Chris Adcock
English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Assessment
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Reading Comprehension
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    The Gift of the Magi

    The Gift of the Magi


    In this lesson, students will consider whether aphorisms are trite, true, or both. They’ll think about the theme of “The Gift of the Magi” and read an informational article on a similar subject.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Determine how to group students for the activity of creating a graphic organizer comparing the two texts.

    Bumper Sticker Share

    • Have students share the new bumper stickers that they created for homework.
    • Encourage students to note similarities and differences in their stickers, as it’s likely that many will have referenced the same texts. Help them identify strong aphorisms and point to what makes them effective.
    • Begin a chart of aphorisms by having students offer the ones that they thought of for homework. Project or display the chart for students to refer to.


    Share with your class the aphorism bumper stickers that you created for homework. Consider the following questions.

    • Did any of your classmates create bumper stickers for the same texts as you?
    • Were your aphorisms similar or different? Why do you think this is?
    • What makes a good aphorism?

    Help your teacher create a class list of aphorisms.

    Aphorisms: Trite or True?

    • Explain that sometimes the aphorisms like “It is better to give than receive” can be considered to be trite.
    • Referring to the synonyms for trite , ask students to explain what the wordtrite means.
    • ELL: Many or most of these synonyms may also be unfamiliar to some ELL students. If there are one or two that they already know, encourage them to begin by focusing on those. As they come to understand what trite itself means, they can return to the unfamiliar synonyms.
    • Is something that is trite necessarily true or untrue?
    • Help students come up with examples of things that could be defined as trite.
    • Direct students to the sentence frames. You can ask them to choose one or the other, or you can have them complete both.
    • Ask volunteers to read their sentences.

    Work Time

    While aphorisms can sometimes quickly capture profound truth, other times, they can appear trite.

    Some synonyms for trite include “stale, tired, worn, commonplace, corny, hackneyed, clichéd, banal, or unoriginal.”

    With your class, brainstorm about things that could be called “trite.” Then, complete one of the following sentence frames based on your own opinion.

    • “It is better to give than to receive” is trite because….
    • While “It is better to give than to receive” might seem trite, it is nonetheless true because….

    Open Notebook

    Your Own Aphorism Experience

    • Circulate as students work and provide guidance as needed.
    • If time is limited, shorten this activity to writing a certain number of sentences. The point is for students to transition from the short story to how the theme plays out—or doesn’t—in real life.
    • ELL: For students whose spoken English is stronger than their written English, allow them to either discuss their response with you or record it rather than writing it.

    Work Time

    Think about your own life and the gifts that you have given and received. Then, complete a Quick Write.

    • Write about a time in your life when the aphorism “It is better to give than to receive” was either true or not true.
    • Who was giving and who was receiving? What happened, and why did it prove or disprove this aphorism?

    Open Notebook

    Theme in Literary Texts

    • Provide guidance for pairs as needed. Their discussion of the two possible themes should take only a moment by this point.
    • If necessary, remind students that sometimes the writer might tell the reader the theme—do they see this happen in “The Gift of the Magi”?
    • While the answer might seem obvious, encourage students to analyze why it might be important for a theme to resonate beyond the story that contains it.
    • Often when we talk about a story or a poem, we use the word theme to mean the universal idea or truth that the piece of literature conveys. We identify the theme because of the content of the poem or story—What is it about? What happens? What are the outcomes?—that the poet or writer includes. We then infer the theme by thinking about an aphorism—a bit of universal wisdom that the piece of literature is conveying. We think about our own experiences, things we have learned, other things we have read or viewed, and the theme seems to fit the text.
    • The same themes are used over and over in literary texts because they are universal; they ring true for the majority of people around the world and across time. SWD: If you have students who are particularly linear thinkers, help them think of other possible themes for the story. For example, another interpretation of the story might be that unquestioned loyalty to tradition (holiday gift giving) costs people the things that are dearest to them (the watch and the hair). Another theme could be that sacrifice is part of loving someone. The goal is for students to identify themes that they can support through textual evidence, not to establish that everyone agrees on one theme for a given story or that there is one right answer.

    Work Time

    What you identified as aphorisms in “The Gift of the Magi” can also be called the story’s themes .

    Take a moment to think about what you’ve learned so far about identifying the theme in literary texts.

    With a partner, consider these two possible themes from “The Gift of the Magi.”

    • Which do you think is a better theme? Why?
      • The theme of “The Gift of the Magi” is that a husband and wife love each other so much that they each give up something that they value to buy the other a gift.
      • The theme of “The Gift of the Magi” is that there is more joy in giving a gift than in receiving a gift.

    Discuss your thoughts with your classmates. Do you think that a theme should be general and universal rather than specific to the story itself?

    Main Idea in Informational Texts

    • For informational texts, we usually call the theme the main idea. It can be specific to a single text.
    • The main portion of this task should be looking for evidence of the main idea, as students have already identified the main idea in previous lessons.
    • If students need assistance, you can guide them toward the following places.
      • ✓ The title
      • ✓ Sentences starters such as “One person who can attest to the power of giving is….”
      • ✓ The conclusion: “The power of giving is instantaneous, continuous, and eternal.”
    • They should discover the theme of “The Gift of the Magi” and the main idea of “The Proven Power of Giving, Not Getting” are essentially the same; it is better to give than to receive.


    What we call a theme in a literary text can be called the main idea in informational texts.

    The writer’s examples and evidence are clues to the main idea.

    Read “The Proven Power of Giving, Not Getting” and use the text to answer these questions.

    • What do you think is the main idea of this informational text?
    • What’s your textual evidence? Where does the author either tell the reader the main idea or hint at it?

    Open Notebook

    Share your thoughts and evidence with the class.

    You Have a Choice

    First, determine how you will approach the work. You can choose to work independently, work with a partner, work with a group, or confer with the teacher.

    Compare and Contrast

    • This response will help students begin the visual comparison of these two pieces in the next lesson.
    • SWD: Some students may benefit from using a Venn diagram or other graphic organizer to organize their information.


    Now that you’ve read both “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Proven Power of Giving, Not Getting,” complete a multi-paragraph response comparing and contrasting them.

    • What differences do you see between these two pieces?
    • What similarities do you see?
    • Do you feel that one is better than the other at getting its message across? Why or why not?

    Open Notebook