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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for A Tale of Two Cities Include:

A Tale of Two Cities strays from the typical Dickensian format, in that the silly names and humor are pushed aside to focus on a more serious analysis of one of the most tumultuous periods in world history. However, Charles Dickens does maintain his social critique of the European world, much like his other popular novels. In a world where the nobility gleefully runs over children in horse carriages, badgers innocent commoners on the streets, and holds onto a system of privilege to the detriment of the country’s economic health, the French Revolution provides Dickens with the perfect setting to analyze the limits of justice and what happens when a ruling class continues to suppress the will of the people. In doing so, Dickens explores important themes such as the destructive nature of revenge, revolution, the importance of sacrifice, and resurrection.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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The French Revolution

In order to best understand this novel and the motivations of the characters, students should have a solid understanding of the causes and effects of the French Revolution, especially the tensions between the aristocracy and the peasants. While the French Revolution was inspired by many of the Enlightenment ideals that inspired the American Revolution, things didn’t go quite as well for the French citizens and there are important reasons why. Luckily, our Storyboard That history teachers have crafted a complete teacher’s guide for the French Revolution that have some handy activities for getting students thinking about the important aspects of this time period:


Some important causes of the Revolution to review with students include:


The Bastille

The Bastille was a symbol of oppression and abuse of power, as many of those who were imprisoned there never went to trial. Instead, they spent years in dark cells, alone with their thoughts - and many lost their minds in that isolation, like Dr. Manette. The Bastille was a fortress dating back to the 14th century, and it became the focus of the revolutionaries’ ire with the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.


Essential Questions for A Tale of Two Cities

  1. What responsibilities do leaders have to their people?
  2. Why is equality such an important concept to people?
  3. How can sacrifice make a person feel whole?
  4. How can power and money corrupt people?
  5. Why is seeking revenge sometimes more destructive than the original crime?
  6. What are some things that can corrupt the original idealistic intentions of a revolution?
  7. Can a person ever truly renounce their family name and history?

A Tale of Two Cities Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

A Tale of Two Cities Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example A Tale of Two Cities Plot Diagram

Exposition

In 1775, Mr. Lorry, a London banker, is meeting a woman named Lucie Manette to take her to see her father, a French doctor, who has been released from prison after 18 years. The novel moves forward to 1780 where a man named Charles Darnay is being tried for treason. Lucie and Lorry are both witnesses for the prosecution, but when defense attorney Mr. Stryver points out the strong resemblance between his assistant Sydney Carton and Darnay, the jury acquits Darnay due to reasonable doubt.


Conflict

Darnay and Lucie quickly fall in love, and he endears himself to Dr. Manette. Darnay, however, is not who he says he is: he is actually a French nobleman, the son of the Marquis St. Evrémonde, but he has renounced his family name. While Darnay is building a family and home in England with Lucie, the French peasants continue to revolt. In particular, Saint Antoine wine shop owners Ernest and Madame Defarge are leaders in the revolt.


Rising Action

On July 14, 1789, the revolutionaries storm the Bastille fortress. Defarge goes to the cell where Dr. Manette had been held and searches for something. Shortly after, the Marquis’ chateau burns down and the peasants arrest Monsieur Gabelle, the tax collector and caretaker. He writes to Darnay asking for help. Darnay decides to return to France in secret, so as not to worry Lucie.


Climax

Darnay is arrested in France and imprisoned in La Force. The revolutionaries figured out that he is actually the Marquis St. Evrémonde. Lucie and Dr. Manette arrive and visit Mr. Lorry at the Tellson’s location. Dr. Manette is a martyr for the cause because of his time in the Bastille. He uses this to try to get Charles out of prison, but he remains there for another year and three months. He is acquitted of his charges, but is soon re-arrested before he can go back to England.


Falling Action

Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher come across Miss Pross’ brother Solomon, who now goes by John Barsad. Sydney Carton appears and blackmails Barsad into helping him get in to see Charles in prison. He knows that Roger Cly is still alive and that Barsad is spying for both the revolutionaries and the English government. At the next trial, Charles is sentenced to death because his father and uncle raped Madame Defarge’s sister, and killed her brother-in-law and brother.


Resolution

Dr. Manette was asked to help save Madame Defarge’s sister and hears the story, so he writes a letter about the Marquis’ crimes to the Minister of State. He is imprisoned afterward. Madame Defarge tries to kill Lucie and her daughter, but is shot by Miss Pross. Meanwhile, right before Charles’ execution, Carton drugs him and switches places with Charles, sacrificing his own life instead, finally finding a sense of purpose in his life.



Plot Diagram for A Tale of Two Cities

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of A Tale of Two Cities.


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



Story Outline Storyboard Template

Example

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A Tale of Two Cities Characters

As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!


A Tale of Two Cities Characters

  • Charles Darnay
  • Lucie Manette
  • Sydney Carton
  • Jarvis Lorry
  • Dr. Alexandre Manette
  • Ernest Defarge
  • Therese Defarge
  • John Barsad/Solomon Pross

A Tale of Two Cities Character Map

Example

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Literary Conflict Student Activity for A Tale of Two Cities


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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflicts.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the storyboard creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.


Examples of Literary Conflict in A Tale of Two Cities

MAN vs. MAN

Madame Defarge doesn’t just seek revenge on Charles and his uncle and father; she also wishes to make sure that his wife and daughter are eliminated. She takes a gun and goes to their lodging in Paris, but Miss Pross is the only one there. Miss Pross keeps Mme. Defarge from opening a door in the house, so Mme. Defarge attacks her. When she reaches into her dress and pulls out a gun, Miss Pross grabs her wrist and the gun goes off, killing Mme. Defarge.


MAN vs. SELF

Sydney Carton is a lonely, unhappy man who seems to be in a deep depression about his life and what could have been different. He bears a strong resemblance to Charles Darnay, and often wistfully compares himself to Charles’ successes. He believes that Lucie could make him whole, but she does not love him the way that he loves her. He swears he will do anything for her or for those dear to her, a promise which he fulfills when he sacrifices his life for Charles.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

Charles Darnay was taken away from his father by his mother many years before because of the atrocities his father and uncle committed. He maintains as he gets older that his family name is a source of shame, and he renounces it and his inheritance to his uncle later on. However, he is still a member of the aristocracy in the French peasants’ eyes, and there is no place for him to return when he comes back to try to save Gabelle. While he is accepted in England, his family’s crimes cannot be forgiven in France.


Conflict in A Tale of Two Cities

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in A Tale of Two Cities.


  1. Identify conflicts in A Tale of Two Cities.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



Literary Conflict Template

Example

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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Student Activity for A Tale of Two Cities

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.


A Tale of Two Cities Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Destructive Nature of Revenge

Madame Defarge’s brother, brother-in-law, father, and sister either died or were murdered by the Marquis St. Evrémonde twin brothers. It stands to reason that Mme. Defarge would be extremely bitter towards these men who used their privilege to destroy her entire family. Her thirst for revenge, however, goes beyond the brothers to Charles Darnay, the son, nephew, and heir of the Marquis. She believes that Darnay should pay for the sins of his family, despite the fact that he renounced his title and property years before. She also wants to destroy his wife, Lucie, and their daughter little Lucie, to end the bloodline for good. Mme. Defarge’s desire to avenge her family ultimately leads to her own destruction at the hands of Miss Pross, but also backfires because Charles is rescued from death by Carton.


Revolution

The French Revolution was caused by a number of things, including drought and poor harvests, increased taxation, and oppression of the Third Estate, the commoners. This led to an increase in poverty and a nobility unwilling to give up their privileges, forcing the burden of debt onto the backs of the peasants even more. Being stuck in a cycle of poverty and injustice is a powerful motivator for people to move towards change, and with the recent Declaration of Independence by the United States from England, the commoners were beginning to realize the power the will of the people have over their rulers. However, Revolution for the French was a double-edged sword: while they initially fought for noble causes like their rights as citizens and as men, radical factions of the movement quickly turned the revolution into a bloodbath, ushering in the Reign of Terror where the causes were to maintain power, rather than evolve as a nation.


Resurrection

The title of the first book, “Recalled to Life”, deals with the resurrection of Dr. Manette from his imprisonment. In a sense, he is being physically resurrected because his daughter Lucie believed him to be dead; metaphorically, he is being resurrected as Lucie helps to pull him out of his prisoner mindset, where the torture of being isolated leads him to furiously work at his shoemaker’s bench. The novel also deals with Sydney Carton’s resurrection from hopelessness to fulfillment as he rediscovers his humanity by sacrificing his own life to save Charles Darnay’s. In addition, through this sacrifice, Darnay is able to walk away from death and live a renewed life with his wife and daughter.


The Importance of Sacrifice

As a young man, Sydney Carton feels that he wasted all of his potential, and finds himself without hope for a brighter future. He routinely sees Charles as an example of who he could have been, but he is unable to find the courage within himself to change his life. He hopes one day to redeem something in his life by swearing to do anything for Lucie and her family. He gets to fulfill this promise by making the ultimate sacrifice, switching places with Charles for his execution, allowing Charles, Lucie, and their family to escape to safety. By making this sacrifice, Sydney finally finds purpose and becomes whole again.



A Tale of Two Cities Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

La Guillotine

The winds of revolution also bring about the age of the guillotine. The guillotine is used against revolting peasants first, and then becomes a symbol of retribution and justice for the peasants against the nobles. The guillotine became so prevalent and so routine that the narrator observes it became a symbol of a pseudo-religion. He observes, “It superseded the Cross. Models of it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.”


The Grindstone

The grindstone is both a symbol of fear and of strength for the characters in the novel. The revolutionaries are utilizing the grindstone to keep their weapons sharp as they continue to rid their world of traitors and nobles. As Lorry, Dr. Manette, and Lucie gaze upon it, however, they see the blood covering the men and women as they sharpen their weapons for more murder. The revolution seems to be taking a turn towards something more ugly, and the revolutionaries are being driven by revenge and love of violence rather than by change for a greater good.


The Knitted Register

Madame Defarge’s knitting reveals a register of names, a hit-list, of enemies of the revolution that must be taken care of. Mme. Defarge rarely puts down her knitting, her desire for revenge for her family and for her nation making her one of the more frightening figures of the cause. The register is indecipherable to anyone except Madame Defarge, and seems to be a source of personal comfort to her as well as her duty to the cause.


The Shoemaker’s Bench and Tools

Dr. Manette, imprisoned for 18 years by the Marquis, found solace in his shoemaking when the isolation and boredom became enough to drive him mad. He continues this after his release, almost incoherent when his daughter finally reaches him. However, through her care, he does come back to his senses, but relapses when he realizes that Charles might be a nobleman, and when he discovers that he is, indeed, related to the very men who stole his freedom for nearly two decades.


A Tale of Two Cities Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

Example

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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" TWIST


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that examine Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, and Theme. This activity is referred to with the acronym “TWIST”. In a TWIST, students focus on a particular paragraph or a few pages, to look deeper at the author’s meaning.



Using an excerpt from A Tale of Two Cities , students can depict, explain, and discuss important quotes from the text, and analyze the author’s use of style and word choice to enhance meaning.

TWIST Example for A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


T

TONE

reflecting, wise, wistful, dark
W

WORD CHOICE

was, best, worst, foolishness, wisdom, epoch, season, spring, winter, Light, Dark, hope, despair everything, nothing
I

IMAGERY

It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
S

STYLE

The passage is a run-on which is filled with contradictions. The winding length of the quote indicates a story and time from the past, and the contradictions exist at the same time, making the period in question paradoxical in nature.
T

THEME

The narrator is reflecting on a time that is tumultuous and full of tension because the aristocracy and the commoners are at odds with one another, much like the contradictions Dickens highlights in these opening lines.

TWIST-ing A Tale of Two Cities

Example

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Student Instructions

Perform a TWIST analysis of the opening paragraph from A Tale of Two Cities. Remember that TWIST stands for Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, Theme.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TWIST.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.



TWIST Template

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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for A Tale of Two Cities


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from A Tale of Two Cities. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the novel, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

A Tale of Two Cities Vocabulary

  • marquis
  • carousing
  • menagerie
  • inexorable
  • munificent
  • sanguine
  • caste
  • ruminate
  • Bacchanalian
  • unimpeachable
  • deriding
  • finesse

Vocabulary in A Tale of Two Cities

Example

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in A Tale of Two Cities by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



Vocabulary Template Blank

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•   (English) A Tale of Two Cities   •   (Español) Un Cuento Sobre dos Ciudades   •   (Français) Un Conte de Deux Villes   •   (Deutsch) Ein Märchen Über Zwei Städte   •   (Italiana) Un Racconto di due Città   •   (Nederlands) Een Verhaal Over Twee Steden   •   (Português) Um Conto de Duas Cidades   •   (עברית) בין שתי ערים   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) قصة مدينتين   •   (हिन्दी) दो शहरों की कहानी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Повесть о Двух Городах   •   (Dansk) En Fortælling om to Byer   •   (Svenska) En Saga om två Städer   •   (Suomi) Tarina Kahdesta Kaupungista   •   (Norsk) En Fortelling om to Byer   •   (Türkçe) İki Şehrin Masalı   •   (Polski) Opowieść o Dwóch Miastach   •   (Româna) O Poveste a Doua Orase   •   (Ceština) Příběh Dvou Měst