Hexagonal Thinking and The Great Gatsby

My first attempt with hexagonal thinking

Dear Teacher-Friends: If you’re here for Part 2 of my “Teaching the Sonnet” post, please bear with me. I am still in the process of obtaining permission from a few students to post their wonderful sonnets. As soon as I have those permissions rounded up, I will publish that post! In the meantime, ever tried hexagonal thinking? Read on about my first attempt with it as a culminating activity for The Great Gatsby.

Last December, I concluded the first semester with chapter six of The Great Gatsby. I intentionally timed my unit out like this so, upon returning to class on January 4, we would know exactly where we were: right on the cusp of that gut-wrenching climax of the novel (duh-duh-DUH) CHAPTER SEVEN.

Gatsby’s Chapter 7 is such a ride!

This single chapter includes:

  • the tense and emotional lunch at the Buchanans
  • the hurried drive to the Plaza Hotel
  • the jaw-dropping confrontation between Tom and Gatsby
  • the admission of Gatsby’s and Daisy’s affair
  • the wreck
  • the final moment where Gatsby watches “over nothing” while Daisy and Tom dine on beer and cold chicken.

It’s a roller coaster of a chapter. In fact, it’s pretty much the highlight of the book and, for that matter, the 2013 Baz Luhrman film.

Anyway, we started back on Jan. 4 by watching Chapter 7 and then digging into the text. (Yes, this year, I decided to watch first and read second. Actually, this was a request from a student, who told me he would be able to visualize the story better if he had the characters in mind from the movie. I was open to any suggestions, especially since I knew this student was especially engaged with the unit.

So, in short, we finished the book a week or so later, and then it was suddenly time for assessment.

However, this year, I opted to try a new final assessment: hexagonal thinking.

Yes, I would finally try using hexagonal thinking, the brainchild of Spark Creativity’s Betsy Potash. I had previously downloaded Potash’s hexagonal thinking handouts and downloads from her website, but that was my only familiarity with the new visual thinking technique.

Hexagonal Thinking
Photo: Pixabay.com

But suddenly, with Gatsby in our rearview mirrors, I wanted students to do some critical thinking on their own, to make connections between the big ideas of the text, and to invent their own new ways of thinking about the characters, the time period, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In other words, it was finally the perfect time to try out hexagonal thinking.

I decided to have students independently show their Gatsby knowledge via hexagonal thinking. I could have had them work in partners, or small groups, — and honestly, I think that kind of collaboration is where hexagonal thinking can really shine — but for this first attempt AND since it would serve as my culminating activity for the unit, I opted to make this an independent project.

Student working on hexagonal thinking.
Photo: Erin Li on Unsplash

I created a Google Slides Presentation to explain the project with directions, a mentor project, an explanation of the concept of hexagonal thinking, and a sample rubric.

Below are photos of a few of the nine slides I created to explain the project. (And yes, you can buy the entire set of slides, if you’re interested, from my TpT store. Since these slides worked pretty well for me, I figured I might as well offer them in my store.)

Anyway, as you can see above, the slides include:

  • a colorful cover slide you can project as students enter the room
  • a two-page intro that answers the question, “What is hexagonal thinking?”
  • a single slide of directions, which I also printed off as a handout for students to use as they worked at home.
  • a slide with a variety of categories and concepts for students to choose from. (I asked students to think of two to four of their own ideas for their hexagons.)
  • a mentor… These slides that showed my expectations for the project. I did the assignment at home to make sure I knew exactly what I was asking students to do. Since hexagonal thinking was TOTALLY new to my students, I felt I needed to provide them some guidance. The slides included a photo of my own hexagonal thinking map plus two more slides with my written explanations for the connections I made.
  • a form that served as my rubric. It’s not a rubric in the traditional sense, but it provided me with a good way to assess student work.
  • and finally, a sheet of three hexagon templates
Hexagonal Thinking Web
This is a photo of the example I made for my students as a reference. This was the first time for my students to try hexagonal thinking.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

As you can tell from the slideshow above, after students determined their categories, arranged and cut out their hexagons, and wrote their explanations for their connections, the assignment was a wrap!

Using Google Classroom, students submitted only two things to me:

  • the photo of their hexagonal web
  • a Google Doc that ran about two to three pages in length, which explained each of their five connections

Here’s what I like about hexagonal thinking:

Hexagonal thinking lets students do their own analytical thinking, weighing their options as they make connections between Tom Buchanan, for example, and the Rise of the City or the Valley of Ashes, as another example, and social class.

The categories and the connections students can make are endless, as long as they remember that their writing must defend, justify, or otherwise explain the five connections they made and labelled with arrows or connectors in the photo of their hexagonal web.

Student-made hexagonal thinking web
Some students had trouble uploading their photos to Google Classroom, so I took a quick pic of their he

Hexagonal thinking was something new for my students to mentally muddle through, and I must admit, I think it presented a challenge for several simply because they seem to be so accustomed to standardized and/or objective testing as a cumulative activity.

Hexagonal thinking web

As for my students, most of them experienced success with this project.

True, I did witness some students who explained their ideas and connections in a minimal way, and their initial grade suffered. However, I decided to highlight or otherwise make notations on their Google Docs (I had printed their papers out to avoid screen time) those areas where they needed to better clarify their thinking. Then, I allowed time in class to revise and edit their writing to improve their score. I felt that was only fair on this new assessment method.

In the end, my first attempt with hexagonal thinking was a winner. It gave me enough success to definitely use hexagonal thinking again.

Marilyn Yung

Thanks for reading again this week!

Have you tried hexagonal thinking yet? Leave a comment below this post or use my my Contact page to let me know your experience with this innovative, student-driven assessment method.

Have a great week!

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Published by Marilyn Yung

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3 thoughts on “Hexagonal Thinking and The Great Gatsby

  1. F-I-N-A-L-L-Y……an ENGLISH teacher [NO LESS :-)] who TRULY understands WHY EVERY student should understand (and DEFINITLEY appreciate) literary arts LEVERAGING the elegance found in Peano’s axioms.

    I can only hope other English teachers (from ALL grade levels—including university) will, sooner, than later—invite those students, skeptical of reading, reviewing and critiquing literary works—to leverage immensely important mind-mapping skills, essential to inviting, analyzing and adapting to change

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