Building Comprehension and Expression with “’Twas The Night Before Christmas”

Like most of you, many of our holiday traditions this year have been altered or cancelled, but one we can still count on in our house is reading the poem ’Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. We have at our home some stunning versions of this famous poem in children’s picture book form.

Christmas book images

’Twas The Night Before Christmas was first published with the title Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas almost 200 years ago, on December 23, 1823 in New York’s Troy Sentinel. It is this poem that gave rise to the image of Santa Claus we know and love in the United States and Canada; a jolly, round, old man with a white beard and red suit who drives a sleigh through the sky to bring gifts to children around the world on Christmas.

The poem also established many of the names of Santa’s reindeer. It is from this poem that our modern idea of Santa Claus took hold, which was based on legendary Greek, British, Dutch and Germanic figures and traditions. The notion of “Christmas Spirit” and significant themes of joy, happiness, and surprise in this poem have been supported and preserved through TV, literature, movies, songs, and of course, advertising, over the past couple of centuries.

The next few weeks are a time of celebration and tradition: Hanukkah, Boxing Day, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Ōmisoka, New Year’s Day,
DOWNLOAD Analysis and Maps Included in This Blog
Three Kings Day, Las Posadas, Diwali, and so many more!
Since we celebrate Christmas in our house, we decided to share this lesson with you based on ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, because it is part of our holiday tradition. Enjoy reading this festive poem, and then see our example of how to use Story Grammar Marker® and ThemeMaker® methodologies to build and improve comprehension and expression by breaking down narrative structure, expository elements, figurative language, and vocabulary.
We will start with a narrative analysis of the poem using Story Grammar Marker® icons to identify the parts of the story. This story is a Complex Episode - a Stage 6 of the Narrative Developmental Sequence. 

Narrative Analysis of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas

This is Narrative Developmental Stage 6 - A Complex Episode from the Perspective of the Narrator (main character, “father”)
  • Setting: ’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
    Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
    The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
    In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
  • Kick-Off: When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
    • (INFERRED FEELING: Startled)
    • (INFERRED MENTAL STATE: Thought something was “the matter”)
    • (INFERRED PLAN: To find out what happened (“the matter”)
  • I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
  • Away to the window I flew like a flash,
  • Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
  • (SAW THAT) The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
    Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
  • I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
    More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
    And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
    “Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
    On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
    To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
    Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
  • As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
    When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
    So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
    With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
    And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
    The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
  • Kick-Off: As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
    Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
  • And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself; (Surprised and Amused, but Cautious)
  • A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
    Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread; (realized…)
  • (Inferred PLAN: To observe Santa in action)
  • (He noticed that) He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
  • (He watched) And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
  • (He saw) And laying his finger aside of his nose,
  • (He witnessed) And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
  • He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
    And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
  • But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
    “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Next, we will focus on vocabulary. Earlier during COVID shut downs, our long-time colleague, Linda Lafontaine, M.A., CAGS, CCC-SLP, presented webinars with Maryellen and shared some vocabulary strategies including the Frayer Model. Linda identified the following words as Tier 2 vocabulary words:

  • Stirring
    Nestled
    Settled (our brains)
    Clatter
    Obstacle
    Dash
    In a twinkling
    Prancing
    (came with a) bound
    Tarnished
    Droll
    Broad
    Plump
    Sprang
    Exclaim
    Coursers
    Thistle

Linda explained that she would focus on the yellow highlighted words because the others can be quickly defined with a similar word or words: clatter= loud noise, dash=go quickly, prancing=move with quick high steps, in a twinkling=in a brief time, bound=jumped, droll=funny, plump=somewhat fat or rounded, spring=move suddenly or quickly forward, exclaim=speaking suddenly loudly. Isabel Beck, in her book Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction recommends working on about 5 words for a selection.

In addition, we have created two Frayer Maps (below) for the words highlighted in green. We have included a lot of information on these two examples for courser and down of a thistle. You may want to reduce the content depending upon the skill set of your students.

“The purpose of the Frayer Model (Frayer, 1969; Buehl, 2001) is to identify and define unfamiliar concepts and vocabulary….The model prompts students to understand words within the larger context of a reading selection, as it asks students to analyze the concept/word (definition and characteristics) and then synthesize or apply this information by thinking of examples…. It also activates prior knowledge of a topic and builds connections. Research indicates that students who use graphic organizers to organize their ideas improve their comprehension and communication skills (Goeden, 2002; National Reading Panel, 2000).” (West Virginia Dept. of Education)

 Coursers image

Copyright © 2020 • WorksheetWorks.com
SOURCE: All Horse Breeds

Down of a Thistle image

Copyright © 2020 • WorksheetWorks.com
SOURCES: eNotes •  Daily Mail UK •  Palomar College


Saturday Evening Post image

There is much written on the history of our modern idea of Santa Claus. My dad recently found some Christmas cards he received from family and from neighbors in his apartment building in the late 1940s. He made a wall hanging with them (above) – they are all a similar depiction to the one described in this poem. Similar to these images is this Saturday Evening Post cover by J.C. Leyendecker on December 22, 1923 (100 years after the poem was published) called “Santa’s Lap.”

We are going to focus on the description of Santa Claus in the Clement Clarke Moore poem to show a Character Description as well as figurative language. In this stanza of the poem alone, there are many elaborated noun phrases which are examples rich in imagery, along with 7 similes and a metaphor (which are bolded).

  • He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
    And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
    A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
    And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
    His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
    His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
    His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
    And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
    The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
    And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
    He had a broad face and a little round belly
    That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
    He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

Below is a Character Map using Character Traits from this stanza only:

 Character Map sample

Santa’s “reindeer” were first mentioned in print in 1821 (2 years prior to the publishing of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas). William Gilley, a printer in New York, published a 16-page booklet: A New Year’s Present to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve, Part III, by an anonymous author who wrote:

  • Old Santeclaus with much delight
    His reindeer drives this frosty night.
    O'er chimneytops, and tracks of snow,
    To bring his yearly gifts to you.

Why reindeer? Reindeer have some characteristics that might make them useful when hauling Santa’s sleigh on frosty nights over chimney tops and through snow! Reindeer, also known as caribou, are members of the 60-subspecies Deer family, which also includes elk, moose, white tailed deer. Reindeer are mostly domesticated and found in Northern Europe, the boreal forest, and arctic tundra (the North Pole!) whereas Caribou are wild and found in North America. They can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour in short bursts and can run for long periods of time at 25 miles per hour. They are relatively tame and will often let people approach them from several yards away.

What are the similarities and differences among DEER and REINDEER? See the Compare/Contrast Map from our ThemeMaker® Manual below.

Compare Contrast sample

SOURCES: Pediaa.com • US Food & Drug AdministrationDeer Worlds


Please visit our Facebook Page over the next day or so to see videos of Maryellen retelling ’Twas The Night Before Christmas and talking about some of the vocabulary and expository features that we discussed in this Blog post.

We wish you the happiest and healthiest holiday season!


Sheila Moreau
Sheila Moreau

Author

Sheila M. Moreau, M.Ed. is vice president at MindWing Concepts. Her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology is from St. Anselm College and Master’s of Education degree from Cambridge College. Sheila has twenty years of experience in marketing and sales in the telecommunications, commercial real estate, fundraising and educational publishing industries. Sheila co-authored The Essential SGM® with Maryellen Moreau, drawing upon her experience in her graduate studies. Sheila was on the Early Literacy Advisory Board of Cherish Every Child (Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation),; she sits on the Board of Directors for the International VolleyBall Hall of Fame and serves as Co-Chair of Marketing and Sponsorship for the St. Patrick’s Committee of Holyoke, Inc.



1 Response

Judy Herrell

December 22, 2020

Your work is marvelous and of such high quality! Taking this beautiful poem to such elegant educational heights is a true hallmark of your care and understanding of the education of a young child! Thank you for all your work and Merry Christmas!

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