How to teach … Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens turned 200 years old on Tuesday February 7, 2012. To mark the bicentenary, the Guardian Teacher Network created materials to help you bring his work to life for children

An illustration from Dickens’s novel The Pickwick Papers. Dickens’s most vivid personalities are celebrated in the Guardian’s resource Charles Dickens’s Characters in Pictures.

Charles Dickens’s Characters in Pictures is a guide to some of the most vivid personalities in Dickens’s novels. Created by the Guardian, the resource contains illustrations of characters including the Artful Dodger and Ebenezer Scrooge, along with extracts about them from Dickens’s work. It provides inspiration for activities including role play, descriptive writing and costume design.

What the Dickens? is a website for students and teachers containing creative-writing lesson plans, activity sheets and an outline for a Dickens-themed assembly. There are also short videos from children’s authors celebrating the work of Dickens and an interactive story-writing competition open to 9- to 14-year-olds.

The British Council has produced a Dickens-themed education pack featuring activities for primary and secondary pupils. Among them is a lesson plan that encourages students to capture the sights and sounds of their local area in an extended piece of creative writing. The organisation has also created a collection of Template Projects with teaching ideas such as using cliff-hangers and atmospheric descriptions of the weather in pieces of writing. The resource includes handy extracts from a range of Dickens’s novels including Great Expectations, Bleak House and Oliver Twist.

Dickens in Context is a fascinating resource that uses original source material from the British Library to explore the social, cultural and political context in which Dickens was writing.

Buss, Robert William; Dickens’s Dream; Charles Dickens Museum, London

The website features literary manuscripts, workhouse menus and newspaper articles, along with videos of the actor Simon Callow reading extracts from some of Dickens’s best-known works.

Pupils can find out more about the world Dickens lived in with the English/history lesson Victorian Times. Suitable for 11- to 14-year-olds, it uses photographs and an Education Guardian article to highlight the divide between rich and poor that influenced so much of Dickens’s writing. Similar themes are covered in Hard Times and the Author, a reading comprehension task suitable for 16- to 18-year-olds. Pupils can find out about Dickens’s childhood, his work as an author, and his belief in social reform. They can then test their understanding in a quiz.

For more information about Dickens’s bicentenary, visit the Guardian’s dedicated website Charles Dickens at 200. It features a series of podcasts inspired by Dickens’s fondness for walking around London recording everyday details of Victorian city life. Use the podcasts to inspire pupils to go on a walk around their own local area, capturing familiar sights and sounds using sketch books and digital cameras.

NOTE: The Guardian Teacher Network has more than 100,000 pages of lesson plans and interactive materials. To see and share for yourself go to There are also hundreds of jobs on the site and schools can advertise for free.

Written by Valerie Hannah for The Guardian – February 6, 2012

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