Philanthropy in A Christmas Carol

6, 7, 8

Students will identify examples of philanthropy in a classic piece of literature. While written for a Christian Middle School, the lesson may be easily adapted for public school use.

Lesson Rating 
PrintEleven to Thirteen Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learnerwill:

  • define and identify the literary terms mood, theme, climax, and symbolism.
  • analyze Charles Dickens’ writing as a product of his personal experiences.
  • identify and explain the theme of philanthropy in A Christmas Carol.
  • compare and contrast to understand the concept of philanthropy.
  • identify and use the vocabulary of literature and philanthropy.
  • demonstrate in a final project an understanding of philanthropy.
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • A Christmas Carol (the video ) with George C. Scott
  • Journals
  • Biographical Notes for Charles Dickens (Attachment One)
  • A Christmas Carol Vocabulary (Attachment Two)
  • A Christmas Carol Journal Entries (Attachment Three)
  • A Christmas Carol Projects (Attachment Four)
  • A Christmas Carol Biblical Application (Attachment Five)
  • A Christmas Carol Test (Attachment Six)
  • A Christmas Carol Test Teacher Key (Attachment Seven)
  • Helpful Web URL that includes Stave Coding references (combined site for English & Japanese language versions)
  • A Christmas Carol, starring George C. Scott. Directed by Clive Donner. 100 minutes. Twentieth Century Fox Theater Release Date 1984; Video Release Date, 1999. DVD. ASIN: B0006419KA


  1. Anticipatory Set:Ask students to think about the traditional stories that are shown on television around the Christmas season. Ask them to identify one story whose main character's name has become the symbol of “a miserly person.” (The story is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and the character is Ebenezer Scrooge.) Allow students to tell what they know about the story and the author and ask them to imagine Dickens’ purpose in writing the story.


  2. Give students background information about Charles Dickens so they have an understanding of the author and can understand why Dickens wrote this story. (See Biographical Notes for Charles Dickens, Attachment One.) Emphasize the fact that Dickens wrote novels that criticized the attitudes of the greedy and exposed abuses of the poor.

  3. Assign students to define in writing the following thirteen vocabulary words, related to philanthropy, (from Dickens’ Notes and Stave One):

    • social injustice
    • stave
    • workhouses
    • abundance
    • charitable
    • surplus
    • destitute
    • provision
    • benevolence
    • common welfare
    • mercy
    • charity
    • forbearance

    In addition to these words, each student should make an individual list of unfamiliar words from the story. The list must include twelve additional words from A Christmas Carol Vocabulary handout (see Attachment Two). After reading the story, the students should create crossword puzzles with the words and definitions. Have students exchange and complete each other’s puzzles.

  4. Ask students to list what they like and dislike about the Christmas season. List responses on the board. Have students write a journal entry in response to the question “What gives you joy at Christmas time?” The entry should be at least one page long. For a description of all journal entries for this lesson, seeA Christmas Carol Journal Entries (Attachment Three).

  5. Introduce project ideas to the class. Use the handout entitled A Christmas Carol Projects (see Attachment Four).

  6. Read the first part of Stave One: “Marley’s Ghost” in class (end after the conversation with the two gentlemen). Have students participate by reading the parts of: Narrator, Two Gentlemen, Scrooge’s nephew (Fred), Clerk (Bob Cratchit), Scrooge, and Marley’s Ghost. Begin viewing the video A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott (see Bibliographic References). Total video run time is 100 minutes. View the first part of Stave One (10 minutes).

  7. Have students write a description of Scrooge in their journals. They should use some words from the story. Remind students to put quotation marks around exact words from the book. The entry should be 1/2 page in length. (A possible quote might include: "Oh! But he was a tightfisted hand at the grindstone, was Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”) Ask students to answer the following question in their journals: What is your opinion of Scrooge? Consider: how he chooses to live his life, how he treats others (such as Bob Cratchit), and his response to the Gentleman Visitor’s request. Entry should be one-half page in length.

  8. Discuss the mood of the story. Ask: “How is the feeling the writer wants the reader to get outside Scrooge's office different from the mood within the office?” Consider what was read and what was seen in the video. Ask students to share how they described Scrooge in their journals and their opinion of him. Discuss what kind of mood their descriptions created and what they felt seemed to give Scrooge joy at Christmas time.

  9. Read the remaining part of Stave One. Have students participate by reading the parts of Scrooge, the Clerk (Bob Cratchit), Marley's Ghost, and the Narrator. Remind students to continue their vocabulary lists. Show the remaining video of Stave One (18 minutes).

  10. Discuss Marley's appearance and possible reasons for it. Have students write answers to the following questions, focusing on the idea of symbolism, in their journals:

  11. What do you think Marley’s chain represents and why does he wear it? (His chain represents the wealth he hoarded during his life. It is punishment for his greed.)

  12. Why does Marley appear to Scrooge? (He appears to warn Scrooge that he is destined for the same sad fate if he doesn't change.)

  13. Write out the quote from Stave One that indicates Marley is sorry for the priorities he had when he was alive. (Quote: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”) Using the vocabulary handout, have students write an answer to the following question in their journals: “Looking at this quote, what do you think Marley’s spirit is trying to teach Scrooge and what, if anything, has he learned at this point?” (The spirit wants Scrooge to learn love, compassion, patience, kindness, sympathy, and generosity. At this point Scrooge has not learned this lesson.)

  14. Discuss and share the assigned journal entry from the previous day. Read Stave Two: “The First of the Three Spirits.” Have students participate by reading the parts of the Narrator, Fezziwig, Scrooge, Young Girl, and Christmas Past.

  15. Have students write an answer to the following questions in their journals:

  16. Compare Scrooge with his late partner, Jacob Marley. How are they alike?(Both Scrooge and Marley have wasted their lives pursuing money. The atmosphere of their work place was tense and cold.)

  17. Contrast Scrooge with his old master, Fezziwig. How are they different? (Scrooge is cruel, whereas Fezziwig is kind, especially to his employees. The atmosphere of his work place was friendly and warm. The young Ebenezer Scrooge apprenticed with Fezziwig and learned his trade but not his generosity).

  18. According to Scrooge, why was Fezziwig a good master? (Scrooge says to Christmas Past of Fezziwig, “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”)

  19. What seems to be happening to Scrooge here?(For a brief moment Scrooge realizes that there is power in kind words and deeds. Money isn't everything.)

  20. Have students add three words to their vocabulary sheet.

  21. Show the video of Stave Two in class (20 minutes). Discuss the previous day’s journal entries. Ask: “The Spirit of Christmas Past reveals memories of Scrooge's youth. What do you think are the most serious mistakes Scrooge has made? Consider his old master Fezziwig and his sweetheart.” (During his apprenticeship he did not learn from Fezziwig's example of generosity and kindness. Instead he followed Marley's example of selfishness. His greed became the love of his life, and as a result he lost his sweetheart.)

  22. Read Stave Three: “The Second of the Three Spirits.” Have students participate by reading the parts of the Narrator, girl Cratchit, Scrooge's nephew, Scrooge, two young Cratchits, Scrooge’s niece, Christmas Present, Bob Cratchit, plump sister, Mrs. Cratchit, and Tiny Tim. Show the video of Stave Four in class (30 minutes). In their journals, have students contrast the quality of Scrooge's life with Bob Cratchit's life. (Although it may appear that Scrooge is better off because he has more money, he is a very lonely man. Cratchit is financially poor, but outwardly a happier person because he has a loving family and a kind, charitable nature.)

  23. Read Stave Four: “The Last of the Spirits.” Have students participate by reading the parts of the Narrator, Mrs. Dilber, Mrs. Cratchit, Scrooge, women (2), Peter, man (1), Joe, child, man (2). Show a video of Stave Four (16 minutes).

  24. Discuss with the class where the climax of the story is found. (It occurs when Scrooge sees his own tombstone and vows to change his ways.) Read Stave Five: “The End of It.” Have students participate by reading the parts of the Narrator, four fellows, girl, Scrooge, gentleman (1), Fred, boy, gentleman (2), and Bob Cratchit. Show a video of Stave Five (13 minutes).

  25. Discuss the following questions with the class.

    • How does Scrooge show that he has made mankind his business?
    • What does the story suggest is everyone's business? (The welfare of others)
  26. Have the students write what they think is one philanthropic theme found in A Christmas Carol. (The welfare of others is everyone’s concern. It is better to give than to receive. There is joy in doing good for others. We should have the Christmas spirit all year long. People can change for the better.)

  27. Discuss: “Why should a Christian support this theme?” Make an overhead of A Christmas Carol Biblical Application (Attachment Five) and discuss.

  28. Have the students write a new description of Scrooge in their journals and answer the question: “What led to his change?”

  29. Allow time for any oral presentations for project requirements and collect remaining projects.


Journal entries, completed project and written test.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Discuss the function of family traditions and role modeling in teaching about sharing and giving.