The Gatsby Module: A Draft

I have finished a draft of the Gatsby module (Note: new ERWC 3.0 draft here, as of 10/12/17). This is a complete student version that is ready for feedback and perhaps piloting. It has not been put into the official format, nor has it been edited for consistency. It has not been aligned with standards, though I think the alignments are easy to see.

I need to create a teacher version, so some feedback from teachers on what is unclear would be helpful. This is the first module that prominently features the “arc” language–preparing, understanding, questioning, selecting, writing, revising–so feedback on how that works would be much appreciated. Also, there are some activities here that have not been used before.

Module Description

This module is designed for 11th grade, probably near the end of the first semester. It is designed to allow students to explore multiple critical perspectives and develop their own approach to the novel. There are five possible writing prompts. Each asks students to take a position, write a thesis statement, and support their arguments with evidence from the text. The module does not require students to read secondary sources or do any research. The focus is entirely on the novel itself.

Module Background

The Great Gatsby is among the recommended texts for 11th grade in the CCSS and has been in the 11th grade curriculum for decades. It is a superbly written novel with a complex, multi-faceted structure, flawed but interesting characters, and engaging themes and issues. It is also short. Much is packed into its 180 pages.

The novel is bristling with symbols, metaphors and other literary devices, carefully deployed, but also easy to find and interpret. It is common in teaching this novel to focus on these devices. This module includes those discussions, but also enables other approaches. The overall approach is something I call “Guided Reader Response.” The activities invoke a possible perspective, focus on particular aspects of the text, and allow students to draw their own conclusions and make their own interpretations, building up to their own reading of the novel, which they will express in the final paper. As they work through the novel, they will write down vocabulary, make predictions, create summaries at various points, and share their interpretations with others.

This module has been designed to be significantly shorter than previous literary modules in ERWC, such as 1984 or Brave New World. It should take about four weeks to complete.

6 thoughts on “The Gatsby Module: A Draft

  1. Cynthia Helphrey

    All of these approaches are excellent. The writing task proposed in the module is troubling. As you well know, this novel is taught often and the various character analyses have been assigned often. Therefore, any student can find an essay to fit this assignment on the web. I suggest the writing assignment be one less frequently assigned such as “buying friends and/or popularity.” With an election on the horizon, there might be many good examples.
    Another current but applicable topic is “defying the law.”

  2. guitarsophist


    Those are good suggestions and I appreciate the feedback. When I revise the module, I will try to craft a character assignment that doesn’t take such a well-trodden path. What was your opinion of the other writing tasks?

    1. Cynthia Helphrey

      As a teacher, I found sentence stems to be very valuable in provoking actual thought and close reading.

      The first suggestion that Nick’s narration is slanted is ____________________________________________.
      I try to tell my parents about my school problems first because other people _________________________.

      I think it would be good for you to suggest, in the teacher version, that all writing however brief be kept together to become a foundation for the final writing.

  3. guitarsophist

    Those are interesting ideas. However, I tend to avoid activities that have a position already built into them. I want the students to discover what they think, though I do guide them in various ways, so I suppose it could be argued that I am leading them to the brink of an opinion and letting them fall over it.

    Nick may be an unreliable narrator, but he is actually no more unreliable than any narrator who is also a character in the story. In that sense, Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes is also unreliable. Poe’s narrators, on the other hand, often make very specific arguments to try to make the reader believe that the narrator’s actions, often quite bizarre, are completely justified. That is part of the fun.

    What is more significant, in my view, is that Fitzgerald sometimes uses Nick as an almost omniscient narrator, having him present information that as a character he would not know. That is an interesting bit of story craft. I try to get the students to notice that.

    My analysis above comes largely from Chapter 5 of Narrative as Rhetoric Technique, Audiences, Ethics, Ideology by James Phelan, which is available online for free.

    Once again, your comments are very much appreciated! I will certainly take them into account when I revise the module.

  4. Pingback: What will ERWC 3.0 be like? | Teaching Text Rhetorically

  5. Pingback: Updated Gatsby Module | Teaching Text Rhetorically

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