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

    Illustration Analysis

    Illustration Analysis


    In this lesson, students will think about illustrating A Tale of Two Cities. They will consider what makes a good illustration and learn about Dickens’s most famous illustrator.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Create groups of three or four of mixed ability.

    Illustration Quick Write

    • Give students sufficient time to think about illustrations. Consider bringing in a popular picture book and a “chapter book” to get them thinking about illustrations. Invite them to talk about the role of imagination and the ways they imagine a novel.
    • Some students may be familiar with graphic novels, like Persepolis , orThe Invention of Hugo Cabret , a novel that is told through alternating sections of text and pictures. You can bring one in to show a modern version of this type of novel. ELL: Some cultures have a popular tradition of illustrated books (novellas, manga) that are read by people of all ages. Ask students if they are familiar with these types of books, and if they are comfortable doing so, you can ask them to describe these books to their classmates.


    As children, we often read picture books, which are filled with illustrations. When we begin to read “chapter books” and novels, we find most of them have no illustrations. In a Quick Write, consider why books are illustrated and how that affects your reading.

    • How would your reading be affected if a novel came with illustrations?
    • Do you prefer to read novels without illustrations?
    • How does having a novel with illustrations compare with watching a movie version?

    Open Notebook

    You As Illustrator

    • Move students into small groups of three or four students each and direct them to answer the questions provided.
    • As you circulate around the groups, make sure that the students have understood the plot of these chapters. One of the purposes of this lesson is to help the students review the plots of these chapters.
    • Direct students to narrow down their choices to one scene they would illustrate, in preparation for the next task.

    Work Time

    Dickens sometimes published illustrations with his novels. With your group, review the plotlines of Chapters 17–20, and do the following.

    • Imagine that Dickens has hired your group to capture a moment from these four chapters.
    • Imagine there is only room for one illustration, so you will have to choose well.
    • Consider what scenes seem to you important or interesting. Why might an illustrator choose one scene over another?
    • Narrow down your choices to one scene that you would illustrate if Dickens hired you.

    Your Sketch

    • When the groups have completed their selection process and have had an opportunity to discuss the reasons for their choice, have them sketch the scene they chose.
    • Be sure to encourage stick figures, and consider modeling what you mean by stick figures. While it is wonderful that some students will want to show off their artistic ability, it is important that this exercise focus on the concepts and not artistic talent. SWD: If you have students who are strongly resisting the task because they are not confident that they can draw well, you can show them cartoons that use very limited artwork to convey ideas visually. Some ideas for expressive graphics that are not “artful” can be found at (a line art strip comic), and the Order of the Stick, an on-going story comic at
    • If having the group create a single sketch leaves too many students unengaged, consider having each member of the group complete a sketch. The group could then discuss which best illustrates the scene, and either proceed with that choice, or create an additional sketch incorporating the best aspects of several of the first sketches.
    • Decide if you want students to jigsaw to new groups to share what they have created, or if it is more appropriate to have each group in turn share with the whole class.

    Work Time

    Follow your teacher’s instructions for completing the sketch you have been commissioned by the author to do.

    • After deciding as a group what scene you think would make the best illustration, make a rough sketch of the scene, using stick figures or simple drawings.

    Open Notebook

    Share your sketches with the other groups, focusing on the reasons for your choice.

    Dickens and Phiz

    • Direct students to the illustration.
    • If some students chose the same moment to illustrate, make sure to point it out.
    • Facilitate a conversation about the illustration itself. Ask students what they observe in the drawing. Ask them to point out key details.
    • Ask students to consider how the medium (black and white etching) affects the artist’s work. Show students how these etchings were made, and explain that color printing was not available at the time these works were published.
    • Then guide students through the questions provided.
    • ELL: ELLs may be particularly well positioned to discuss how the illustrations can help or hinder the reader’s understanding of the story. If they are comfortable, encourage students to critique Phiz’s illustrations and state whether they would have made different decisions.

    Work Time

    Dickens's most well-known illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne, worked closely with Dickens for over twenty years. Browne went by the pseudonym “Phiz,” and he did, in fact, draw one moment from these chapters that was published in A Tale of Two Cities .

    Take a look at the illustration by Phiz.

    Discuss the illustration  with the class by answering the following questions.

    • Why might Phiz think this is an important part of the story?
    • Why do you think that Phiz chose these characters and not the others?
    • What themes—or messages—does this scene send?
    • Are the characters in the illustration as you imagined them to be?

    Text and Illustration

    • Read aloud the passage to the students while they listen and look at the illustration. Then facilitate a discussion about the similarities and differences. SWD: Use a Venn diagram to capture student responses on the board, to support visual learners and reinforce the use of graphic organizers for understanding information sets.
    • If time permits, before discussing the tone, re-read the passage aloud a second time to the class, helping them to “hear” the tone.
    • The title of the drawing is “The Accomplices.” Ask the students why Phiz may have chosen such a title.

    Work Time

    Listen as your teacher reads aloud the ending of Chapter 19 from “There was another silence.” Look at the illustration as you listen.

    Then, discuss these questions with the class.

    • To what extent do the details in the illustration reflect the description in the text?
    • Look for details in the reading that do or don’t appear in the illustration.
    • Do you think the tone of the illustration is the same as the tone of the passage? Why or why not?

    Can Doctor Manette Recover?

    • Have the students complete a Quick Write about Doctor Manette’s potential for recovery.
    • If there is time, follow the Quick Write with a discussion.
    • Consider a brief presentation about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A resource is available at in the parents section. SWD: Discussion of mental health topics can be triggering for some students. Be aware that there are likely students with PTSD in your class who are unidentified, or who themselves do not recognize that they are living with PTSD.


    In a Quick Write, discuss the following.

    • Will Doctor Manette be better without his shoe-making equipment?

    Open Notebook

    As directed by your teacher, share your ideas.

    Your Vignette

    • Explain to students that they will be sharing their work in class for peer revision.


    • Bring your completed vignette drafts to class for peer revision.