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Teaching Writing Style with Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

By Trent Lorcher

Imitating Charles Dickens' writing style provides opportunities to imitate a master of words. Your students will benefit greatly and have fun in the process with this easy to implement lesson plan.

A Student with Great Expectations

After teaching students about figurative language, plot, and characterization in Great Expectations, I felt good. I bragged to my principal and demanded a plaque.

Then a student asked, "I understand that Great Expectations clearly displays Charles Dickens' writing style, with examples of asyndeton, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, anaphora, parallelism, polysyndeton, epistrophe, and antithesis. I wish you would come up with a Charles Dickens Lesson Plan for Great Expectations that focuses on those aspects of Charles Dickens' writing style." I mumbled an incoherent response. I didn't know what all those things were. I had failed my students.

In shock, I ran back to my plaque, chiseled away the metallic name plate, did some research on Charles Dickens' writing style, reread the novel, and created Charles Dickens' Lesson Plans for Great Expectations that focused on his writing style.

I now share my Charles Dickens' Lesson Plans for Great Expectations with you.

Introduction to Charles Dickens' Style

Introduce the following terms: alliteration, asyndeton, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, anaphora, parallelism, polysyndeton, epistrophe, personification and antithesis (for an explanation of these terms, take a look at the Great Expectations Study Guide).

Find a passage in Great Expectations that includes these elements. The following passage comes from chapter 1 and contains an example of polysyndeton, anaphora, alliteration, parallelism, and personification:

A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

This passage from chapter 18 also serves the purpose of the assignment. It contains parallel structure, alliteration, and anaphora.

I checked off again in detail, his large head, his dark complexion, his deep set eyes, his bushy black eyebrows, his large watch chain, his strong black dots of beard and whisker, and even the smell of scented soap on his great hand.

This passage from chapter 38 also works. It contains anaphora, asyndeton, and parallelism.

No need to take a file from his pocket and show it to me; no need to take the handkerchief from his neck and twist it round his head; no need to take a shivering turn across the room, looking back at me for recognition.

Imitating Dickens' Style Lesson Ideas

  1. Instruct students to write their own description using the exact same style as Dickens (require them to label the stylistic devices):
    • Example: An enthusiastic teacher, all in bright blue, with a large gradebook in his hand. A man with no book, and with broken pointers, and with an old cast wrapped round his wrist. A man who had been stained with dry erase board markers, and covered in copy machine ink, and pinched by drawers, and cut by baper, and stung by staples, and torn by pencil sharpeners; who jumped, and chattered, and giggled and gorped; and whose tongue thwalloped inside his mouth as he seized me by the brain.
  2. Instruct students to create a scene from Great Expectations. It should be wordy, use archaic language, and be written in the first person.
  3. Instruct students to write their own paragraph. It should include the above listed stylistic devices. It does not, however, need to be an exact duplication of Charles Dickens' writing style. Students should label each example they use in the paragraph.