloud, or have students volunteer to do so. Repeat reading for emphasis. Then facilitate a discussion of its meaning.
    • If necessary, explain that the “structure” foreshadows the guillotine. ELL: Remind students of the meaning of foreshadowing.

    Work Time

    Listen as your teacher or classmates read aloud the final lines of Chapter 16. Then join the class in discussing the following.

    • How does this passage connect to the rest of the chapter?
    • How does Dickens create emphasis on a singular activity in the passage?
    • What is the effect of that emphasis?
    • What “structure” is being foreshadowed at the close of the passage?
    • What is the effect you experience from that foreshadowing ?

    More Symbols

    • Divide the students into groups of three or four, allowing them time to explore symbols.
    • Ask the students to come up with all of the things that they can find in the chapter that have symbolic significance. If they do not notice the ones with the asterisks in the list below, consider pointing them to those. Possible meanings they may find are in parentheses. SWD: This task can provide a great opportunity to engage more visually inclined students by having them create representations of the symbols they find. Challenge them to use their artwork to further their interpretation of the symbols and the roles that they play in the book.
    • If you wish, share the document “Symbols in Book II, Chapter 16” to help students organize their ideas and connect text to symbols.
    • It is more empowering for the students to find their own symbols, and, if you choose that option, allow their ideas to direct the discussion.
    • As an alternative, if it is more appropriate for your group, you can choose to assign the students the following symbols, have them look up where they appear in Chapter 16, and make a list with quotes from the novel and their interpretation of the meaning of each.
      • ✓ The Rose (shows the signal/code to the rebels, but also symbolizes her prickly self)
      • *The money counting/wrapping (shows her cruelty)
      • ✓ DeFarges have no children (symbolizes her as not maternal, Angel of the House, etc.)
      • ✓ *References to earthquakes, lightening (shows power of Revolutionaries)
      • ✓ Reference to chained tiger/devil (shows hunger/desire of Revolutionaries, suggests they are dangerous)
      • ✓ Flies in the Wine Shop (suggest decay, corruption)
      • ✓ DeFarge smoking (may show his patience, but also it is a smoking/smoldering fire/passion)
      • ✓ Stone faces (symbolizing aristocrats and their reactions)
      • ✓ Village Scarecrows (suggests the hunger in the people)
    • As before, if students are struggling with this task, consider using Annotation: The Chateau as a resource for them.
    • Facilitate a discussion about the symbols and the meanings that the students have discovered.

    Work Time

    While the knitting may be the most significant symbol in Chapter 16, there are many other symbols there as well. Thinking about these symbols can help you think about Dickens’s understanding of the Revolutionaries in France. Join a small group as directed and do the following.

    • With your group, list other symbols you find in Chapter 16.
    • As you record each one, write down a quote from the text as evidence, and jot down your ideas about interpretation of the symbol.

    Open Notebook

    Share the symbols and meanings that you have discovered with the rest of the class.

    Your Sympathies

    • Before the students begin the Quick Write, make sure that they understand the plot of the interactions with Barsad. In particular, make sure they notice that the DeFarges had a connection with Doctor Manette and that Madame DeFarge’s reaction to the upcoming wedding seems sinister.
    • Allow students time to write. You may or may not want to have them share as a whole class, for the goals of this writing are to make them think about their own sympathies and to whet their curiosity about the upcoming Revolution. ELL: This topic may raise issues for students who have personally experienced political upheaval in their lives, or whose families have been impacted by political upheaval in their countries of origin. Be prepared to talk about the feelings that may come up.


    In a Quick Write, take an opportunity to trace and record your own sympathies at this point in the novel.

    • Based on the scenes you have read so far, including the scene with Barsad, do you find yourself rooting for the Revolutionaries?
    • Why or why not?

    Open Notebook

    Book II, Chapters 18, 19, and 20

    • Encourage students to continue to track symbols in their annotations.


    Read Book II, Chapters 18 , 19, and 20 of A Tale of Two Cities and annotate for key ideas, personal reactions, questions, and vocabulary.