Use this Real-Life Lens Lesson to help students dive deep into The Great Gatsby by F. Scott
Fitzgerald and examine the novel’s themes, actions, and characters through the lens of the
American Dream. How does the American Dream relate to The Great Gatsby? Do any of the
characters in the novel actually achieve the American Dream? Is achieving the American Dream
To activate students’ thinking, choose one or two of the following Real-Life Links to use in an engagement activity. Have students read or watch and discuss the content. Encourage students to jot down notes, or record class notes on the board for future reference.
What does it mean to achieve the American Dream?
How has the promise of the American Dream shaped the world today?
1. Have students write quick initial answers to the questions.
2. Discuss the questions either as a class or in small groups. Prompt students to discuss
whether achieving the American Dream means having security and the basic needs in life
or having as much wealth as possible, as depicted in The Great Gatsby.
3. Encourage students to discuss how the idea of the American Dream has changed since the
1920s as well as how this concept may have stayed the same.
4. Following discussion, give students time to revise their initial responses and ask volunteers
to share what they wrote with the class.
Begin by having students write their own questions about the lesson topic. Encourage them to think about what they already know about the American Dream and what they’re interested in exploring further.
Hand out the Driving Questions worksheet. Review the questions as a class. Students should enter initial answers to the questions as they read The Great Gatsby. They will revisit the questions and revise their answers following the lesson activities, classroom discussion, and the completion of the text. Remind students to support their responses with text evidence.
Integrate the Driving Questions into your classroom discussions. Use them to help guide students’ thinking about the Big Idea Questions.
1. What does the American Dream mean to each character in the novel?
2. How do various characters in the novel try to achieve the American Dream?
3. How is Gatsby’s love for Daisy a metaphor for the American Dream?
4. How has the country changed since the days of Gatsby and Nick?
5. What is each character’s motivation for achieving the American Dream?
6. Has Gatsby achieved the American Dream before the end of the novel?
7. How is the green light on Daisy’s dock relevant to the American Dream?
In this activity, ask students to write a few paragraphs about a time they wanted something that they couldn’t have. (If students are uncomfortable writing about their own experiences, have them write about someone they know or about a character in a story or film.) Provide examples to provoke students’ thinking, such as not being cast in a play, not making it onto a team, or not going somewhere far away that they wanted to visit. In their paragraphs, students should explain what it was they wanted or wanted to do, why they couldn’t have it, and how the experience made them feel.
Pair students and have partners share their paragraphs. Encourage pairs to return to the Big Idea Questions and consider if and how their personal experiences informed their initial answers.
Invite three or four students to share their paragraphs with the class. Prompt whole-class discussion with questions such as: How do you react to not getting what you want? Do you keep trying or make peace with your situation? How do your initial expectations affect your feelings when you do not get something you want?
Before moving on, explain that students will explore how the idea of the American Dream affects the way people feel and act when they do not get everything the American Dream promises.
Present a relatable scenario to students and ask how they would feel in a situation where they did not get what they want. For example, ask how they would feel if they wanted to buy something but could not afford it. Proceed with discussion as outlined above.
Instead of writing about personal experiences, have students write a short essay about what might happen to people who consistently do not get what they want. Ask two or three students to read their essays to the class and proceed with discussion as outlined above.
Before moving on, introduce the final projects to the class (see below for details). Have students choose the project they will complete and encourage them to keep their project in mind as they read the text. Facilitate the formation of project groups if necessary.
Students will explore the theme of greed in The Great Gatsby by writing about how this theme relates to each character. Hand out the Greed in The Great Gatsby worksheet. Students will:
- complete a graphic organizer that has each character’s name to indicate whether each character is greedy. If a character is greedy, students should explain what motivates that greed.
- share their answers with the class and discuss with each other which characters most exemplify the theme of greed.
Choose one main character from the novel and ask students if they think that character exhibits signs of greed. Proceed with discussion as outlined above.
Have students select two characters from the worksheet who they think are greedy and write an essay comparing and contrasting what motivates their greed.
Students will think about the events of the novel thus far from the perspective of a character other than Nick. Students will:
- choose one of the main characters in the novel who is not Nick.
- pick a main event that has occurred in the novel so far. Write about that event from the point of view of their chosen character.
- have a whole-class discussion about how looking at the story from a different perspective affects how they think about the characters, including Nick.
Ask students about one character who is not Nick and have them discuss how they think that character feels about a specific event in the novel. Proceed with discussion as outlined above.
Have students choose one major event that has occurred in the novel so far and write about the event from the perspective of three characters who are not Nick. Have pairs discuss what the different perspectives tell them about the characters.
Encourage students to read passages from contemporary works that similarly feature the theme
of the American Dream. In pairing multiple texts with similar themes, students are challenged to look beyond the book they’re studying and find new ways to connect to the themes. Here are some books you can pair with The Great Gatsby:
- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Students will work on their final projects after they have finished reading The Great Gatsby. Project 1 can be completed in groups, while Project 2 can be completed individually.
Students will first debate whether Gatsby actually achieved the American Dream and then use the evidence provided by both sides of the debate to write a persuasive essay. For the debate, organize students into small groups. Students will:
- take a position of “yes” or “no” on whether Gatsby achieved the American Dream.
- work together to develop their argument, being sure to include supporting text evidence from the novel and background information from the companion resources presented at the beginning of the Lens Lesson.
- produce a rebuttal against the counterclaim.
- debate a group that has the opposite position. Students not debating can take notes on ideas for their persuasive essay.
After the debate, students will use the evidence gathered to write a persuasive essay that proves whether or not Gatsby achieved the American Dream.
Rather than a formal debate, students can have a group discussion about whether Gatsby achieved the American Dream.
Have students work individually rather than in groups and debate one other student with an opposing position.
Students will work individually to write an essay explaining how Gatsby’s arc is similar to that of the American economy in the 1920s. Students will:
- review the text and note the key events in Gatsby’s life as well as what brought him to each event.
- research the U.S. economy in the 1920s, including the events that led up to the Great Depression.
- write an essay explaining how Gatsby is a metaphor for the rise and fall of the American Dream in the 1920s, including how his death symbolizes the Great Depression.
Students can list ways in which Gatsby’s life symbolizes the American economy.
Have students develop two timelines, one showing the events leading up to the Great Depression and one showing the major events of Gatsby’s life, to accompany their essays.
Use the Rubric for Student Assessment to evaluate student work on the lesson assignments.
Distribute the Student Reflection Worksheet. Guide students through the self-assessment and reflection questions.