Pin Me

Teacher's Guide to "The Gift of the Magi" With Activities

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 8/31/2014

Use these activities, analysis, and summary to engage students around the holiday. There are few better stories than O. Henry's twisty tale to warm your students' hearts.

  • slide 1 of 4

    Evaluation and Synopsis

    Here's "The Gift of the Magi" summary to refresh your memory.The Gift of the Magi by O Henry 

    Della has $1.87 and it's near Christmas. I'm not sure how much Jim has, but it's not much. Jim and Della love each other. They want to buy each other really nice gifts, but as you know, it's hard to buy really nice gifts for a $1.87 or less. Jim has this really nice watch that Della thinks would look super wonderful on a brand new chain. Della has awesome shiny long hair that Jim thinks would look great adorned with brand new combs.

    They're broke.

    Jim sells his watch to buy Della the combs. Della sells her hair to buy Jim's watch chain. And you thought you were surprised when Santa brought you a bike?

  • slide 2 of 4

    Evaluation of "The Gift of the Magi": "The Gift of the Magi" Analysis

    "The Gift of the Magi" analysis produces the following discussion points:

    • Irony in "The Gift of the Magi": Students will have no trouble recognizing irony in the story. Jim and Della give the perfect gift, yet neither has any use for it. Both receive useless gifts, yet both gifts are considered more valuable than any gift anyone could possibly give. Have fun as a class finding more examples of irony in "The Gift of the Magi."
    • Character Analysis: There are only two characters in the story so doing a character analysis is quite simple: Jim and Della give up their most valuable possession to make the person they love happy. Their actions speak louder than any of their words.
    • The Spirit of Christmas: I had an administrator who told us we couldn't wish students a Merry Christmas. We had to say "Happy Holidays." I said, "Go to hell!" which, ironically, is about as far from the spirit of Christmas as one gets, especially because, at that moment, I really did want her to go to hell. I then read "The Gift of the Magi" and immediately regained the Christmas spirit and put together a multi-cultural holiday lesson plan that included Christmas and other winter holidays just so she'd feel (self) important again.
  • slide 3 of 4


    Use these activities to make that week before Christmas break productive and fun.

    • Have a gift exchange. Most government-run schools frown on gift exchanges. Most government-run schools have teacher shortages. Have the darn gift exchange! If a parent gives you any flack, tell them it's only one of many great multicultural "Gift of the Magi" activities.
    • Teach Plot. Remind students that plot is developed into five stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Give them a chart. Make them fill it out. Have them write a "Gift of the Magi" summary.
    • Write a sequel. Pretend it's ten years down the road and Jim and Della got a divorce. Does Jim strangle Della with his watch chain? Does Della poke Jim's eye with the combs? Do they get each other sticks and coal for Christmas?
  • slide 4 of 4

    Additional Resource

    Click here for a complete 1st semester curriculum map for language arts with lesson plans and links.