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Teaching Guide

Teaching Oliver Twist, or, the Parish Boy’s Progress

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This classic Dickens novel is pushing 200 years, and there are about that many ways to teach the novel, too. At Shmoop, we put a new twist on Oliver.

In this guide you will find

  • a crime-filled activity about criminal activity in the novel.
  • reading quizzes to make sure students aren't just singing along to Oliver! the musical.
  • pop culture connections, like modern adaptations of Oliver Twist.

After these lessons, students will say "Please sir, may we have some more?"

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Oliver is a savvy city boy—Carrie Bradshaw meets Rudy Giuliani. Oliver has learned to fend for himself in the big city of London. The only problem is that Dickens throws a pretty big wrench into things by taking Oliver out of the city and into the country. What's this city boy to do now? Of course, Dickens's choice is not without purpose. The juxtaposition of city and country reveals a bunch of juicy thematic stuff, like poverty, criminality, freedom vs. confinement, and a critique of London itself. In this lesson, students will analyze the importance of setting to the plot and conflict of Oliver Twist.

This lesson should take about two days.

Materials Needed:

  • Computer access to Shmoop
  • Art materials (butcher paper, markers, colored pencils)
  • Copies of Oliver Twist

Step 1: Start with a baseline discussion of setting in Oliver Twist.

  • What are the two main settings of Oliver Twist?
  • How are they similar? Different?
  • Which characters do we find in each setting?
  • How do the characters seem affected by the setting?

You can also refer to Shmoop's discussion of setting for extra help.

Step 2: City vs. village, round one: Once you've got some ideas flowing, create a T-chart (just a basic, 2-column chart) on the board in order to compare and contrast the two settings. Put notes on London in the left column and notes on the village in the right.

As you create the chart, ask students to consider the mood of each setting, how the characters are affected by each setting, and the events that occur in each place. For example, is London always the seat of crime while the village stays clean and proper?

Step 3: Mapmaker, Mapmaker, make me a map! Seriously, there's no Google Maps in Oliver's London; students will be doing this one the old-fashioned way. After the discussion, explain to students that they will create maps of the two settings of Oliver Twist, but these are no ordinary maps. These maps should not only show the places in the London and the village, but also the mood. For example, the colors they choose, the objects they draw, and the people they include should be true to the settings Dickens created.

Break the students into groups of three or four, and give each group a piece of butcher paper, markers, and copies of the book. Students will create their maps following these instructions:

  • Divide the paper in half.
  • Use one half to create and label Oliver's world in London.
  • Use the other half to create the village and the inhabitants of that world.
  • Remember that this map does NOT need to be to scale or simply include buildings. Make this a creative map full of characters, events, and design choices to represent not just the setting but the mood of each setting.
  • Somewhere on their maps, students should include at least three pieces of text evidence to support their choices for each setting (so six quotes total, in case that was confusing… of if your math is really rusty).

Step 4: Once students are mapped out, each group will present their maps to the class. They should get a chance to show off their creative choices and to ask questions of their classmates. You should ask some questions too, you know, since you're the teacher. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Do you notice any changes in the characters when they move from one setting to the other?
  • Are certain types of characters or events restricted to only one setting or another?
  • Do the settings influence one another at all? Does one setting seem more powerful than the other, or are they equal?
  • Do the settings have a purely good/evil distinction, or do the lines blur at all?
  • How do the settings relate to the theme of identity? How is a character's identity connected to his environment?
  • How do the settings relate to the theme of criminality? Poverty? Society and class? What does the juxtaposition of the two settings tell us about these big ideas?

Instructions for Your Students

Setting matters—in life, in fiction—where someone comes from changes who they are and how they see the world. Oliver Twist is the same; he is nothing if not a product of his environment. Oliver is a savvy city boy who has learned to fend for himself in the big city of London. The only problem is that Dickens throws a pretty big wrench into things by taking Oliver out of the city and into the country. What's this city boy to do now?

Of course, Dickens's choice is not without purpose. The juxtaposition of city and country reveals a bunch of juicy thematic stuff, like poverty, criminality, freedom vs. confinement, and a critique of London itself. In this lesson, you will analyze the importance of setting to the plot and conflict of Oliver Twist.

Step 1: We'll start with a baseline discussion of setting in Oliver Twist.

  • What are the two main settings of Oliver Twist?
  • How are they similar? Different?
  • Which characters do we find in each setting?
  • How do the characters seem affected by the setting?

You can also refer to Shmoop's discussion of setting for extra help.

Step 2: City vs. village, round one: Now that we've got some ideas flowing, we'll create a T-chart on the board in order to compare and contrast the two settings. Notes on London will go in the left column and notes on the village in the right.

As we create the chart, consider the mood of each setting, how the characters are affected by each setting, and the events that occur in each place. For example, is London always the seat of crime while the village stays clean and proper?

Step 3: Mapmaker, Mapmaker, make me a map! Seriously, there's no Google Maps in Oliver's London; you'll be doing this one the old-fashioned way. You will create maps of the two settings of Oliver Twist, but these are no ordinary maps. These maps should not only show the places in the London and the village, but also the mood. For example, the colors you choose, the objects you draw, and the people you include should be true to the settings Dickens created.

In groups, you will create your maps following these instructions:

  • Divide the paper in half.
  • Use one half to create and label Oliver's world in London.
  • Use the other half to create the village and the inhabitants of that world.
  • Remember that this map does NOT need to be to scale or simply include buildings. Make this a creative map full of characters, events, and design choices to represent not just the setting but the mood of each setting.
  • Somewhere on their maps, students should include at least three pieces of text evidence to support their choices for each setting (so six quotes total, in case that was confusing… of if your math is really rusty).

Step 4: Now that you're mapped out, each group will present their maps to the class. Be prepared to answer questions from your classmates and your teacher.

  • Do you notice any changes in the characters when they move from one setting to the other?
  • Are certain types of characters or events restricted to only one setting or another?
  • Do the settings influence one another at all? Does one setting seem more powerful than the other, or are they equal?
  • Do the settings have a purely good/evil distinction, or do the lines blur at all?
  • How do the settings relate to the theme of identity? How is a character's identity connected to his environment?
  • How do the settings relate to the theme of criminality? Poverty? Society and class? What does the juxtaposition of the two settings tell us about these big ideas?

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING OLIVER TWIST, OR, THE PARISH BOY’S PROGRESS?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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