Prime your class for engagement and achievement with The Great Gatsby pre-reading activities. Even advanced students benefit from an insightful introduction when starting an unfamiliar text. Select the pre-reading lessons / worksheets that best align to your instructional goals.
Overview: The Great Gatsby Pre-reading Activities
1. Introductory Slideshow
2. Anticipation Guide
3. Primary Source Gallery: The Roaring Twenties
4. Symbolism Refresher Activity
5. Unreliable Narrators (and How to Spot Them)
6. What does Modernism look like? (fine art activity)
7. Party like Gatsby (budget activity)
8. Style Preview
9. Historical Context Articles (nonfiction)
10. Personal Essay: Friends and Frenemies
1) Introductory Slideshow
Give students a helpful preview of the story and identify key literary concepts and elements. The Great Gatsby Pre-reading PowerPoint contains 35 slides introducing the characters, setting, historical context, theme subjects, and Fitzgerald’s style.
This resource is available in PDF or the larger PowerPoint file (PPTX). The slideshow introduces the characters and the initial situation, but it does not spoil the plot events. You may also want to use the notes worksheet that accompanies the presentation.
2) Anticipation Guide
How can you subtly introduce a novel’s theme subjects while still allowing the students to receive the author’s messages organically as they read? Anticipation guides prompt thought-provoking discussions on key theme subjects without establishing the ultimate themes developed by the text.
Students appreciate the opportunity to share their own views on life and human nature before considering the perspectives of the author. For example, students can discuss their opinions regarding wealth and privilege without knowing the corresponding message developed in The Great Gatsby.Anticipation-Guide-THE-GREAT-GATSBY
Each statement in the anticipation guide correlates to a major theme in the novel. There are ten prompts on this one-page worksheet (PDF). Read on for more pre-reading questions and activities.
3) Primary Source Gallery: The Roaring Twenties
This pre-reading activity gets students exploring historical context by asking them to apply critical thinking skills to primary source visuals. Each group will study, analyze, and research one primary source image from “The Roaring Twenties Gallery” in order to share their findings and analysis with the class.
Group presentations should explain…
- Relevant terms
- 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 details from your research
- Possible connections to The Great Gatsby
4) Symbolism Refresher Activity
Fitzgerald uses symbolism extensively and to profound effect. This The Great Gatsby pre-reading activity prepares students to trace the development of meanings intertwined with the green light, the Valley of Ashes, Gatsby’s car, the geography of Long Island, the billboard of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, and the rest.
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 behind the symbol.
You might conclude that your students would benefit from a more extensive review of symbolism. Assign a short story for students to analyze with an emphasis on major symbols. The worksheet shown below is not specific to any one story.
Short story suggestions:
- “Marigolds” by Eugenia W. Collier (5 pages)—easy
- “Everyday Use” (8 pages) by Alice Walker—moderate
- “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett (7 pages)—moderate
- “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (12 pages)—challenging
5) Unreliable Narrators (and How to Spot Them)
It may be necessary to establish that narration should often be taken with a grain of salt. The lesson that follows reminds students to think critically about the point of view as they read.
- What is the narrator’s tone?
- Does the narrator take different tones toward certain subjects or people?
- What information do they emphasize?
- Is any information omitted?
- What motivates the narrator to share the story?
Note: This The Great Gatsby pre-reading lesson may be unnecessary for savvy readers.
Can you trust the source? This question is important when conducting research, but it is also important in reading fiction. Can you think of any instances in stories (including movies) where the narration turned out to be less than trustworthy?
The narrator might not understand the truth or they may perceive the events through a personal bias. The result might be as minor as diminishing certain details or as major as fabricating the entire story.
Helpful clip: “Who Can you Trust? Unreliable Narrators” (8 minutes) from PBS Digital.
Read the narrative carefully in order to evaluate the reliability of the narrator. Is the narrator trustworthy and fair? How much should we believe?
- “The Cask of Amontillado” (5 pages) by Edgar Allen Poe – EASY
- “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (10 Pages) by A. Pierce – MODERATE
- “The Yellow Wallpaper” (15 pages) by Charlotte P. Gilman – CHALLENGING
Nick Carraway narrates The Great Gatsby and provides our only access to the details of the places, people, and events. How much faith should we place in his telling?
Think about 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.
6) What does Modernism look like?
What is Romanticism? What is Realism? What is Modernism? Fine art can provide an engaging access point for students learning about literary movements. For many students visual representations mean more than lists of definitions. In this activity, recognizing Modernism in fine art creates a stepping stone for students learning about Modernism in literature.
What comes to mind when you think of the word “modern?”
What might the word modern mean when talking about art or literature?
Many creative works can be viewed as part of a larger artistic movement. For example, the famed revenge tale The Count of Monte Cristo is an example of Romanticism. Literature experts view The Great Gatsby as a work of Modernism.
What does that mean?
Realism (circa 1850-1900): An artistic movement portraying realistic people and relatable experiences. Includes familiar places and flawed people (often from the lower classes). Developed as a response to Romanticism.
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.
OK, but what do these fancy ideas look like?
We will visualize Modernism by analyzing examples in fine art. Start with a specific painting to guide your exploration. Be prepared to share the work and your knowledge with the class.
After familiarizing yourself with the work and its importance, 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.)
Note: Artistic movements do not follow orderly timelines. You will see elements of Modernism prior to WWI and elements of realism in modern art. Just go with it.
Related Post: The Great Gatsby Unit Plan: 23 Lessons and Materials
7) Party like Gatsby (budget activity)
The roaring, hedonistic, lavish parties hosted by Jay Gatsby have fascinated generations of readers, but what such an event cost? This activity asks students to create a budget (in today’s dollars) for a Gatsby-esque party.
The original lesson follows reading #1 (Chapters 1-3) of the unit, but it could also be a fun way to introduce the novel’s iconic party settings and descriptions. To use as a pre-reading activity, share party clips from a film adaptation or excerpts from the beginning of Chapter 3.
Clip: “The Great Gatsby 2013 Party Scene” (5 minutes) from Warner Bros.
From Chapter 3:
At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough coloured lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.
By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colours, and hair bobbed in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.
8) Style Preview
Students may initially be overwhelmed or confused by Fitzgerald’s use of language. Mediate this challenge by preparing the students with key excerpts from the novel or shorter works by the author.Moonspell-activity
Recommended Short Stories:
“The Ice Palace” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
Southern socialite Sally Carrol Happer is bored with her predictable life. Her friends are surprised and dismayed to learn that she is engaged to Harry Bellamy, an unknown Yankee. She brushes off their concerns; she intends to live a new life on a large scale.
“Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1931)
This story is set in the year after the stock market crash of 1929. Flashbacks give insight into the protagonist’s life back in the Jazz Age. It includes several references to the Great Depression and how the protagonist has had to adapt to changes in fortune.
“Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)
Teenage Dexter works part-time as a caddie at a golf club. On the job he meets a rich and spoiled girl named Judy Jones. He quits the job to avoid serving as Judy’s caddie; he cannot accept being one of her servants. Their paths cross again as they age.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)
Benjamin is born an old man and ages in reverse until he becomes a baby. Fitzgerald wrote, “This story was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain’s to the effect that it was a pity that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end.”
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
Marjorie makes it clear that her visiting cousin, Bernice, is a detriment to her social life. Bernice does not have the grace and charisma to keep men’s attention. Bernice takes her cousin’s advice to become more alluring, but the advice comes at a price.
The Offshore Pirate” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
Ardita Farnam is on a trip to Florida. When her boat is captured by pirates, she falls in love with the captain. This story originally ended with the weak explanation that it was all a dream.
“The Jelly Bean” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)
A young man becomes a delivery boy after his father’s untimely death and soon descends into the seedier side of life and its cheap thrills. He becomes ashamed of his reputation as a “Jelly Bean” when he meets woman who makes him want more from life.
9) Historical Context Articles (nonfiction)
Incorporate nonfiction texts and explore historical context with these relevant articles. For this The Great Gatsby pre-reading activity you might have the entire class read the same article or assign student groups different articles. If time allows, student groups can share what they learned with the class.
Think about our society today.
- What are the strengths and successes of our society today?
- What are the pitfalls or shortcomings of our society today?
The Great Gatsby is an entertaining story that is also a critique American society. 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
- Fun clip: “Jazz Age Dance Moves” (3 minutes) from Vintage Swing Dance
- “What Caused the Roaring Twenties? Not the End of a Pandemic (Probably)” by Lila Thulin
- “The Lost Generation” by Mike Kubic
- “World War I and the Great Migration” from U.S. House of Representatives
- “Jazz Age New York” by Caelynn Robinson
- “The Soaring 20s” from Forbes Magazine
- “A New African American Identity: The Harlem Renaissance” from NMAAHC
- “The Roaring Twenties” by Mike Kubic
- “The 19th Amendment at 100” by Alex Cohen
- “Flappers in the Roaring Twenties” by Jennifer Rosenberg
- “Henry Ford and the Auto Assembly Line” by Jennifer Goss
- “Unintended Consequences” by Michael Lerner
10) Personal Essay: Friends and Frenemies
One of the most confounding aspects of adulthood is the complexity of friendship. High school students recognize this issue as their relationships develop, change, and sometimes dissolve. Before exposing students to the iconic frenemies found in The Greet Gatsby, encourage them to reflect on friendship in a personal essay.
In The Great Gatsby you will meet a memorable circle of friends. Some of these “friendships” are not exactly healthy or supportive. Explain your views on friendship in the form of a personal essay. You can take this topic in any direction you choose. Support your ideas with details and examples from your experience.
NOTE: Personal, but not too personal! Do not share anything that you want to keep private!
To start thinking about your views on friendship, consider the following:
- What are the different forms of friendship that you see in life?
- What personal experiences have influenced your views on friendship?
- How are adult friendships different than childhood friendships?
- Can you be friends with someone that you do not respect?
- Can you be friends with someone even if you do not care about their wellbeing?
- Do you know people that are “frenemies?” What does this even mean?
Note: This The Great Gatsby pre-reading activity originally comes from later in the unit when students have the examples of Nick, Jordan, Tom, Gatsby, Daisy, and the rest to use as illustrations.
Wrap-up: The Great Gatsby Pre-reading Activities
Thanks for checking out The Great Gatsby Pre-reading Activities. Expert teachers know that preparing students before reading an unfamiliar text pays significant dividends. If these The Great Gatsby introduction activities / worksheets align to your instructional goals, consider using the comprehensive The Great Gatsby unit from TeachNovels.