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Great Gatsby Unit Plan FEATURED

The Great Gatsby Unit Plan takes students from pre-reading through the final project with lesson plans addressing characterization, historical context, Modernism, symbolic elements, theme development, point of view, structural effects, and style. Even if you omit lessons, the unit plan provides a helpful structure for teaching The Great Gatsby.

Overview: The Great Gatsby Unit Plan

▪ Pre-reading: The Roaring Twenties
▪ Party like Gatsby (Chs. 1-3)
▪ The Great Gatsby Mystery (Chs. 4-5)
▪ What Does Modernism Look Like? (Chs. 6-7)
▪ Crashing Symbols (Chs. 8-9)
▪ Follow-up: “I’m Trying to Tell You Something, Old Sport.”
▪ Project: The Geography of Desire

Pre-reading Lessons

Slideshow: Meet The Great Gatsby

Pre-reading Slideshow PDF or the larger PowerPoint file

Give students a preview of the story and the key literary elements. The presentation contains 35 slides introducing the characters, setting, historical context, central theme subjects, Fitzgerald’s style, the reading schedule, and so on. It introduces the characters and the initial situation but does not spoil any surprises or plot developments.

You may want students to use the notes worksheet that accompanies the presentation.

Anticipation Guide / Discussing Theme Subjects

Anticipation Guide PDF

Create anticipation and guide engaging discussions by having students reflect on these thought-provoking statements. Each of the statements highlights a key theme subject without diminishing the reading experience. For example, students can discuss their opinions regarding wealth and privilege before tracing the development of messages in The Great Gatsby.

Students appreciate the opportunity to share their own views on life and human nature before considering the messages developed by the author.

Historical Context: The Jazz Age

Use nonfiction texts to provide historical context and a cursory understanding the “Roaring Twenties.”  Students can all read the same article, or you can divide the reading options amongst collaborative groups with the aim of sharing knowledge at the end of the lesson.  Use whatever note-taking format you typically use for nonfiction.

To understand Fitzgerald’s views on American society in the 1920s, we must have some understanding of the historical context. What must we understand about the era known as “The Jazz Age?”

Helpful clip: “The Roaring 20’s” (13 minutes) from CrashCourse

Historical Context Articles:

The Great Gatsby Lesson Plans: Reading 1

(Chapters 1-3)

Discussion Set #1

Great Gatsby lesson plans discussion set

Discussion Set #1 PDF

The Great Gatsby unit includes one discussion set for each reading.  Discussion sets for each chapter are also available.

Suggestion: Assign each student group one prompt from each of the three levels. Each group responds to two questions and one quote (3 responses total). Close the activity by having the collaborative groups share their responses with the class so that all topics have been explored.

It’s All in the Details: Characterization

Characterization Page

Characterization Page – Teaching Materials

The Great Gatsby is largely character-driven, and the beginning of the novel overflows with telling characterization details.  Assign each group one character to analyze based on the novel so far. If time allows, have groups share their conclusions.

Warm-up: Analyze the following description of Tom Buchanan from Chapter 1:

Now he was a sturdy, straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body. His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked—and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts. (Fitzgerald 7)

Discuss the excerpt as a class. Emphasize the importance of word choice and direct characterization. Then transition to collaborative groups as students use the characterization page in analyzing one of the main characters:

Wrap-up: Based on the novel so far, describe Fitzgerald’s overall approach in bringing these iconic characters to life in our imaginations.

The Roaring Twenties: Primary Source Gallery

Roaring Twenties Gallery PDFThe Great Gatsby Unit

This lesson uses specific primary sources as a starting point for further investigation of historical context. This approach works particularly well for visual learners. Each group uses one primary source as the focal point for an investigation of a relevant topic (e.g. prohibition). Students should not feel limited to their specific source; the investigation may take unexpected directions.

Helpful clip: “The Roaring 20s” (6 minutes) class project by Tom Bolles

The Great Gatsby transports readers to the hedonistic parties of New York in the Roaring Twenties (a scene that Fitzgerald knew well). Despite a century of separation, some aspects 1920s life resemble life today.

        • What similarities do you note?
        • What are some important differences?

A primary source is an artifact, document, recording, or any other source of information that was created at the time under study. Photographs, prints, video, and newspaper clips can all be primary sources if they originate from the specified time and place.

Your group will present one primary source image from The Roaring Twenties Gallery. Conduct outside research to gain expertise on your primary source and the relevant historical topics.

Presentations should address…

        • The subject and revealing details.
        • Context. (How does it fit within the history of the era?)
        • Purpose and audience. (You may have to make reasonable guesses.)
        • Informative quotes or details from your research.
        • Connections to The Great Gatsby (if possible).

Wrap-up: What are the key takeaways from today’s gallery? What did you learn? Did your findings help you better understand the setting of The Great Gatsby?

Party Like Gatsby

Party Planning - Teaching The Great Gatsby

Party Planning Handout

Teaching The Great Gatsby provides some fun learning opportunities. Have you students compare the two parties portrayed in the novel so far before planning their own Gatsby-inspired event.  Begin by studying the juxtaposition of Tom / Myrtle’s party and Gatsby’s party which illustrates important differences between the respective hosts. Emphasize the extravagance of the Gatsby party by having students create a corresponding budget in today’s dollars.

Fun clip: “Do not wear this to a Great Gatsby theme party.” (3 min.) from Vintagebursche

Fun clip: “The Great Gatsby Party 2018” (2 minutes) from The Capitale

Fun clip: “The Great Gatsby 2013 Party Scene” (5 minutes) from Warner Bros.

Warm-up: What is your idea of an epic party? What would your ideal party include? (Do not incriminate yourself! This conversation is on the record!) Would you want to attend a Gatsby party as described in the novel? Why or why not?

In the first reading of The Great Gatsby, we attend two very different Jazz Age parties. The parties give us insights into the era, but a comparison of the parties illustrate differences between the characters of Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby.

Work with your group to analyze the descriptions of the parties. What do the details reveal about the respective hosts?

Closing: What is Tom’s approach to hosting a party? What does this say about his personality? What is Gatsby’s approach? Might this give some insight to this mysterious character?  What inferences can you make?

The Great Gatsby Lesson Plans: Reading 2

(Chapters 4-5)

Discussion Set #2

Discussion Set 2 Great Gatsby teaching unit

Discussion Set #2The Great Gatsby Unit

Suggestion: Assign each student group one prompt from each of the three levels. Each group responds to two questions and one quote (3 responses total). Close the activity by having the collaborative groups share their responses with the class so that all topics have been explored.

The Great Gatsby Mystery

Great Gatsby Mystery grade resources

The Great Gatsby Mystery PDF

This reading develops the sense of mystery surrounding Jay Gatsby and his fortune. Is Gatsby a total fraud? If so, what is the truth? Have students analyze the contradictory evidence and make a final prediction.  Wrap-up by having students think about the author’s probable purpose in structuring the novel to create ambiguity and mystery.

Warm-up: To understand the social hierarchy (levels) in The Great Gatsby, you must understand the distinction between “old money” (generational wealth) and “new money.” To this day, the term nouveau riche or “new rich” has a derogatory connotation for some. What might explain the prejudice held by “old money” people against “new money” people? 

By the end of Chapter 5, Nick does not know what to believe about Gatsby.  He finds Gatsby’s “God’s truth” about his past laughable but is convinced enough to wonder where Gatsby keeps the rubies from his adventures.

Use the handout to review the evidence, make inferences, and reach a conclusion regarding Gatsby.  Include everything from Gatsby’s behavior to party rumors to Nick’s reflections to physical evidence (items).

Wrap-up: Fitzgerald’s approach to creating mystery surrounding Gatsby is not rocket science. He gives some evidence that Gatsby is telling the truth and some that Gatsby is a fraud. What is the author’s purpose? How does the ambiguity aid characterization? What theme subjects are developed by the mystery? How might the mystery impact the plot?

Symbolism Refresh

Symbols and Famous Titles Slideshow

Some students benefit from a review illustrating literary symbolism.  This lesson starts with an fast-paced audience participation warm-up. Students then advance to dissecting the symbolism in a short story.  Wrap-up with predictions about which objects, places, events, or individuals in The Great Gatsby are developing added layers of meaning as symbols.

Warm-up: Symbols and Famous Titles Challenge! Each slide will display a symbol from a famous title. Be first to call out the title (movie, book, or poem) and you win. For super-secret-mega-bonus points, identify a larger meaning(s) behind the symbol.

F. Scott Fitzgerald uses symbols to develop the themes of The Great Gatsby.  Some of his symbols are obvious while others are subtle.  Prepare to analyze Fitzgerald’s use of symbolism by analyzing the symbolism in an unrelated short story.

Symbolism Analysis Handout Short Story

Symbolism Practice PDFThe Great Gatsby Novel Study

Short story suggestions:

Writing with Imagery

Imagery The Great Gatsby Novel Study

Imagery Handout – The Great Gatsby Novel Study

For many of the novel’s fans, Fitzgerald’s original, intricate, and haunting language makes The Great Gatsby peerless in American literature. The cornerstone of his style is his use of imagery. This lesson asks students to analyze the imagery in specific excerpts from the novel before producing striking imagery in an original composition.

Authors try to include an interesting premise, compelling characters, plot twists, and the rest, but today we focus on imagery. Imagery engages the “mind’s eye” and kick-starts imaginations through word choice.  Vivid details and figures of speech allow the reader to imagine the story elements with their five senses.

Analyze imagery by thinking about…

Key words: Words of special importance in creating the image. Some words connote additional feelings or connections.

Figurative language: The meaning exceeds or deviates from literal explanation—metaphors, similes, personification, idioms, analogy, hyperbole, and the rest.

Sensory language: Descriptions that help imaginations see, hear, smell, taste, or touch.

Wrap-up: Demonstrate your mastery of imagery through creative writing. Describe a person, place, or event (real or imagined) in vivid detail. (Think about key words, figurative language, and sensory details.)

The Great Gatsby Lesson Plans: Reading 3

(Chapters 6-7)

Discussion Set #3 –The Great Gatsby Unit

Discussion Set 3 - Great Gatsby Curriculum

Discussion Set #3 PDF

Suggestion: Assign each student group one prompt from each of the three levels. Each group responds to two questions and one quote (3 responses total). Close the activity by having the collaborative groups share their responses with the class so that all topics have been explored.

Saying vs. Meaning (dialogue and subtext)

THE GREAT GATSBY Lesson Plans_Page_25

Writing Dialogue Slides

The dialogue in The Great Gatsby contains subtext (deceit, ambiguity, irony, and implication). This reflects the nuances of speech in real life. Fitzgerald’s characters are especially cagey in their conversations. Have students analyze the dialogue in The Great Gatsby to recognize the subtext — what is meant but not said.  Extend the lesson by having students write dialogue in proper paragraph form.

Great Gatsby analyze handout

Saying vs. Meaning Handout

Nick Carried Away (point of view)

How much faith can we put in Nick’s telling of the story? This lesson gets students thinking critically about point of view and consider the device of unreliable narration.

Reflect on what Nick says on the first page. What does he want us to think of him?

      … In consequence I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought—frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon—for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.

      And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. … (Fitzgerald 3)

Work with a group to find and analyze textual evidence regarding the reliability of Nick as a narrator. (You do not need to pick a side; include evidence in both directions.)

        • Is he being honest about himself?
        • Why does he interrupt the telling of the story at certain points?
        • Is he being unfair to some characters and overly generous to others?
        • Does he seem to be minimizing or emphasizing certain details?
        • Do any events seem downright doubtful as he tells them?

Extend this lesson by including other narratives that emphasize unreliable narration:

What Does Modernism Look Like?

Modernism in Fine Art The Great Gatsby Lesson Plans Grade 11

In teaching The Great Gatsby, it is essential to explore the larger movement of Modernism.  This lesson uses Modernism in fine art to help students think about Modernism in literature.

Modernism (circa 1900-1950): A break with the past and a period of experimentation associated with the period after World War I. Modernists felt a growing alienation from Victorian morality, optimism, and convention. The horrors and consequences of WWI undermined humankind’s faith in the foundations of Western society. Modernists reflect a sense of disillusionment and fragmentation. Industrialization, urbanization, globalized capitalism, rapid social change, and advances in science, psychology, and political theory characterized the era. As a result, artists and writers explored new approaches and forms of expression.

We will visualize Modernism by analyzing examples of fine art. Start with a specific painting to guide your exploration.  Be prepared to present the artwork with the class. Familiarize yourself with the work and explain the…

      • Title and medium
      • Author (and biography if relevant)
      • Subject (and treatment)
      • Artistic movement
      • Modernism elements
      • Message or Mood
      • Techniques (creating emphasis)
      • Related works or artists (This could include performances, architecture, consumer goods, etc.)
      • Connections to The Great Gatsby (if possible)

The Great Gatsby Lesson Plans: Reading 4

(Chapters 8-9)

Discussion Set #4

Discussion Set 4 Great Gatsby Teaching Resources

Discussion Set #4 PDF

Suggestion: Assign each student group one prompt from each of the three levels. Each group responds to two questions and one quote (3 responses total). Close the activity by having the collaborative groups share their responses with the class so that all topics have been explored.

Despicable Them (social media)

THE GREAT GATSBY Lesson Plans_Page_32

Despicable Them (social media) PDF

This activity uses social media posts as a hook to get students analyzing characterization and theme development.  By this point in the curriculum, students should recognize the connections between specific characters and the development of specific themes.

Warm-up: Some people believe that social media brings out the worst in people. What do you think? Explain your views on the benefits and detriments of social media.

Choose one character to analyze. Then create social media posts in their name.

          • Nick Carraway
          • Jay Gatsby
          • Daisy Buchanan
          • Tom Buchanan
          • Myrtle Wilson
          • Jordan Baker

Tip: It is easy to create a reaction post. Perhaps the character is reflecting on an event in the novel, opining on a current event, reviewing a movie, or critiquing a restaurant.

Wrap-up: What does Fitzgerald want to show us through this character? What is the connected theme subject? What is the ultimate message?

Symbol Hunting

THE GREAT GATSBY Lesson Plans_Page_34

Symbol Hunt PDFThe Great Gatsby Curriculum

Teaching The Great Gatsby requires a thoughtful approach in helping students unravel the intricate layers of symbolism.  The symbol hunting activity provides a formulaic approach for students who may struggle with analyzing abstract concepts.

Warm-up: Authors often smack us in the face (figuratively) with symbols. For example, think about titles like “The Raven,” To Kill a Mockingbird, A Raisin in the Sun, The Crucible, Wuthering Heights, The Grapes of Wrath, and “Caged Bird.” Fitzgerald does not put a symbol in the title, but he does use symbolism extensively. Which people, objects, places, or events in this novel may have added layers of meaning?

Symbol list Great Gatsby materials

Conduct a symbol hunt. Find key evidence and analyze meanings attached to a specific symbol. Conclude by explaining how Fitzgerald uses the symbol to develop his ideas. Be ready to share your findings.

Use a searchable copy of The Great Gatsby to expedite the hunt. Identify the symbol or enter associated words in the Google Chrome “FIND” feature.

Eulogy for Gatsby

Challenge students to add meaning and reflection to Jay Gatsby’s funeral by composing a eulogy. In this writing challenge they will need to demonstrate mastery of point of view and incorporate effective public speaking devices.

Eulogy point of view options:

        • Nick
        • Daisy
        • You, the reader
        • Tom Buchanan
        • F. Scott Fitzgerald
        • Gatsby’s ghost (Why not?)
        • A minister
        • Henry C. Gatz (father)
        • Owl Eyes

Eulogy for Gatsby - THE GREAT GATSBY

Eulogy PDFThe Great Gatsby Teaching Resources

Wrap-up: “The Great Gatsby is a morality tale for America.” Sounds great, but what is the moral? What lessons are we supposed to learn from deaths of George, Myrtle, and Jay Gatsby?

Moral: a lesson, especially one concerning what is right or prudent, that can be derived from a story, a piece of information, or an experience. (Oxford Dictionary)

The Great Gatsby Unit: Follow-up Lessons

Theme Development

Theme Development - THE GREAT GATSBY

Theme Development Handout The Great Gatsby Unit

Now students can bring it all together. They will identify one important theme from the novel and delineate how connected elements develop and shape the message.  You can take this analysis to the next level by asking students to recognize how multiple themes interact and develop in concert.

Fitzgerald’s Style (excerpt experts)

Style Analysis PDFThe Great Gatsby Teaching Materials

Analyzing Fitzgerald’s language style intimidates even advanced readers.  This assignment breaks the task down to a manageable scale. The handouts include a style reference list and six separate excerpts.  Everyone can analyze the same passage or each group can study a different passage. By the end of the lesson, they should be able to use examples to support larger conclusions about Fitzgerald’s style.

Warm-up: Creation requires craft, and wherever there is craft there is style. We know how to describe a fashion designer’s style or a musician’s style, but what do we mean by an author’s style?

      • What are some words that could describe an author’s style?
      • Can you describe the style of some authors whose works you know?
      • What elements or methods make up an author’s style?

Thought experiment: Imagine that two authors write the same story in separate, isolated rooms. The authors have agreed upon the content (themes, characters, plot events, point of view, etc.) in advance. Even if the authors follow the plan perfectly, the descriptions, sentence formation, and word choice would differ when the results were compared. The differences reflect the authors’ unique styles.

Structure and Effects

Great Gatsby Structure Handout

Structure and Effects HandoutThe Great Gatsby Lesson Plans Grade 10

The plot structure of The Great Gatsby requires little analysis; Nick recalls his time in the NYC area and relates the events in chronological order with occasional tangents and diversion.  What deserves more attention is how Fitzgerald uses structural elements to create specific effects.  Elements like foreshadowing, omission, ambiguity, and dramatic irony create senses of mystery, tension, suspense, and surprise.  These elements combine to heighten the final sense of tragedy.

Structural Devices and Effects

  • Flashback: Describing events that already happened.
  • Pacing: The impression of speed (slow or fast) created by the writing.
  • Foreshadowing: Clues about what may happen in the narrative.
  • Plot twist / revelation: When the events take a profound or unexpected turn.
  • Narrative interruption: The telling stops for information of a different sort. This may be an explanation, a reproduced document, verses of poetry, or authorial intrusion.
  • Subplot / parallel plot: A smaller, complete story within the larger story.
  • Dramatic irony: When we have key information about the story and the characters do not.
  • Ambiguity: When the meaning or result is purposefully unclear.

Foiled Again! (character comparisons)

Great Gatsby Teaching Character Foils

Foiled Again! PDF – The Great Gatsby Unit

Start with the Character Quotes Quiz activity; this is a fun way to illustrate the similarities and differences in the characters. Students should recognize that characters like Tom and Gatsby have been strategically positioned to create contrast. Tom and Gatsby are warped, mirror images to one another.  They are both assertive, influential, avaricious, wealthy, fabulous, and possessive regarding Daisy, but it is the differences and the results of those differences that develop the themes.

What’s in a name?: Did you know that a tom is a male cat and a jay is a type of bird? What usually happens when a cat meets a bird?

Project – The Geography of Desire

Great Gatsby Project Map

The Great Gatsby Teaching Materials

Fitzgerald uses the locations in The Great Gatsby as thematic elements. The landscape reflects what Maureen Corrigan calls “…an inner geography of yearning.” The settings are more than just places for the events to occur; the locations add layers of meaning. Note: Whether you view the geography as symbolic or as a motif is a matter of semantics.

Challenge students to create a map explaining the role of geography in The Great Gatsby.  They should include visuals (images, icons, symbols, etc.) to represent the settings and make connections. Each location should include an image, an excerpt, and an explanation of its importance. This visual aid must illustrate how the geography of the novel interacts with and develops other elements.

Related Post: Top 10 THE GREAT GATSBY Project Options

Thanks for checking out The Great Gatsby Unit Plan!

Teaching The Great Gatsby can be approachable, rewarding, and even fun when you have effective and engaging lesson plans. If you feel that these ideas make the grade, download The Great Gatsby teaching guide which provides a comprehensive playbook with all the instructional materials you need. The Great Gatsby teaching materials (handouts and slideshows) come in file formats that you can modify.