Creating Group Soundtracks to Investigate Theme & Character

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SWBAT track the progression of theme & tone in The Great Gatsby using textual evidence within small groups, then match the progression with related songs and images.

Big Idea

Spice up tracking progression of themes in Gatsby with an added musical layer of synthesis and plenty of collaboration!


15 minutes

Today my students will start off the hour voting for Prom King & Queen (it's obviously the end of the school year when my English classroom gets bogged down with school-wide or grade-wide paperwork!).  Then, I will model today's activities, which have been briefly discussed at early points in the past weeks to give students time to "percolate" about them.  

I will use the projector to direct students to the Great Gatsby Project Sheet.  Then, I will give them a preview of the project pieces by showing them an example of a final Great Gatsby Soundtrack Project in Thinglink.  I chose this platform after much thought about how to best incorporate all of the activities that I want my students to complete, so I will will show them with the Gatsby character links how each symbolic image contains links to a music video that's related to the character, lyrics for the song in the video, and a Google Doc that contains a brief essay matching the character traits as articulated in the novel with the song.  I will also show students the clear rubrics for each component section so that they know in advance what they will be graded on.

Students have known about this project for several class periods now, so it's not entirely new to them.  It's also likely that they will have a few questions about song choices, so I will answer them if they come up during this time.  The most-often asked question is whether or not songs can use profanity, so I'm always prepared to answer this question!  For me, I think that a handful of profanity (like the kind that appears on television before 10pm, not full-on graphic or obscene language) is acceptable in these projects.  However, I always caution students to make sure that if their song DOES contain profanity, they should be extra certain that they have fully explained why that song completely matches their character.  If there's a "clean" version of the song out there, they should aim to use that version and edit lyrics accordingly.  Also, if the song that they are considering is extremely graphic or obscene, they should select a different song entirely.  If they have any questions about this, I will encourage them to email me specific questions before they commit to using it in their project. 

Building Knowledge

45 minutes

Next, I will introduce our project for today that we will use to prepare for the individual Gatsby Soundtrack projects.  On larger projects, I like to make sure that students completely understand the process involved, so whenever possible we model them as a group or in small groups before students turn to individual practice. For this group practice, self-selected groups of 3 will create group soundtracks for The Great Gatsby, though unlike the individual project (where students base their songs on characters), this group project will be based on evaluating a chosen theme as it develops over the course of the chapters in the novel.  They will need to utilize the same process and skills as they will for their individual project.  

First, they need to consider how the theme grows and changes over the course of each chapter.  Additionally, they will need to consider what the overall tone (which needs to be a specific emotion word that is greater than five letters!) of the chapter is.  They will reflect both of these pieces of information in the first column of the first table.  To emphasize the need to base these judgments in text, they will also need to include evidence in the right column of the same table that supports their interpretation of the theme and tone in each chapter.   

After student groups complete this planning table, they can move on to the next portion of the activity, which is choosing an idea for an image and song that reflect each of the chapters.  If students are not given clear directions here and instructed to first evaluate the text and outline arguments, this project will rapidly go off track!  It is supposed to be a fun assignment for students, but the educational value lies predominantly in fully evaluating the text for its tone and theme and supporting that evaluation with evidence.  The soundtrack portion of the activity is a multi-media way to frame it in a way that appeals to students and adds an element of synthesis to their work.  The same goes for their individual projects, so modeling the process here will save you from receiving a plethora of individual soundtrack projects that lack analysis and evidence.

While students are working with their groups on this activity, I will move throughout the room to help students, pose questions about their choices, and ensure that they are analyzing and collecting evidence before launching into choosing images and songs for each chapter.  I will also try to keep groups moving along with this project, since they may get "stuck" on finding the perfect song for each chapter, rather than just getting a feel for how the project works and how to analyze and substantiate their claims for each chapter.  My students have thousands of songs on their iPods and are passionate about music, so I will stress that it is impossible to create the perfect soundtrack in only 45 minutes!  All I will be expecting from them is a soundtrack that makes sense with their analysis and evidence of the theme's progression.  They can put all that music-love and perfection-seeking into their individual projects!

As groups wrap up their projects, they will need to raise their hands to let me know that they have completed the project and get my approval on what they have done in order to move on to the next piece of the lesson.  They will have to talk me through their group project, and I will want to hear from every group member how the theme changes and becomes more complex as the book progresses onward.  I will also listen for clear connections between the symbols chosen to represent each chapter and the songs chosen to represent each chapter.  


28 minutes

Once a group's project has been presented to me and accepted by my, students will remain with their groups to begin work on their individual Great Gatsby Soundtrack Projects using the materials I went over at the beginning of the hour.  I know that students will be eager to share what they have for songs with their peers, so I don't want to fight that from happening if I can use it to my (and their!) benefit.  Students will be encouraged to share their song choices and help one another find evidence to support their character analyses.  The visual character maps that students have worked on throughout the novel will be an excellent resource for gathering evidence to support their song choices, as students have tracked the evolution of characters throughout the book and noted evidence with page numbers on these maps.

I want all students to have time in class to get an individual start on their projects today, so I will continue nudging groups that are still working to "divide and conquer" any remaining pieces of their group activity.  I will also interact with students working independently on their projects to spot-check their choices and ensure that they have selected evidence that supports their song choices for each character.  


2 minutes

In the final minutes of class, I will be sure that ALL groups have completed their group projects.  Furthermore, I will remind students that they need to have songs and ideas for symbolic images picked out for each character when they arrive to class next time.  We will have several athletes leaving early today, so I will make sure to remind each of them of the expectation.  Students will have most of next class period to work on these projects, so arriving with a clear plan is critical to effective time management!

Next Steps

While I'd love to assign major homework tonight, Prom season is upon us and students are wrapping up Spring sports.  Rather than fight the system, I have opted to organize this project so that much of the planning takes place at home, but the actual project creation happens at school.  Another perk of this idea?  It's great to be on-hand to answer student questions while working, and I historically get a better product if I can be nearby making them push themselves harder.  Next class period, however, my students will need to arrive prepared to work hard in exchange for this break!