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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


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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.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of "The Gift of the Magi".


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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"The Gift of the Magi" Vocabulary


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Another great way to engage your students is with storyboards that use vocabulary from "The Gift of the Magi". Here are a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the short story, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Example "The Gift of the Magi" Vocabulary

  • magi
  • meretricious
  • truant
  • instigate
  • prosperity
  • parsimony
  • depreciate
  • envy
  • prudence
  • patent
  • sentiment
  • scrutiny
  • vanish
  • privilege
  • ardent
  • adorn
  • sacrifice

In the vocabulary board, students can choose between coming up with their use of the vocabulary word, finding the specific example from the text, or depicting the definition without words.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in "The Gift of the Magi" 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.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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"The Gift of the Magi" Theme


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Valuable aspects of any literary work are its themes, symbols, and motifs. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to anatomize without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.


"The Gift of the Magi" Themes

Love

The theme of the story is that the greatest gift of all is unconditional love. Through the sacrifices Della and Jim make for one another, they prove love is more important than material possessions. As the narrator says: “Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest.”


Sacrifice

A secondary theme in the story is the sacrifice that both characters make for each other. To make their spouse happy, they each sell their most prized possession to make the other happy. For Jim, it is a family heirloom, his grandfather’s watch, and for Della, it is her long, beautiful hair.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in "The Gift of the Magi" . Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from "The Gift of the Magi" you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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“The Gift of the Magi” Literary Devices

“The Gift of the Magi” contains a number of literary devices that can be taught alongside the story. Storyboards can be a simple way for students to identify and explain examples of these devices. Visual representation can also improve students’ retention of the concepts. Have students depict scenes, characters, or objects that convey examples of some of the following: symbols, irony, intrusive narrator, figurative language, allusion. Below each square, students should explain their reasoning.


Example “The Gift of the Magi” Literary Devices

Symbolism

The expensive objects Della and Jim buy each other are symbolic of their love. The items themselves have very little meaning - in fact, the couple puts them away for the time being. The selfless sacrifice that they represent, however, makes them precious.


Irony

The end of the story is an example of situational irony. Each character is faced with a circumstance that is the opposite of what they expected. This irony adds a trademark O. Henry's twist to the end of the story.


Intrusive Narrator

The narrator of "The Gift of the Magi" intrudes upon the story multiple times. When he draws our attention away from the characters and speaks directly to the readers, he is making his presence obvious to the reader. Like an actor breaking the fourth wall, he tells us to look away when Della and Jim are embracing.


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•   (English) The Gift of the Magi   •   (Español) El Regalo de los Reyes Magos   •   (Français) Le don des Mages   •   (Deutsch) Das Geschenk der Könige   •   (Italiana) Il Dono dei Magi   •   (Nederlands) De Gift van Magi   •   (Português) O Dom dos Magos   •   (עברית) מתנת האמגושים   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) هدية من المجوس   •   (हिन्दी) मेगी का उपहार   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Дары Волхвов   •   (Dansk) The Gift af Magi   •   (Svenska) Gåvan av Magi   •   (Suomi) Lahja Magi   •   (Norsk) The Gift of Magi   •   (Türkçe) Magi'nin Hediyesi   •   (Polski) Dar Mędrców   •   (Româna) Darul Magilor   •   (Ceština) Dar Magi   •   (Slovenský) Darček Mudrcov   •   (Magyar) A Gift of the Magi   •   (Hrvatski) Dar Čarobnjaka   •   (български) Подаръкът на Маговете   •   (Lietuvos) Magi Dovaną   •   (Slovenščina) Darilo Treh Kraljev   •   (Latvijas) Dāvana no Magi   •   (eesti) Kingitus Magi