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The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray and Bridget Baudinet

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

Student Activities for The Gift of the Magi Include:

Every year, before the holiday break, I read the short story "The Gift of the Magi" with my class. The story reinforces the idea that material possessions are not important, rather, the thought and the love behind the gift is the true meaning of the holiday season. The students always appreciate reviewing such a strong theme during a season of love and sharing.

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




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Background on Author

O. Henry is the pen name of the American writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1010). Porter pursued a number of professions before becoming a serious writer in his thirties. He made use of multiple pseudonyms, but is best known by the O. Henry name. Porter enjoyed observing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of ordinary people, particularly those that he encountered during his time in New York City. His stories tend to focus on “the little man” - average people with simple, yet meaningful trials. Porter is known for his wit, heart, and irony. Many of his stories conclude with a surprise ironic twist. “The Gift of the Magi” is no exception. His most popular story, “Magi” is particularly appealing to readers since its ending twist emphasizes the enduring value of selfless love, simultaneously surprising and inspiring the reader.

A Quick Synopsis of "The Gift of the Magi"

"The Gift of the Magi" is a touching Christmas tale about how far a husband and wife will go for one another, despite their poverty. To show their true love and devotion to one another, right before Christmas, Della and her husband Jim set out separately to purchase Christmas presents. Having less than three dollars in each of their pockets, they each make a great sacrifice in order to purchase the perfect gift for one another. Della sells her beautiful hair for $20 in order to buy her husband a platinum chain for his watch. Meanwhile, Jim sells his heirloom watch to buy a beautiful set of combs for Della to put in her hair.

When they each open their presents, the irony is intense. They are both unable to use their gifts, but realize their mutual devotion, and that the most precious things they have are each other.


Essential Questions for "The Gift of the Magi"

  1. What is the real meaning of the holiday season?
  2. How can you show someone love?
  3. Are material possessions important in a relationship?
  4. What does the word “gift” mean? Why are gifts important?
  5. What role does irony place in this story?

The Gift of the Magi Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

"The Gift of the Magi" Plot Diagram


Copy Assignment



A common activity for students is to 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 to reinforce major events and help students develop greater understanding for literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard that captures the concept of the narrative arc in a story by creating a six-cell storyboard which contains 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.



"The Gift of the Magi" Plot Diagram Example

Exposition

Della and Jim, a poor couple, struggle to buy Christmas gifts for each other.


Major Inciting Conflict

Della has only $1.87 to buy her husband a gift, which is not enough.


Rising Action

Della decides to sell her hair for money so she can purchase a gift worthy of Jim. She gets $20 and can afford a platinum chain for Jim's heirloom watch.


Climax

Della and Jim exchange gifts. Jim has sold his watch to buy Della a beautiful set of combs.


Falling Action

They decide to put their gifts away until they can both use them.


Resolution

Despite their errors, Della and Jim remain love one another, and learn a valuable lesson about sacrifice and love.


The Gift of the Magi Plot Diagram
Create your own at Storyboard That EXPOSITION CONFLICT RISING ACTION CLIMAX FALLING ACTION RESOLUTION When the story opens, Della and Jim are living in a simple flat on $20 a week. It is Christmas Eve and Della is lovingly dreaming of buying a gift for Jim. Della has only $1.87 to buy her husband a gift, which is not enough. Della decides to sell her hair for money so she can purchase a gift worthy of Jim. She gets $20 and uses it to purchase a platinum chain for Jim's heirloom watch. Della and Jim exchange gifts. Jim has sold his watch to buy Della a beautiful set of combs. Neither one of them will be able to use their gifts. Jim and Della decide to put their gifts away until they can both use them. Despite their errors, Della and Jim still love one another, and learn a valuable lesson about sacrifice and love. WIG SHOP