A Christmas Carol is arguably the most widely known Dickens story of all time. Made into movie after made-for-TV movie, this story has been told over and over again. Each year the 7th-grade language arts teachers dust off our textbooks and read this play with students. We all know that as much as we may love a story it can become boring eventually. Here is an idea to breathe some life back into teaching A Christmas Carol plus teach students the art of persuasion.
Before they changed our standards and took away persuasive writing it was a staple writing assignment essay. I enjoyed teaching students about the techniques of persuasion and we usually did this in the form of a letter to parents. We would write parents a letter persuading them to buy a particular item for Christmas. Some of you may have just cringed at that last sentence.
YES, with more experience as a classroom teacher I started to see how this assignment was troublesome. Many students came from homes where Christmas was not celebrated or presents were not part of the budget or the requested gift was simply out of the question. So I needed to take a different approach. That’s when I created the Scrooge Speech Contest.The new assignment was to convince Scrooge that the charity of your choice should receive his donation this Christmas season. Click To Tweet
We always read A Christmas Carol at the start of December. Sometimes the play version from our textbook or the Scope Magazine version. In the years I had advanced students we read the actual text. In the years I was scheduled for co-taught classes we read a shorter, illustrated version. Either way, every version shares the story of how Scrooge changes from a tight-fisted miser to a man who celebrated Christmas with all his heart. At the end of the story, we learn that he did give money to the men who asked for donations and he became a benefactor to the Cratchit family. This was the perfect opportunity to change our persuasion writing assignment.
The new assignment was to convince Scrooge that the charity of your choice should receive his donation this Christmas season. A chance to teach writing and speaking skills all in one.
Students started by choosing a charity. The first year I let this be a free for all. That was a huge mistake! Students had a terrible time researching and we ended up with 20 speeches about the Humane Society. I must have had a lot of animal lovers that year. The problem was students weren’t branching out to see what charities were even possible they just went with what they knew.
The next year I created a list. This list has grown since spending time with a number of charities through my World Race mission trip. The list also became an opportunity for me to share the work I did overseas. The list, which is a Google Doc of links to the charity websites, helped for the most part. I still had students choosing what they knew. This is not necessarily a problem, however, on the day of speeches, it’s hard for the class to sit through the same speech over and over again. That’s when I initiated a draft day.
Students were given access to the list of charity links and they had 10 minutes to investigate their options. This also gave me the chance to strike up a conversation with an individual student and help them choose a charity that might fit with their passions. I could steer the animal lovers to other charities like the World Wild Life Fund or Puppies Behind Bars. Once students found a charity they connected with they would type their name in the shared spreadsheet. I kept the spreadsheet for all 3 of my classes so that no student had the same. This made the speech day more bearable for me. There are enough charities in the world so why not learn about as many as possible?
Research and Writing
The next few days students learned a few basic research skills for navigating a website. Check off any digital literacy standards you have for that day. They would keep track of their research in these Digital Notecards I designed. Once they had a full picture of the charity they began working on their presentation. Most organizations these days have very detailed websites. Students can usually find all they need for the presentation on the one website.
It’s important to take this opportunity to teach students the proper etiquette for giving a speech with a slide presentation. Middle schoolers tend to write everything they want to say on the slides and then proceed to read those slides to the audience. As we all know this is poor form. I would model for them what a presentation should look like by presenting my favorite charity Remember Nhu. Sharing this charity allowed me to present personal testimony from working with this organization and the impact it made on my own life. When students see this they tend to want a personal connection to the charity they picked. That is a beautiful moment! One year a student shared how Wyld Life changed things for them and gave them hope for a better future.
One-by-one students present their charity to the class. Sharing an overview of the charity, who are impacted by the organization, a major project currently taking place, and how Scrooge’s contribution will make a difference. If the charity has a short introduction video that students can use for the overview section I do allow them to share the video. I also make stipulations that they can only include 1 video and the whole presentation cannot exceed 5 minutes. As students present, I find it easiest to assess their speech in a pre-made Google Form. This allows me to give them a point value for each section and provide feedback. It also makes entering final scores from the spreadsheet super quick.
Take it up a notch
Here are a few ideas I’ve used to really take this project to the next level. Since my students are blogging in class they have turned their presentation into a blog post. Another option would be a class Google Site where students could upload their slide presentations to be shared publicly.
Another fun way to take this up a notch is to collect actual funds for the speech winner to donate to their charity. My second year implementing this project we raised $100 and we were able to donate that money in the student’s name. It certainly makes giving a very real experience. Especially if a student has never had the means to give. I set a mason jar on my desk to collect change and posted to my Facebook friends that we were doing this with a way for them to help. There are a number of ways that you could go about doing this now and possibly generate a large enough donation to allow several students to make donations in their name. It can be hard to choose just one. Another option, rather than having to choose, could be to draw from a hat or randomizer.
If you host a Scrooge Speech contest this Christmas season I’d love to hear how it goes and see any links if you decide to share. Have any other ideas for how to make this project awesome? Share them in the comments.