The Gift of the Magi Teacher Guide

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.

Student Activities for The Gift of the Magi

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?

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.

Buy ”The Gift of the Magi” on Amazon

Ideas for Post-Reading Activities

Storyboard That is an excellent tool for students to create fun and engaging projects as a culminating activity after finishing a novel. In addition to our premade activities, here are some ideas that teachers can customize and assign to students to spark creativity in individual students, pairs, or small groups for a final project. Several of these ideas include Storyboard That templates that can be printed out or copied into your teacher dashboard and assigned digitally. All final projects can be printed out, presented as a slide show, or, for an extra challenge, as an animated GIF!

  1. "The Gift of the Magi" is filled with many interesting literary devices for students to explore. One element that is used so well in this moving story is the element of irony. Students can storyboard the examples of irony they come across in the text! To learn more about how to teach irony in the classroom, see our article: The Three Types of Irony which includes an example storyboard pertaining to "The Gift of the Magi"!

  2. For Groups: Choose a scene from the story and write a short play to reenact to the class. Use the traditional storyboard layout to plan out your scenes. You can add text to your storyboards, or simply use the cells to visualize each scene of your play.

  3. Using the timeline layout, retell the story in chronological order. Our timeline layout gives you the options to include year, month, day, and even hour! You may also choose to omit these altogether.

  4. Choose a setting from the story and create a map of the setting using the small poster or worksheet layout. Use free form or other text boxes to include a key or label the different parts of the map.

  5. Using one of Storyboard That’s board game templates, create a game based on the book for your classmates to play!

  6. For Groups: Divide the chapters of the book amongst your group members. Each member of the group creates a storyboard for their assigned chapter. This can be done as a collaborative project, or separately for longer novels.

  7. Using the worksheet layout and Storyboard That’s worksheet assets, create a test or a quiz for other students in the class. You can create all kinds of questions such as multiple choice, short answer, and even matching! When you are done, be sure to make an answer key.

  8. Using one of Storyboard That’s biography poster templates, create a poster about the character of your choice. Be sure to include important biographical features such as: place and date of birth, family life, accomplishments, etc.

  9. Choose a chapter from the novel and create a storyboard that shows that chapter from another character’s point of view. For an extra challenge, use the T-chart layout to compare the original point of view with another character’s point of view!

  10. Create a book jacket of the novel using one of Storyboard That’s book jacket templates. Use Storyboard That art to create the cover, and write a summary of the story on the back, just like real books have!

  11. Using one of Storyboard That’s social media templates as a starting point, create a social media page for one or more of the characters in the novel. Be sure to think how the character thinks while creating this page.

  12. Create a scrapbook page made by one of the characters in the novel. Storyboard That has lots of premade templates that you can use as is, or change to fit your character’s personality! Check out our scrapbook templates today!

How To Explain the Concept of Pseudonyms To Younger Students


Start with a Common Idea

Start off by discussing the concept of nicknames. Inquire of the class whether any of them have ever used a nickname or know somebody who has. This establishes a relevant foundation. Ask them if they know any famous personalities through their nickname.


Give Simple Explanation

Define a pseudonym as a unique name that a person employs in place of their true name. It's comparable to using a secret name for a certain reason. Ask questions about why they think authors use pseudonyms and why would they want to remain anonymous.


Explain By Example

Give them some instances of pseudonyms they may be acquainted with, including pen names used by writers. Mention well-known writers who wrote under a pen name, such as Samuel Clemens, who wrote Mark Twain, or Theodore Geisel, who wrote Dr. Seuss.


Create a Connection

Reiterate how exciting and imaginative pseudonyms can be, such as choosing a unique superhero name or a top-secret codename. Ask students to come up with possible pseudonyms for themselves if they were writers or artists.


Discuss Real Life Examples

Ask students how each of us use a pseudonym unknowingly in our daily life. Mention how screen identities and usernames, a type of pseudonym, are often used by people online. Tell them that this is being done to preserve their privacy when they are playing games or speaking online.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Gift of the Magi

Who are the story's primary characters?

Jim and Della Young, a newlywed couple who are struggling financially but are incredibly in love, are the story's major protagonists.

What does the term "The Gift of the Magi" mean?

"The Gift of the Magi" is a reference to the Magi in the Bible who gave gifts to the infant Jesus. It implies that like the presents of the Magi, Jim and Della's offerings to one another are unselfish and priceless.

What presents do Jim and Della exchange with one another?

While Della trims and sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim's beloved pocket watch, Jim sells his watch to buy combs for Della's long, gorgeous hair. Since both of them are unable to use their presents, they gain more depth in their relationship and become more aware of their priceless love for each other.

What moral or message is the narrative trying to get across to the readers?

The short story "The Gift of the Magi" makes a point about the depth of love and the genuine significance of giving gifts. It underlines that a gift's thoughtfulness and selflessness are more significant than their monetary worth.

Find more lesson plans and activities like these in our English Language Arts Category!
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