Describing Miss Havisham Makes Me Gag: Analyzing Dickens' Diction in Chapter 8

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SWABT determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text while reading and discussing chapter eight.

Big Idea

The diction and details used to describe Miss Havisham prove that language is powerful.

Getting Started

20 minutes

We will start class today with a short quiz on their homework. They were asked to read chapter 7 of Great Expectations, and I suggested that they take notes, but did not require it, since I wouldn't be checking them for a grade. Instead, the notes would be useful for the quiz. 

The quiz itself consists of 5 quotations from the text. Students need to give the speaker, or in one case give the name of the person described, and provide some analysis of said quote. This is a skill we have been developing since starting the text and I am confident that they can demonstrate their knowledge, even though they completed the reading independently. I am giving the quiz to emphasize the importance of being an active reader at home; I think this format of quiz is the best way to assess their skills as an active reader. It proves that they not only understand what they are reading, but they can make insightful comments and connects from the text, basically turning RL.9-10.1 on it's head.

Meeting Miss Havisham

35 minutes

Chapter Eight is a turning point for Pip; he meets Miss Havisham, who at once is both sullen and cruel, but more importantly, he meets supercilious Estella, and his world changes. I love reading this chapter with the students, and watching as they figure out that Miss Havisham has been living inside, wearing her wedding dress, for longer than Pip has been alive. I love hearing them gasp when Estella mocks Pip for being common and bemoan Pip for taking her insults seriously. 

We will read the chapter using a graphic organizer. As we learn new information about Satis House, Miss Havisham, and Estella, we will bullet point quotes in the first boxes. Throughout our reading, students will have a chance to quickly sketch what they envision of each. At the end, students will fill in the last boxes with personal analysis (RL.9-10.1). Two examples here: worksheet 1 and worksheet 2.

I also use this chapter to try and reengage students with the language. I want them to feel empowered by Dickens' diction, instead of paralyzed by it. I try and stop after sections with some of my favorite words, so that I can share my passion for language. The word "gormandizing," for instance, is not only great unto itself, but just it's perfect for the scene: Pumblechook ate "bacon and hot roll in (if I may be allowed the expression) a gorging and gormandizing manner." Wonderful! I have also found that I need to stop and help them imagine Miss Havisham, especially after Pip explains that her "withered wedding dress on the collapsed form" and the veil half-placed on her head looks more like a "shroud." The students never know the word shroud. But we are able to determine its meaning from the context, and then they are able to see the irony of the situation: the dress that should symbolize a new life looks instead like the clothes of the dead (RL.9-10.4). These whole-class discussions force them to stop and ask questions that they would not do if they were reading on their own. Moreover, these discussions bring life to the scenes and help the students, first, understand the personalities of each character, and then make judgments about them. And hopefully they have learned some new words!

Wrapping Up

5 minutes

Students will write a journal, responding to a particular quote from the text. Why? I explain it here