Gatsby's Review: Themes, Dreams, and Schemes

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SWBAT determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development through strong and thorough textual evidence.

Big Idea

Boats against the current: Delving into The Great Gatsby to glean theme.


This lesson provides a review and culmination of all the lessons taught in this unit.  First, we will begin examining some of the themes in The Great Gatsby.  The last section of the character notebook provides a place to add themes and how these themes connect to each character.  I already dove pretty deep into the American Dream theme so students are quite familiar with that idea. 

The first step to inspire students to begin thinking of possible themes is to place them in cooperative learning groups so that they can compare ideas.  I will instruct students to comb through their character notebooks to answer the following questions:

What repeated  ideas and concepts do all the characters share?

For example, many of the major characters all have questionable values.  Tom is a racist, Daisy is superficial and a murderer, Gatsby is a bootlegger.  Only Nick, through his self-analysis, professes to be the most honest character.  Therefore, honesty or morality may be a theme that transcends through the book.

Secondly, many of the characters are still connected to their past: Daisy rekindles her past with Gatsby; Tom tries to run from his past as an athlete, seen through his reactions when anyone refers to him as "hulking" or "the polo player;" and of course, Gatsby tries to recreate his past.  Nick escapes his past by moving to New York to seek his own fortune and not rely on his family's affluence.  Therefore, recreation or a connection to the past is a second theme.

Once themes are identified, students will connect either directly or indirectly to each theme.

Daily Language Practice

10 minutes

In this short section of the lesson, we do some grammatical review.  I call it the Daily Language Practice.  I put two sentences with grammatical mistakes on the projector or overhead.  The class writes the sentences on paper.  I then solicit the class to volunteer which errors they see.  This is a great activity to begin class.  It allows for a smooth segue to English class, and it offers a great review of grammar for the SATs.

This activity is CCSS aligned as it demonstrates command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Cooperative Learning Group: Theme

30 minutes


In this section, I will place students in cooperative learning groups so that they may collectively pool their resources to identify and evaluate several themes in the novel.  In this activity, I will stack the deck by choosing groups and ensure that groups contain students with varying aptitudes.  Groups will be comprised of three students with specific roles.  All students will share in the investigation of theme, but each member will play a specific part.  Groups will elect a spokesperson to present findings to the class; another student will be a facilitator and keep the group on track and monitor time, and another student will write down the theme and evidence to be submitted to me.  

To make this activity more visual and easier for students to see the evidence that will eventually lead them to theme, I will ask students to take a white-lined piece of paper and fold into four columns.  At the top of each column, students will label Nick, Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby.  Off to the side there will be two items students will list:  Character traits (circle ones in common) and characters' connection to future and past.  (See attached resource).  I will ask students to list character traits of all four characters.  This information is easily found in the character notebook under "Description."  Students will then circle commonalities.  Finally, I will ask students to note how each character is connected to his or her future, past, and present.  Lastly, students will provide text evidence to support their answers.

The graphic organizer is sort of a map to lead students to two themes: morality and recreation of the past.  I have already talked about the American Dream theme.

Before beginning this activity, I will show students the above video as a model to show how to extract a theme from a novel.  This video talks about the American Dream as a theme.  Following the video, I will ask students the following question:

In importing the theme of the American Dream into his novel, what statement is Fitzgerald making about the American Dream and the pursuit of it?

Gatsby Test Review: Jeopardy

30 minutes

Following the theme activity, I usually find that students are quite drained so we play Gatsby Jeopardy to give students some fun while they recall events from the novel.  I also give students an opportunity to win extra points for the test.  Depending on the level of the class, that may be five or ten extra points added on to their score.

To make the jeopardy game more Common Core aligned, I am going to have students support their answers with evidence from the text.  Students will have to have their books out and be prepared to answer the questions, but also link the answer to a quote from the text.  I usually split the class in half so there are plenty of students to look up quotes.  Plus, they may use their character notebooks to find text to link to the answers.

If students answer incorrectly, the opposing team has a chance to steal.  If no one knows the answer, then we review whole-class.  The questions to jeopardy are available on the link below.