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  • The Great Gatsby Mary Rezac and Shelby Friesz

    Target Class: 11th Grade, American Literature Time Frame: 50-minute lesson plans for three days of a unit on The Great Gatsby

    Essential Questions: 1. What is the American Dream? 2. Is the American Dream achievable? 3. Does striving for the American Dream lead to true happiness?

    Objectives: 1. Students will be able to explain and interpret the personal values of various characters in

    the novel. 2. Students will be able to apply their definition of the American Dream to characters

    values and actions in the novel. 3. Students will be able to apply their self-knowledge about happiness to the idea of the

    American Dream. 4. Students will empathize with characters by embodying a specific character to defend

    his/her actions through discussion and writing.

    Rationale: We chose the focus of the American Dream for the novel of The Great Gatsby for several reasons. First of all, our students are at critical moments in their lives - they are preparing for various tests (ACT, SAT, etc.) that will prepare them for college, which in turn will prepare them for life. Our students are likely feeling pressure and anxiety about what choices to make - should they choose a major and a career path based on salary alone? Or is there more to life, and happiness, that they should consider at this moment in their lives? The Great Gatsby explores these themes through the ideal of the American Dream. In The Great Gatsby in the Classroom: Searching for the American Dream, David Dowling says, The Great Gatsby has often been described as a portrait of the American dream gone bad. It has remained a force in American literature because it captures well the foundation of this country, leading the reader to questions the belief that honesty and hard work will lead to success (1).Characters strive to have it all - money, status, possessions, love - but they all end up unhappy. Characters use lies and deceit to achieve what they want, leading to increasing unhappiness despite the possessions or pieces of the American Dream they acquire. This novel provides a chance for our students to critically analyze and question the ideal of the American Dream in the characters lives, and see how this transfers to their own lives.

    As Carol Jago says in Classics in the Classroom, classic literature such as The Great Gatsby can show students how classic heroes struggle with the very same monsters we face today, (7). The Great Gatsby can provide an objective way for our students to view the way a culture of materialism born of the American Dream affects people, and in turn apply that to the materialistic culture by which they are surrounded every day. According to Jago: Powerful literary experiences expose young people to the complexity of the world around them, and as we have said, we believe The Great Gatsby has the power to do just that for our students. Dowling reaffirms this belief by saying, The dilemma is to find happiness in a world where people are too often judged on what they own. This is what makes the novel relevant today. It forces readers to think about their own values and relationships in a world too often mad about money (2), Furthermore, we believe this novel provides a rich literary experience for our students because of its complex use of themes, symbolism, language and literary devices which

  • provide even more opportunities for learning, as Jago encourages: The texts chosen for classroom study should be ones that students are unable to read without you, (2). We believe that with the proper scaffolding our students can both enjoy and learn a great deal from this novel. Again, Dowling confirms our beliefs: The Great Gatsby can be a difficult novel for many high school students. By modeling and guiding a careful analysis of the characters roles, relationships, and motivations, students will be able to examine their own attitudes about the influence of wealth in the 1920s and today (2).

    We also want to explore this complex issue because we think our students are asking for a chance tackle difficult questions. In a survey, our juniors indicated that they preferred discussion that allowed them to share their opinions, and they typically enjoyed doing this in a small-group discussion format. For this unit, we are experimenting with different discussion strategies to give students experience with all forms - large and small - in which they can be comfortable engaging in thoughtful, rigorous inquiry. In this three-day portion of the unit, we will allow students to think about their analyses before large-group discussion by having them keep a running double-entry diary. This use of the double-entry diary is an adaptation of an activity presented by Dowling in which he has students keep a chart of the characters values based on text clues (21). We are also providing a new form of discussion that creates a safer space for our quiet students by having them participate in a silent discussion. In Talking in Class, McCann et. al. say, The value of the silent discussion is that it gently nudges students into vocal discussion by allowing them to participate without placing themselves publicly on the line (171). This is reaffirmed by Peter Kaufman in his article Gaining Voice through Silence. He says, Everyones voice is heard and authenticated. Even if others disagreed with them, they will have a sense of validation knowing that their initial view resulted in a series of robust and informative responses (170-171). Our students need the opportunity to authentically express their opinions about topics that directly affect their lives - they are asking for these opportunities - and we are providing a number of opportunities for them to find the way with which they feel most comfortable. Through these discussion strategies, we will be inviting our students to engage entirely in their reevaluation of the American Dream in literature and in their personal lives.

    Introduction: Where have we been? At this point in our Great Gatsby unit, our students will have participated in two days of pre-reading activities. In order to set the stage for the historical context about the novel, students will have watched a 30 minute video about the 1920s. They filled out a know-wonder-learn journal before and after watching the video in order to get them to make predictions and connections between what theyve learned in history and how that connects to the novel they will be reading. On the second day of pre-reading, students will have participated in a tea party, focusing on quotes selected from the novel that relate to four aspects of the American Dream - honesty, wealth, social class, and marriage. Students have also read chapters 1 and 2 in The Great Gatsby (reading along with the audio tape in class) and have completed two double-entry diaries focusing on the values of the characters as seen through their quotes from student-selected passages. Where are we going and why? During this portion of the unit, we will move into specifically exploring the role of social class in The Great Gatsby. As we previously mentioned, we are focusing on the facets of the American Dream because our juniors are likely considering college and future careers. We focus these days on developing a sense of how the social class of the characters affect their struggle to find the American Dream because it will ask the students to evaluate whether everyone has a fair chance of achieving what is often thought to be a right of American citizens. Can people bridge

  • different levels of the social hierarchy? Can you start with nothing and move to the top? How much does your background affect your ability to truly achieve the American Dream, if that is even possible? At this point in their lives, our students are already asking themselves these big questions. Using this piece of classic literature allows them to analyze the role of social class in their personal search for the American Dream and determine whether that is necessarily the dream they want to chase. How are we going to get there? We will spend the first two days of this three-day section of the unit reading chapters three and four of The Great Gatsby. During these chapters, students are exposed to the first Gatsby party and also finally hear the truth about Jay and Daisys past relationship. They see that Gatsbys social standing during the party and during their courting are drastically different, affecting how others see him. They will continue to keep their double-entry diaries, in which they are tracking quotes from various characters and what these quotes reveal about the characters values. They will also be ranking the characters in their notebooks based on likability. During these rankings, we will have a large-group discussion that asks students to defend their placement of characters based on the values they have been tracking. Students will evaluate how the characters beliefs toward the various aspects of the American Dream are affecting what kind of morale and personality these characters embody. We will then challenge this thinking further on the third day of this three-day unit by engaging our students in a silent discussion about social class. Students will move between four stations that are specified for four characters in the novel (Daisy, Gatsby, Nick, and Myrtle). At each station, students will be presented a different form of media that reveals the background for the given character. Then they will write about whether they believe this character has an equal chance at achieving the American Dream based on this past. They will engage in a silent, written discussion as they rotate between stations. Then, we will bring it to the large group to discuss how the social class of the characters affected their chance at the American Dream. Every student will have