Chapter 1 isn’t always a student’s cup of tea
“In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” (from The Great Gatsby, Chapter 1)
We all recognize that famous first sentence of The Great Gatsby. It’s a quiet sentence, isn’t it? But it’s abrupt, too. There is no setting, no context… just Nick Carraway telling us about his family, judging people (or not), the Eggs, his cottage on Long Island Sound. The chapter picks up speed when we meet Tom and Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker. To a first-time Gatsby reader, Tom’s loud, Daisy’s ditzy, and Jordan’s forgettable.
And then there’s that closing vision of the next-door neighbor Nick assumes to be Gatsby stretching his trembling arms toward a green light at the end of a dock across the water. Add in Tom’s racist rant, all those strange allusions to “Midas and Morgan and Maecenas,” the phone call from Myrtle, and the “beautiful little fool” comment and it’s no wonder that for my students, Chapter 1 is a lot to take in.
And I must confess: because I love The Great Gatsby so much, I tend to overhype it in the weeks leading up to the novel. We build up to the book by studying Modernism and spending a class period watching Cosmopolis to get some Jazz Age context. And then we pass out the books, I read Chapter 1 aloud, and it falls flat.
Despite my prepping for Chapter 1 and despite (or because of) all its action, it can sometimes turn kids off.
That’s why I decided to create an anticipation guide of sorts. My guide isn’t a typical chart of columns that kids check off or fill out. Instead, it offers four discussion questions that you can use in one of three ways before you dive into Chapter 1.
I’m hoping these questions will help students visit a few important ideas before reading Chapter 1… ideas that will help them personally connect to the novel, and raise a few questions. The point of those connections and questions? To cushion Chapter 1 with a more defined purpose for reading. Here are the four questions to get your students engaged before reading:
- Why would we overlook someone’s negative qualities? (Think Nick overlooking that Gatsby represents everything that he scorns.)
- In your own life, what are you reaching for? (Think Gatsby reaching for the green light.)
- Have you ever not wanted to know something? Why or why not? (Think Daisy saying the best thing to be is a beautiful little fool.)
- How can our past victories affect our worldview or outlook on life? (Think Tom’s success in athletics paving the way for his future power.)
The “key” included on the last page of the packet spells out where these questions come into play in the chapter. See the slideshow for more info below.
Here are the directions stated on my product description:
How to Use These Posters
To collaborate: Print these posters, and then have small groups choose one to discuss among themselves. Share out their responses and ideas with the class before and after reading Ch. 1.
To get students moving: Print posters and place one in each corner of the room. Have students walk to the question they would like to offer their thoughts on prior to reading. Do a check-in after reading to see how/if students’ ideas have changed.
To work independently: Prior to reading, project page 8 and ask students to choose a question and write a paragraph in response to their question of choice. Revisit their responses after reading.
And very importantly (wink-wink), I’ve also included a key with discussion notes to help you facilitate class discussions and to connect the anticipation guide questions with details from the chapter.
I hope this helps you introduce The Great Gatsby — arguably, what many consider to be the great American novel — and coast through the first chapter swimmingly.
Thanks for reading!
Just so you know, this guide does focus primarily on Chapter 1. In addition, while it could also work as a prelude to the entire novel, just know that some of the important themes of the novel are not discussed in this guide.
Feel free to leave a comment or question on my Contact Page. Happy Gatsby!
Check out my other Gatsby posts:
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