Great Expectations Lesson Plans

In Charles Dickens’ classic book,Great Expectations, the reader follows protagonist Philip Pirrip, known as Pip, through his adventures into adulthood. The novel's powerful themes and rags to riches story have kept it popular for well over a century. I love teaching this novel because I get to remind students of the importance of friendship, and how greed can corrupt even the most humble of people.

Student Activities for Great Expectations

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?

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens 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.

Other Activity Ideas for Great Expectations

  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.

Buy Great Expectations on Amazon

How To Facilitate a Discussion on Great Expectations


Discuss Selected Points

Pick conversation points that are important and support the learning goals. Character analysis, themes (such as socioeconomic class or ambition), symbolism, Dickens's social criticism, and narrative devices are a few examples. Encourage the students to contribute the points they would like to discuss from the story.


Provide Context and Background

Give a succinct history of the Victorian era, Dickens's upbringing, and the socioeconomic problems that prevailed at that time. Students will better comprehend the location and concepts of the book thanks to this background. By analyzing Dicken’s background, students will be better able to understand Pip’s character.


Start with a Captivating Question

Start the discussion out with an open-ended query that promotes critical thought and invites other points of view. Questions such as, "How does Pip's pursuit of 'great expectations' shape his journey and the characters around him?" are good examples.


Individual Reflection

Ask the students to analyze Pip’s character in more detail and reflect on his actions. Students can write down some things they like about Pip and in what ways they can relate to his character. This activity can also be done for some other main characters in the story.


Class Discussion

After the individual reflection, students can discuss their noted points with the rest of the class and get different perspectives from their classmates to understand their views.

Frequently Asked Questions About Great Expectations

Where does "Great Expectations" take place?

The story takes place in England in the early 19th century, notably in the rural marshes of Kent and the thriving metropolis of London. The contrast between rural simplicity and urban complexity is reflected in the dual setting.

Who is the story's main character?

Pip, a small orphan kid, is the main character. He is nurtured by his sister and Joe Gargery, her blacksmith husband. The events of the novel propel Pip's personal development and change.

What does "Great Expectations" signify in the story?

The phrase "Great Expectations" captures both the topic of desire and Pip's hopes for a better life. It also relates to both Pip's monetary goals and the larger expectations he struggles with as he travels.

What part does Miss Havisham play in the narrative?

The story's central character is Miss Havisham, a rich and eccentric woman who rears Estella with the intention of exacting revenge on men. The ruined wedding day of Miss Havisham becomes a parable about inertia and the damaging repercussions of bitterness. She uses her adopted daughter Estella to degrade Pip and make him feel inferior.

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