Socratic Seminar: The Climax to The Great Gatsby

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SWBAT write an argument and discuss their claim using an analysis of substantive topics or texts regarding the climax to The Great Gatsby.

Big Idea

The climax to The Great Gatsby proves to be as elusive as the green light.


This lesson is a carry-over and review of the prior day's lesson.  Today, we go over Chapter 8 and review which event is characterized as the climax to The Great Gatsby.  Often, students offer varying opinions.  That is why I chose to use the Socratic Seminar format to give students a forum to debate their answers.  I am hoping students will critique each answer and offer specific evidence (RL 11-12 1) to back up what they say.  I will probably have to facilitate this seminar; my hope is down the road I will be able to get students to run the whole show. 

Lastly, we review "The River Merchant's Wife."  I am trying to kill two birds one stone with this one:  first, I will use the assignment to emphasize more of the poetry of the era and use the homework assignment as a review of significant elements to The Great Gatsby.

Unit 1 Poetry Vocabulary Test

20 minutes

The attached is the third vocabulary test related to The Great Gatsby.  Students also receive another list of vocabulary words in which they are assigned one vocabulary word from a list of words related to selected poetry read in this unit.   

Each student is assigned a vocabulary word from an assigned list (Gothic Vocabulary).  Students will look up their word in the dictionary and create a flashcard.  Teacher explains the difference between connotation (meaning associated with the word) and denotation (the exact meaning of the word.)  Students will create a flashcard with the following information:

  • One side: Visual representing the meaning of the word
  • Second side: 

                     Latin and Greek Roots

                     part of speech

                     Connotation: "What does word sound like?"

                     Denotation: exact meaning of word

                     Write the word in a sentence demonstrating proper usage.

Students will present their flashcard to the class, noting all the listed information.  Flashcards will be reviewed each day in a whole-class activities.  Students will be asked to recall information on flashcard.

Additionally, students should learn a few words a night as an on-going homework assignment.

Socratic Seminar: The Climax to The Great Gatsby

30 minutes

In the prior day's lesson, I asked students to consider two points as they read Chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby.  The first point that I wanted them to consider was the novel's climax.  There are so many events that happen in The Great Gatsby which involve some build up and could qualify as the high point of suspense.  The question is:  Which event is the most suspenseful? 

Secondly, I want students to think of Gatsby as a Christ figure.  To get them to think in this light I asked students to consider how Gatsby sacrifices himself for Daisy.  Why does he so willingly offer himself as the killer of Myrtle when Daisy is guilty and does not offer any remorse for what she has done?  I also emphasize the passage in the chapter where Gatsby "shoulders the mattress and started for the pool."  I also point out another line in the chapter: "Once he stopped and shifted it a little and the chauffeur asked if he needed help, but he shook his head..."  This last line is a reference to one of the 12 apostles who offers to help Jesus.  Now, depending on the level of the class and their knowledge of religion, I may have to offer some explanation, but I will see how far I can go before students have no idea what I'm talking about.

For homework, students were asked to prepare a quick write regarding the climax and the Christ figure analogy.  For the first part of the Socratic Seminar, we are going to focus on the climax and see where that leads us.  If we have more time and students are really responding, we will throw in the Christ figure analogy.  (This is the first exposure to the Socratic Seminar for students. I have also amended the procedure a little.)

The process:

  • We sit in a circle with one chair in the middle.  The chair in the middle is called the "hot seat."; we then review rules:

Students only speak when it is their turn and questions are asked when a student's name has been called.  I will use popsicle sticks to determine who goes first and who will ask questions.

  • Popsicle stick drawn identifies the first student to offer their answer to the question:  What is the climax to The Great Gatsby?  They then sit in the hot seat.  (Because students prepared a response for homework, they can reference their quick write.)
  • Next popsicle stick identifies a student who will ask the speaker a question such as: "What led you to your decision?  What evidence in the novel supports your decision?" "If you could get inside the head of F. Scott Fitzgerald, why do you think he chose this event as the climax?"  "How different would the book be if Fitzgerald did not include this event?"
  • This procedure continues until everyone has served time in the "hot seat."

I play a short excerpt from the enclosed video to show students what a Socratic Seminar looks like and sounds like.  It is really only necessary to play :40 to about 1:20 for students to get the gist.

For the climax question, students usually argue over how much drama is in each possible climax.  They commonly whittle down the possible climax choices to the Daisy "loved you too" comment in the hotel, Myrtle's murder, and Gatsby's murder.  Students oppose the Daisy scene in the hotel because it lacks the violence and drama of the other two choices.  Some students don't believe that Gatsby's death is the best choice because it occurs after the death of Myrtle when readers have been numbed a bit by the violence.

For the Christ figure analogy, I will simply ask: Is Gatsby a Christ figure?  Why? or Why not?  Students commonly agree he is because he sacrifices so much for Daisy; however, they do agree that he is a bit delusional in his affection for Daisy.  This "delusion" usually becomes a hot debate among students.

The procedure will be repeated as above.

Review "The River Merchant's Wife"

20 minutes

The prior day's lesson involved notes regarding Ezra Pound and his Imagist Movement.  This was a popular poetic form during Modernism and the 1920s.  Today, students will read the poem and analyze the it for theme and poetic techniques.  As a review, I will present a PowerPoint of important poetic techniques that they should know to deconstruct this poem and arrive at meaning.

To add consistency to our deconstruction of poems, I use a generic poetry critique sheet for all poems.  Therefore, not all techniques will be existent in any one particular poem.  I have students read the poem and answer questions on the back.  I usually have them work in pairs or small groups to complete the poetry critique sheet.  This second part (the critique sheet) can be challenging for students.  They often find greater success when they have a chance to bounce ideas off each other.

The critque sheet is handed in and counted as classwork.  I circulate around the room to keep students on task and to answer questions.  I am looking for students to be able to deconstruct the poem and fish out poetic devices, structure (rhyme and meter), metaphors, etc.


Homework is for students to write a poem in the same style as "The River Merchant's Wife" describing a scene or event from The Great Gatsby.

I would like to accomplish two things in assigning this homework:  First, I would like to reinforce the ideas behind the Imagist Movement, and secondly, I would like to review the main plot points and themes of The Great Gatsby.  Therefore, my plan is to assign students to write an imagist poem in the same style as Pound's "The River-Merchant's Wife."

The criteria is as follows:

  • Students will choose which of the Gatsby characters will be the speaker of the poem.
  • Students may choose any happening in the book such as how Daisy and Gatsby met; they may also provide a description of one of his parties, etc.
  • The stanzas should be constructed in the same style as Pound's poem with a series of word-pictures that tell a story.  The poem should read like a slide show.
  • Emphasis should be made with using poetic devices to help tell/show the story.  Students must use assonance, consonance, metaphor, simile, etc.
  • There should be six stanzas comprised of at least quatrains or larger.

My goal in this assignment is for students to see some similarities between Daisy and the river merchant's wife.  Both characters lose their love and fear loneliness and a life without their love.  Daisy resorts to a life without Gatsby and trades up to be with Tom.  She essentially trades love for wealth.  In a way, the river merchant;'s wife trades life with her husband for loneliness as he must go to work to support their family.  This assignment demonstrates the difficult choices people make when it comes to love.