Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Great Expectations Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Great Expectations Include:

In Charles Dickens’ classic book, Great Expectations, the reader follows protagonist Philip Pirrip, known as Pip, through his adventures into adulthood. Its powerful themes and rags to riches story have maintained its popularity for over a century. I love teaching this novel because I get to remind students of the importance of friendship, and how greed can corrupt.

Great Expectations Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | Great Expectations Summary

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a novel. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a novel with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the novel in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example Plot Diagram for Great Expectations

Due to the length and multiple subplots of the novel, it is helpful to use more than one cell, where necessary, to show a part of the plot diagram.


Cell 1: Pip is introduced in a graveyard, visiting the markers of his parents. An escaped convict grabs him and demands a file and food.

Cell 2: Pip is brought up by his sister and her husband, Joe, a blacksmith. Mrs. Joe is seen as the antagonist, constantly punishing Pip and reminding him that she brought him up ‘by hand’. Conversely, Joe is Pip’s best friend.

Cell 3: Joe’s uncle arrives one day, and says he has a great opportunity for Pip to go on a play-date at a rich woman’s house. Immediately, Mrs. Joe sees this as an opportunity for Pip to make money.

Cell 4: At Miss Havisham’s home, Pip plays with her daughter, Estella. He goes there for quite a while and eventually develops feelings for the young girl, despite her scornful disposition.

Major Inciting Conflict

Cell 5: Pip begins to lie to Joe and his wife about what he does at Miss Havisham’s. Pip changes as he struggles to become educated and less ‘common’ for Estella.

Rising Action

Cell 6: Years have passed, Pip has become an apprentice to Joe, and is no longer visiting the Havishams. He goes to see Miss Havisham on her birthday, hoping to see Estella, but instead meets her family. Miss Havisham manipulates Pip, and toys with his emotions by asking him personal questions about Estella.

Cell 7: One day, while Pip is at the local bar with Joe, a lawyer appears and asks for Pip. This man tells Pip that he has been named in a large inheritance and will move to London at once.

Cell 8: In London, Pip is required to be tutored to became a gentleman. Suspiciously, he is being tutored by a nephew of Miss Havisham. He also ends up rooming with Herbert, the son of his tutor. These coincidences lead Pip to believe that Miss Havisham is trying to arrange for him to be with Estella.

Cell 9: During his time in London, Pip is rebutted by Estella, treats Joe as a peasant, and becomes a hostile person, driven by greed and desire.


Cell 10: Then one evening, while Pip is home, he has a strange man come visit. The man reveals his true identity as Pip’s benefactor, Abel Magwitch, the convict from the marshes. At this time, Miss Havisham’s past is revealed, and Pip is ashamed that his money came from a criminal and threatens to desert him.

Cell 11: Pip goes to Satis House to confront Miss. Havisham. He is angry, believing she has led him on for years about being with Estella, who he recently found out is to marry another man. Once there, Estella gets in a fight with Miss Havisham, and the truth about her manipulation is revealed.

Cell 12: Both Herbert and Pip have been living beyond their means. Pip devises a plan to help him, but he will need a sizable amount of money. Despite his last encounter with Miss Havisham, he goes to her to save his friend from bankruptcy. He bargains his forgiveness for her help. As he is leaving, Miss Havisham's dress catches on fire. Pip attempts to put it out, leaving both of them badly injured.

Falling Action

Cell 13: Pip tries to help Abel escape London when they realize they are being followed by one of Abel’s old enemies. While fleeing on the river, a fight ensues, and Abel is fatally wounded. On Abel’s death bed, Pip has an epiphany. He lies to Abel so the man can die happy.

Cell 14: After Abel's death, Pip goes into a downward spiral. He is in over his head with debt. His years of living beyond his means have caught up with him, and he has a breakdown when he is thrown into debtors' prison.


Cell 15: Pip is in debt and falls ill. When he awakes, he learns that Joe has paid off all his debts.

Cell 16: In the very last scene, Pip returns to Satis House after Miss Havisham's death, and he encounters Estella. Together they walk off holding hands.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Great Expectations.

  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Pip's Social Circles | Great Expectations Characters

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As students read, a storyboard can serves as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Feel free to use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets, for your students to complete while reading, is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom.

Great Expectations Characters

Pip (Philip Pirrip)The main protagonist, living in a small town outside of London. He grows up wanting to be a gentleman to impress the woman he loves, who is incapable of loving him in return.
Joe GargeryA blacksmith, who is married to Pip's sister and caretaker. Joe is Pip's best friend.
Mrs. JoePip’s sister who constantly reminds him how she raised him ‘by hand’. She is not a pretty woman, but she is honorable.
Miss HavishamA wealthy woman who was left at the altar. She manipulates many of the characters in the novel.
EstellaMiss Havisham’s adopted daughter. It is later revealed that she is the daughter of Molly and Abel Magwitch.
OrlickAn apprentice to Joe who tries to kill Pip.
HerbertAlso known as the Pale Young Gentleman, Herbert becomes Pip’s best friend in London.
Abel Magwitch The convict Pip encounters in the marshes. He is secretly Pip’s benefactor.
CompeysonA swindler who framed Abel, and attempted to rob Miss Havisham.
Matthew PocketMiss Havisham’s nephew, and Pip’s tutor in London.
Sarah, Georgiana, & Camilla Miss Havisham’s relatives.
Jaggers An affluent attorney who oversees the estates of Pip and Miss Havisham.
WemmickJagger's assistant, who aids Pip with moral advice.
Bentley DrummleAdversary of Pip who eventually marries Estella.
Uncle PumblechookJoe’s wealthy uncle, a corn merchant, who introduces Pip to Miss Havisham and her daughter Estella.
Mr. WopsleA family friend and struggling actor. He is related to Biddy.
Biddy A young girl who educated Pip early in his life, and eventually marries Joe.
StartopLike Pip, he is studying in London to be a gentleman. Pip trusts and befriends him.
ClaraHerbert's girlfriend.
The AgedWemmick's elderly Father.
Molly Jagger's maid, Estella's Mother, and Abel's ex-fiance.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Great Expectations and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "1600s to 1800s" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Appearance, Traits, and Character Change.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Great Expectations Setting Map

Many long novels with multiple settings challenge for students with changes in setting and characters. Stories with many settings are also difficult because each setting portrays unique insights into the world of a specific character or group of people. Settings are as important as characters and, therefore, deserve tracking in detail. When followed closely, students can find rich symbols associated with settings and characters.

To help students grasp deeper meanings from setting, it is helpful for them to create a setting map that will allow them to document important characteristics of places throughout the novel. In the example that follows, students can use the setting map to see how each setting relates to its character:

Great Expectations Setting Map

The Forge This is Joes' workshop. Its characteristics are warm, bold, and sturdy. The definition of a forge has double meaning for Joe, as it is where he forges iron, and forges strong ties with others.
Satis House Latin for "enough", lore claims that anyone who lived in this house would have enough to satisfy them. However, when Miss Havisham was left on her wedding day, her home became a decaying time capsule; clocks were stopped, her wedding cake left out for years, and she continued wearing her wedding dress.
Walworth The name of Wemmicks’ home. He has built a literal moat and a metaphoric wall around himself. Who Wemmick is at home, and who he is at work, are completely different. His house is a miniature castle with draw bridge, a small farm, and a rooftop cannon that fires as specific times of day to mark the time.
Jaggers Home/Office Jagger’s home and office are much like his personality: cold and barren. They have no personal items, and are described as cold, dark, and dreary. No light is provided, and thick stale dust coats everything. Although his house is large, it is relatively unfurnished and seems empty; much like Jagger’s soul.
Barnard's Inn Pip and Herbert’s first apartment is a modest flat in a decent area of London. Like the two men just starting out, it is modest and humble. On the outside it looks presentable, but the interior looks is in need of updating. It represents the façade that Pip puts on. His outward appearance has changed, but he is still Pip on the inside.

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Great Expectations Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

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Valuable aspects of any literary work are its themes, symbols, and motifs. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to anatomize without assistance. Using a storyboard, students can visually demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, and master analysis of literary elements. For best practices, see our article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.

Themes and Imagery to Look For & Discuss


In Great Expectations, true friendship is an important theme. Despite Pip’s changes throughout the novel, his true friends remain loyal to him. Even though Biddy knows Estella is not a good person for Pip, she still aids him in learning and becoming educated. She serves as the voice of reason and constantly reminds Pip how poorly he treats others. Joe is like a brother and father to Pip, he never forsakes him, and even pays off Pip's obscene debts. Herbert assists Pip by providing him a job, even after Pip is nearly thrown in debtors prison.

Social Class

Dickens portrays a strong division between the social classes of London. His personal attitudes are conveyed as the reader is pulled to adore the commoners for their down to earth and genuine personalities. The upper-class are constantly seen as ostentatious, snobbish, and unreasonable. This contrast shows that social status does not correspond with a person’s true worth.

Motifs & Symbols


Many of the settings in Great Expectations are motifs or symbols. For example, Satis House, where Miss Havisham lives, means ‘enough’ in Latin. The occupants have everything they need, but it has become a time capsule which preserving the movement Miss Havisham was left at the altar by her betrothed. Inside its crumbling walls, clocks stopped, Miss Havisham remains dressed in her wedding gown, and her cake rots on the great table. Each of the items is another symbol of Miss Havisham’s own decay.

Joe’s forge is the opposite; its warm fire and large hearth symbolize the warmth, love, and the friendship that Joe and Pip share. Like Joe, the forge is inviting and accepting.

Just like Pip himself, his apartments in London pretend to be something they are not. Although they are in chic London, they are shabby and poorly maintained. They give the appearance of wealth, but are nothing more than glorified slums.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Great Expectations. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from Great Expectations you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Great Expectations Vocabulary Lesson Plans

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from Great Expectations. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the novel, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Example Great Expectations Vocabulary

  • forge
  • hulk
  • marsh
  • ravenous
  • blithe
  • exonerate
  • perspicuous
  • ignominiously
  • stupefied
  • sagacious
  • stipulate
  • benefactor
  • ostentatious

The vocabulary board can be modified by allowing students to come up with their own use of the vocabulary board, find the specific example from the text, or depict it without words.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in Great Expectations by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Great Expectations Summary

In Great Expectations the reader follows the protagonist, a young boy named Pip, through the opportunities and relationships in his life. Growing up, Pip was raised by his sister and her husband, the blacksmith, Joe Gargery. Early in the novel, Pip's life is forever altered when he finds an escaped convict hiding in marshes nearby. The convict threatens Pip, and asks him to bring food and a file. Pip complies, and although they do not interact long, Pip admires ‘his convict.’ He does help soldiers find the convict, but the convict covers for Pip, and tells authorities that he robbed a house and stole the items that Pip had initially brought to him.

Later in the story, Pip is introduced to Miss Havisham, a recluse, and her adopted daughter Estella. It is unclear what Miss Havisham expects of Pip. As she and her daughter develop as characters, it seems Pip is merely a means of revenge on men. Pip begins to question his education, self-worth, and his work as Joe’s apprentice. All the while, Estella makes Pip feel insignificant and common.

Pip resents his status, but never divulges this to Joe, his best friend. He continues his pursue change, and requests Biddy, the school teacher’s granddaughter, tutor him so that he may be ‘uncommon’. One day, he is approached by Jaggers, a high powered attorney from London, stating that Pip has a secret benefactor. He is to receive a large sum of money in accordance with the ‘great expectations’ this patron has for him.

Pip moves to London, leaving Joe and the forge. He changes in many ways, but mainly for the worse. He becomes consumed by debt, money, selfishness, and his love for the unattainable Estella. One evening a stranger calls on Pip. It is his true benefactor, Able Magwitch, the convict he met in the marshes as a young boy. Shocked and ashamed that his benefactor is a criminal, he vows to run away, forsaking Able. Instead, he learns a person cannot be judged by their status, and eventually ends up by Magwitch’s side as the man passes away.

Essential Questions for Great Expectations

  1. What are the attributes of a good friend?
  2. How do “gentleman” behave?
  3. How does social upbringing influence personal characteristics and behaviors?
  4. Does money and social status bring happiness?
  5. How does adversity impact a person?
  6. Would you ever hurt someone you love, even if it was the best thing for them?

Don’t Let the Fun Stop There! Check Out Our Other Lesson Plan Ideas.

  1. Use a storyboard that shows specific cause and effect reactions in the novel.
  2. Create a storyboard showing how Pip changes every 5-10 chapters.
  3. Use a storyboard to depict one chapter at a time.
  4. Create a storyboard that depicts what life was like in Dickens' time.
  5. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.

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•   (English) Great Expectations   •   (Español) Grandes Expectativas   •   (Français) De Grandes Attentes   •   (Deutsch) Große Erwartungen   •   (Italiana) Grandi Aspettative   •   (Nederlands) Grote Verwachtingen   •   (Português) Grandes Expectativas   •   (עברית) ציפיות גדולות   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) توقعات رائعه   •   (हिन्दी) बहुत उम्मीदे   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Большие Надежды   •   (Dansk) Store Forventninger   •   (Svenska) Stora Förväntningar   •   (Suomi) Suuret Odotukset   •   (Norsk) Store Forventninger   •   (Türkçe) Büyük Beklentiler   •   (Polski) Wielkie Oczekiwania   •   (Româna) Așteptări Mari   •   (Ceština) Velká Očekávání   •   (Slovenský) Veľké Očakávania   •   (Magyar) Nagy Várakozás   •   (Hrvatski) Velika Očekivanja   •   (български) Големи Очаквания   •   (Lietuvos) Dideli Lūkesčiai   •   (Slovenščina) Velika Pričakovanja   •   (Latvijas) Lielas Cerības   •   (eesti) Suured Ootused