Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Modified 5E - Gift of the Magi (Research)


Margaret Salesky, Lindsey Link

  • Grade Level Grade Level 10th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course
  • Time Frame Time Frame 60 minutes
  • Duration More 2 periods


Students evaluate what motivates people, especially as it relates to the characters in “The Gift of the Magi.” As they read and listen to the story, students identify thoughts and feelings that relate to the motivations and actions of the main characters. Students also look for and create their own examples of selfless acts and altruism in our 21st-century world.

Essential Question(s)

What motivates people to take action? How do we determine selfless actions?



Students view slideshow images of people in order to consider their emotions and motivations. Then they complete the first part of an "I Used to Think... But Now I Know" activity.


Students listen to and follow along with the short story "The Gift of the Magi," by O. Henry and highlight words and phrases that relate to the emotions and motivations exhibited by the husband and wife in the story.


Students create a collaborative Word Cloud of examples of character motivations from the story and discuss what motivates the students daily.


Students write a modern version of the story using Cognitive Comics to help them illustrate their revisions.


Students revisit the slideshow images to consider how their initial thoughts about motivation have changed.


  • Shortened Lesson Slides (attached)

  • "The Gift of the Magi," by O. Henry (attached; one per student)

  • I Used to Think… But Now I Know handouts (attached; one per student)

  • Cognitive Comics (attached; one per student)

  • Pens/pencils

  • Student devices

  • Highlighters

  • Markers

  • Sharpies


Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the instruction. Begin the lesson by displaying slides 2-3 and share the Essential Questions and Learning Objectives with students to the extent you feel necessary.

Display slide 4. Introduce the I Used to Think... But Now I Know activity and pass out copies of the I Used to Think, But Now I Know handout. Show the students the images on slides 5–9. After each image, pause to give students time to write down an emotion or motivation they think influences the actions of the people in the image. They should write these in the "I Used to Think" column of their handouts. Once you have shown all of the images, display them a second time, pausing for the students to share what they have written down.


Hand out copies of the attached story, "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry. Have students listen to the story. You can either read it aloud to them or play a read-aloud version of the story found here. As they listen, have students follow along with the text and use the Categorical Highlighting strategy to highlight and annotate instances when the main characters demonstrate their emotions and what the factors are that motivate them to take certain actions.


At this time, display slide 12 and share the link to the Collaborative Word Cloud generator that you set up earlier for the class. As students type in their examples, guide them to make the observation that the larger the word in the cloud, the more consensus the class has on what the types of motivation the larger the words will be. Are there any words that surprise you? Stick out to you? Make you wonder?

As a class, discuss the motivations of the characters. What are some things that motivate you daily?


Move to slide 13. Share the instructional strategy Cognitive Comics with students and pass out the attached Cognitive Comics Template. Invite students to retell the story of "The Gift of the Magi" as if it were written in the present. Rewrite the story in the three (3) provided boxes. Instruct students to be sure to weave in thoughts, actions, and motivations in particular.


Display slide 14. As a whole class, have students ask students to view the images they examined at the start of the lesson. Display Slides 15–19. Have students take out their "I Used to Think... But Now I Know" handouts. Invite them to reflect again on the images and add to any thoughts they initially had. At this time, they can check to make sure the whole task is complete and submit their templates as a formative evaluation.