Tracking Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

GatsbyThe Great Gatsby is widely-regarded as one of the great American novels and many of us teach it every year to secondary students who seem to instantly get the feeling of lost dreams, the feeling of being “within and without” and the feeling that the American Dream is too good to be true.  If you are looking for thoughtful, creative, standards-based (NCTE/IRA National ELA and Common Core) lessons and assessments that will engage your students and save you a ton of time, I recommend you head over to buy it in print or pdf from Secondary Solutions!

Today, I want to share a strategy that can help students track the color symbolism as it develops in The Great Gatsby. Students will “analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.” (CCS 11-12.2)

I do this activity once students are finished with the novel, but it can be adapted to do half way through and then again at the end so that there is a more manageable amount of data to work with.  To go through this thoroughly, this usually takes me a couple of days in class.

Step 1: Assign students to 9 jigsaw groups. Give each group a chapter and ask them to make a list of ALL of the times anything is described by color. For example in chapter 2:

  • Valley of Ashes (men, cars, landscape)- grey
  • TJ Eckleburg’s eyes – blue
  • TJ Eckleburg’s glasses- yellow

Step 2: Create large posters for each major color. I use poster sized sticky notes so that I can easily put them around the room during the analysis phase, but any large paper would work. I make the following 9 posters (since there are 9 chapters and 9 groups):

  • Gold
  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Green
  • White
  • Pink and Red (Separately, but the lists are short so I put both on the same poster)
  • Grey/Black (I combine them)
  • Silver and Multi-colored (separate)
  • Other (This will include brown, lavender, and everything else they find)

Step 3: Have students add their evidence, passing the papers from group to group until all evidence is added. I give a couple of minutes per color and let students know that they may not have found every color in every chapter.

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Step 4: Go through the colors, one by one analyzing the significance of the colors. I usually lead this as a whole group discussion, but it could also be done at a small group level for more advanced students.  Although there are many interpretations, I usually go with some version of the following:

  • Gold: Old Money, Class, The Unattainable
  • Yellow: New Money, Social Climbing, Fakeness
  • Blue: Illusion, Unreality
  • Green: Hope, Future, American Dream (Not purely positive connotations)
  • White: Rigidity, Lack of Substance
  • Pink: Fresh, New, Beginnings and Red: Passion, Anger, Lust, Tension
  • Grey/Black: Hopelessness, Poverty, Corruption of the American Dream, Consequences
  • Silver: Money and Multi-colored: Opportunity
  • Other: This one depends on which colors students discuss.  I only discuss these if time permits.

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Step 5: Look at the big picture. After all of the pain-staking close analysis of color symbolism, I do a think-pair-share about author’s purpose and the overall effect on the novel.

Extension/Assessment: Have students write about the meaning behind one or more of the colors discussed in class.

What do you think of this strategy?  We’d love to hear your comments, questions, or insights below!

Don’t forget to go over to Secondary Solutions for the Gatsby Reading Guide and much more!

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5 Ways to Use Magazines in the Classroom

magazines

With a push in the common core to incorporate more informational texts and a teenage audience that is becoming more globally aware than any previous generation, I have found that using high quality magazines in the classroom can help capture young minds in relevant reading and writing.  I especially like The New Yorker, but the same strategies below can be used for Time Magazine, National Geographic, your local newspaper, or many other options.  (Be sure to vet articles carefully and get approval where appropriate.)  Many newspapers and some magazines also have an educator’s discount! Below are some ways that I’m using magazines in my classroom.  I’d love to hear your questions, comments, or suggestions below!

1. Engage students in high interest pieces. Instead of reading the same stale opinion pieces from the anthology, I find that students respond well to pieces like “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom” or “Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind“.  In every week’s edition, I find something that I’m excited to share with my juniors.

2. Use pieces as a model for a student assignment. This week, I read “The Secret Fantasies of Adults” as a model for my AP juniors, to write “The Secret Fantasies of AP juniors”.  It was a great lesson in creative writing and the importance of understanding the speaker, audience, and subject relationship.

3. Use pieces for close reading and prose analysis. Last week there was a story entitled “Voting by the Numbers,” which started with a beautifully written analogy and continued with an argument full of logical appeals and other rhetorical devices.  It was great for teaching argumentation and close reading.  If we want our students to be sophisticated writers, we must expose them to sophisticating writing.

4. Connect to other classes and disciplines.  There was a piece this week about life behind the Berlin wall that I bookmarked to teach later in the year when students are studying the topic in their history class.

5. Use pieces to teach the art of writing other than essays.   In every issue there are artfully written reviews of restaurants, books, movies, and other entertainment. These can serve as excellent models for students to write real life applications.

I can’t fit magazine articles into every week of my curriculum, but when I can, students love it.  An added benefit is the enjoyment I get from curling up with my magazine and a hot cup of coffee for some “planning” and “professional development” time!  What do you think?  We’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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5 Tips for Spicing Up Summer School

 

There can be so much variation in summer school programs, but in my experience, the class sessions tend to be longer, class sizes tend to be a little smaller, and most students tend to be a little less motivated, especially if they are retaking a class that they failed.  With budget cuts, I’ve also experienced a tendency toward combo classes like English 9 and 10.   While these factors can be barriers to engagement, I think there are a few things we can do to spice things up in the summer (and during the school year too!). I’m sharing my 5 tips for spicing up summer school and I’d love to hear your questions. comments, and suggestions in the comment section below!

summer school1. Quiz-Quiz-Trade: I learned this strategy at a Kagan workshop during my first year teaching in junior high.  Although Kagan structures are geared toward younger students, many of them still work like a charm in secondary English.  You can check out the Kagan website here.  To use quiz-quiz-trade, you have students create flashcards with vocabulary, literary devices, or other terms.  Then students mingle around the room creating temporary pairs.  When they pair up, they quiz each other on one card each, trade and then mingle to new partners.  It doesn’t take very long, but it gets students up, moving, and studying.  I’ve had so many students tell me that it helped them remember vocab.  If you have a combo class, you can create mingling areas for students with like words.

2. Showdown: Showdown is another Kagan structure in which students work independently on an exercise. When “Showdown!” is called, students show teammates their work, and they begin the process of checking, coaching, and celebrating.  You can read more about it here.

3. Literature Circles: Literature circles are ideal for motivation, especially if you can incorporate student choice in books and roles.  It is also easy to manage with multiple grade levels.  Here is a link to my post all about literature circles.  

4. Socratic Seminar: Socratic Seminar is my favorite way to get all students involved in a discussion, even when some are more reluctant.  If your summer school class is made up of students repeating a class, chances are they did not get to show off their literary analysis skills during the regular school year for whatever reason.  Socratic Seminar can offer a nonthreatening way to feel personal and peer success.  Here is a link to my post with more information about the logistics.

5. Engaging Informational Texts: We need to incorporate more informational texts in our classrooms, but it is hard to find the time to go through all of the options.  If you have more freedom in summer school curriculum, it is a great time to try out a few new reads. A few summers ago, my class did Nickel and Dimed one session and The Tipping Point another session. Students were interested in the reading and I was able to pull out excerpts to use during the regular school year.  Depending on the level, I’d also recommend Blink, Freakonomics, and Fast Food Nation.

What do you do to spice up your summer school sessions?  We’d love to hear your questions. comments, and suggestions below!

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A Teacher’s Thoughts on Summer Reading:

Summer Reading

It is the time of year again when we meet in departments to plan out summer reading programs. For me, the words “summer reading” can be a delight and a drain. I work at a school that requires summer reading for college prep and honors English classes at every grade level, which can present some challenges.  Even with the struggles, I think that summer reading is a battle worth fighting.  If you are interested in some of the scientific benefits of summer reading, click around this site for a bit.  Here are my thoughts on putting together a summer reading program that will enhance the curriculum without burning out teachers or students.

1. Offer high interest materials. Summer is a great time to give students a book that will keep the pages turning and not keep the eye lids drooping. Pick something that will appeal to the teenagers at your particular age and level.  This strategy combats my biggest struggle, which is the lack of motivation for some students.  Some suggestions:

  • The John Green books, like Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, or An Abundance of Katherines-  It is fun for teenagers to read about other quirky teenagers.
  • Science fiction and fantasy- the kind of books that often get left out of the traditional canon in the school year.  I like books like Dune, The Time Machine, or Hitchhikers Guide too the Galaxy, but there are tons out there to choose from.
  • Other YA faves like Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Perks of Being a Wallflower, etc.

2. Offer reasonable choices. It is nice to offer choices in case some students have read some of the books on the list and also to honor the interest factor for a wide range of students. Each book should be of reasonable length for students and the book list should be of reasonable length for teachers.  In my humble opinion, the teacher should have read all of the books on the list in order to engage in discussion and assessment.

3. Keep assignments simple. If you are doing handouts, questions, essays or anything else with the book, keep it simple.  Summer reading should be about enjoying some quality literature and not getting bogged down in minutia.

4. Make it count. Students learn very quickly and then word gets out if the summer reading assignment does not “count for anything.”  If you can, make the assessment or discussion worth a substantial point value.  In case students don’t complete the assignment well, I like for the summer reading to be worth enough to hurt the first quarter grade, but not so much that the semester grade cannot recover.

5. Bring the conversation online. If you are working with a manageable sized group, using a platform like Collaborize Classroom could be a great way to check in with students throughout the summer. Click here for a Collaborize Classroom tutorial.

6. Be flexible and have a back up plan.  I’ve never had a year with no transfer students or other I-didn’t-get-the-summer-reading situation.  When this happens, I usually excuse the assignment or give students until the end of the first quarter to get it done. The first few years, I let this eat me alive because I was in pursuit of that perfect summer reading program.  It is not out there. Make it work.

 

What are your thoughts on summer reading? Leave a comment below!

 

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How Should We Pick Required Reading?

required reading

A co-worker recently re-posted this article criticizing changes that my alma mater UCLA made in 2011 to the English department required courses.  Gone are the days of required single author courses in Milton, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, which have been replaced with thematic courses and syllabi full of a combination of the traditional canon and new voices.  Of course, I poked around and saw other articles like this one, in support of the changes and found this clear explanation of the changes from the Daily Bruin.  This all got me thinking about the books that our high schools require.  I currently teach American lit and British lit to juniors and seniors in high school and so my required reading relies heavily on our anthology with the supplement of a couple of novels.  Even though I LOVE my curriculum, I think it is important to think about how we select required reading. Below I’ve listed some of the major considerations out there with a brief opinion of my own. I’d love to hear your two cents!  How much control do you have over your required reading?  Are you happy with your current list?

  • Students should read the foundations like mythology, the bible, and philosophy.  The argument here is that students cannot fully appreciate any works inside or outside of the traditional canon if they do not understand the allusions and underpinnings.
    • I can relate to the difficulties of teaching Romeo and Juliet to students without a working understanding of mythology or Bless Me Ultima without the biblical allusions.  I also relate to the struggle of engaging high school students in the philosophies of the metaphysical poets or the transcendentalist thinkers.
  • Student should be able to read texts that connect with their identity. The required reading should be tailored to the school’s population to reflect authors, characters, and themes that connect with the race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status of students.
    • I have witnessed students come alive as readers when reading works from authors that they personally connect with, like Cisneros, Cullen, and Hong Kingston to name a few. There is a definite power in the approach and I think it is most evident in the long-term inspiration for students to be life long readers and writers.
  • Students should read the masters like Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, Thoreau, and Pound.  In Emerson’s “Education”, he writes about the paradox of genius and drill.  Students must closely read the masters in order to create new, relevant works.
    • This is a tough one for me because I sometimes feel that I sacrifice depth in order to cover the breadth of the “masters” which leaves even less time to explore other works.  On the other hand, I want my students going into college with a working knowledge of the major literary players.
  • Students should read around a universal theme. This approach can incorporate the traditional canon and maringalized voices around a common thread.
    • I personally love this approach because it marries the two sides of the argument allowing the educator to juxtapose the traditional canon with additional perspectives. I think this can also lead to a deeper understanding of genres and style through direct comparison.
  • Students should be able to choose their literature. There is also the argument that education in the information age must completely revolutionize to include choice as a center piece.
    • In theory I like this, in practice I loathe it.  As a teacher I take pride in my ability to guide a curriculum toward objectives.  Allowing 100% choice muddies the water of rigor and assessment for me.

What do you think?  How should we be picking the required reading for high school students?

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