Pop Up Debates: Chasing the Dream or Fleeing an Inescapable Past?

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SWBAT apply speaking skills within a debate using PVLEGS to improve speaking quality and textual evidence to support their arguments about major themes in The Great Gatsby.

Big Idea

Objects in mirrors may be closer than they appear, but could someone tell Gatsby that they're still BEHIND him?


20 minutes

Today we will begin the hour by taking our final reading quiz in Socrative!  A copy of the assessment is in the Resources section, but you can also feel free to simply import it to your own Socrative account using SOC#: 3811058.  Though this quiz will cover both Chapter 8 AND Chapter 9, students should be guaranteed to do well on at least half of it, since we went over all of Chapter 8 two class periods ago.  They will also have more short answer questions than usual on this assessment due to our focus on using specific evidence to make judgments and inferences while reading last time.  I want to make sure they used our discussion last time to improve the quality of their reading, and stepping out of the multiple choice format for a few questions was the easiest way I could think of to do so.  I typically weight short answer questions higher than multiple choice questions when I'm grading as well, since short answers often require multiple parts to achieve a complete answer.

Building Knowledge

25 minutes

Following the quiz, we will use our typical student-led discussion of the chapter.  A list of discussion points that I will make sure are addressed are attached in the resources section.  Today's discussion will vary slightly, however, from what we've typically done since it is the end of the novel.  The discussion questions are centered around characterization and using textual evidence to really get at the heart of explaining the events in the chapter, but there are a few topics that I will HOLD OFF on discussing as a whole class at this time, including:

  • The merit of Gatsby's life and quest in pursuit of his dreams
  • Daisy's accountability in Gatsby's death
  • Nick's ending ideas on escaping the past


We will hold off on these topics so that in the next section of the lesson we can explore them with a more structured debate.  Beginning with this opening discussion, including a full investigation of Tom's motives for telling George where Gatsby lived, will be critical to having an informed, well-argued debate later in the hour.  


40 minutes

In this section of the lesson, students will participate in a "pop up debate," which is a strategy I came across from Dave Stuart's website, Teaching the Core, and specifically from his article "A Non-Freaked Out Common Core--Part 4--Argument and Debate." I love debates, and I think Dave does a fabulous job of making clear how oral argumentation directly aligns with written argumentation.  My students have worked a lot on both of these skills this year, but I think it's given me great motivation to go through and make sure that I, too, have clearly articulated this connection when I teach it next year.  

Students will begin the pop up debate process with our first question: Who is responsible for Gatsby's death?  Clarify that obviously, George shot and killed him, but in a larger sense, WHY did he meet this tragic end?  Is it Tom's fault for telling?  Daisy's fault?  Gatsby's fault?  Some third party's fault?  They'll have about 1.5 minutes to jot down their perspectives and evidence that supports their view before we move on to viewing a brief video (below) that will remind them of my expectations for their speaking quality while they debate with their peers.  From Dave Stuart, I was turned on to the acronym PVLEGS, which is the subject of this video, and I'm excited to see if it fixes some of the speaking presentation issues that I have been seeing in my classroom.


Following the video, students will start debating the question at hand.  I will not require that students raise hands or come to the front of the classroom, but whenever they speak, they will need to stand up from their seat to address their peers.  I think that this tweak will help students to present their arguments briefly and with clarity, and I also think that it will help to prevent some of the opinion-mirroring that I see occurring (when students who have had hands raised will keep their hand raised to share an idea that has already been stated).  Though I haven't tried something like this previously, I'm a big fan of taking calculated risks to improve your profession, which I address in my reflection.

While students debate, they need to use evidence from the text to support their argumentation, including page numbers wherever possible so that the class can look at the text to which they are referring to follow along with their peers' arguments.  Each question can take up to 10 minutes to discuss, but students can collectively elect to cut some debates short in order to allocate more time to a different topic.

We will repeat the procedure with slightly more prep time (2.5 minute individual prep, followed by 10 minutes of debate) for the remaining two debate prompts:

  • Was Gatsby really "Great"? Is he something heroic to be idolized? Was he outstanding?  Is he this shining example of the American Dream in action?
  • Could Gatsby have ever escaped his past?  If he'd been given the chance, either now or in the past, could he have made it with Daisy?  Why does Nick say we're "borne back ceaselessly into the past"?



5 minutes

Before we entirely conclude our class today, we will look at one other idea that has undoubtedly come up in discussion today.  When Nick goes to visit Wolfshiem, Fitzgerald points out that his office is called the "Swastika Holding Company," which throws many of my students for a loop.  If this comes up in your class, which it will, I would recommend holding off on talking about it right then so that you can address it more fully in these final moments of class.  

Like an earlier reference to the "holocaust" that was Gatsby and George's deaths, the "Swastika Holding Company" name has to be historically contextualized.  Hopefully, students will have already done this after our discussion about the importance of historical context a few lessons ago, but if they haven't, it's key that we do it again today.  While I don't want to have a full-on swastika mini-lesson (because face it, it's one of those lessons that while it's probably worthwhile, it's also a WHOLE lot of administrative and community red tape to go hurdling through), I do think that it's worth encouraging students to "go the extra mile" to seek out more information on issues they see and question in texts. 

I will close the hour by bringing back the issue of the "Swastika Holding Company" that was likely brought up earlier in the class.  The discussion will look something like this:

  • So in closing, we need to circle back to an idea that was brought up earlier about the name "Swastika Holding Company."  Why should that not be as alarming to us as it probably was when you initially read it?  (Students at this point should be able to recall that this novel was written before the war and before the swastika was widely used as a Nazi symbol.)
  • Good catch.  I did want to share something with you that I found interesting about it when I was researching it, however.  Did anyone happen to look up information about that when you were reading?  (Huge kudos to anyone who looked it up!)
  • Check out this article from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum about the "History of the Swastika."
  • As you can see, the swastika has been around for a long time as a symbol, and Pre-WWII, it wasn't associated with the Nazis, but with good luck.  Obviously, using a swastika now is culturally unacceptable because of the Nazis' use of it and association with their radical ideas.  Can you think of any other symbols that have been similarly transformed in meaning?  (Students may struggle to think of particular symbols, but they will usually relate concepts of gang colors or signs becoming taboo in certain areas.  Even certain athletic team logos are banned in some private businesses near our school because of their association with gangs, so they can relate to images being subverted by groups or people with negative intentions.)
  • The evolving meaning of symbols reminds me a lot of how words and our concept of their meanings can change over time, much like our discussion of the word "holocaust" from the last chapter.  Can you think of other examples of words that have undergone major perception changes over the course of time?  (Students should be able to give examples of words that are picked up and transformed by culture into a new meaning.  Some of these might be derogatory terms, technology terms [like "tablet"] that overlay old definitions, or terms that undergo shifts in meaning due to political correctness.  Any examples that get them to think about how words can pick up and revolutionize language are great to increase an awareness about the importance of words and word choice.) 


We'll leave our discussion there so that students can consider their own use of language and language choices as they go about the rest of their day.  Additionally, this discussion should serve to completely sever the often-misconstrued conception that Fitzgerald is making political statements related to Wolfshiem's ethnicity.

Before students take off, I will remind them that they need to have complete visual character maps ready to go for all characters next class period!  They should also come into class with a concise list (using the pre-writing organizer or something of their choosing) of theme songs for each character and ideas for images to represent each character that they will use for our upcoming soundtrack project.  We will be working with this in class next time, so it's key that they arrive with this pre-work completed.


Next Steps

Since we have wrapped up our reading of The Great Gatsby, students know that an exam over the material will be just around the corner!  In addition to making sure their visual character maps are top-notch, they can ready themselves for that assessment beginning immediately by looking over old quizzes and glancing through the Great Gatsby Study Questions that I will post for their review on my website.  This handout is NOT a study guide that needs to be completed by students.  It is just a list of questions for each chapter that I think are important to be able to mentally understand in order to do the deeper thinking of analyzing the novel.  I will suggest in my online post to students that they review the questions mentally and jot down any numbers that they don't feel confident in answering so that we can discuss them in the coming class periods.