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Activity Overview


Themes, symbols, and motifs are valuable aspects of any literary work, and they add richness to stories. Part of the Common Core ELA standards is to introduce and explain these complex concepts. However, abstract ideas are often difficult for students to analyze 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 supplementary article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.

In the classroom, students can track the rich symbolism that Fitzgerald uses throughout the novel. In the example storyboard above, there are five archetypal symbols from the book. The most apparent are the green light, the overlooking eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, the Valley of Ashes, ominous weather, and the division of east vs. west.


Themes to Look for and Discuss

The American Dream

The American dream is the idea that no matter a person's background, everyone can achieve their goals through hard work and determination. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby's dream is to one day be with Daisy. Due to her social class, Gatsby is forced to make a drastic decisions to reach a level of prosperity where he can capture Daisy's affections.


Social Classes

Social class is an integral part of the novel. It is expounded upon at some length by Nick Carroway. It is expected that those in the upper class are to act with dignity, poise, grace, and propriety. Through the eyes of Nick, the reader can see that this is a sham, and those in the upper class are corrupt, deceitful, and carry no remorse for their actions.


Infidelity

Although usually confined to adultery, this can also mean a breach of trust and general disloyalty. Unfaithful and deceptive behavior can be seen from most characters over the course of the novel. Tom, Myrtle, and Daisy all commit adultery; Jordan Baker is a pathological liar and often cheats; Gatsby lies about his past, and about his assets to obtain Daisy; and those who once called Gatsby a friend, even Meyer Wolfshiem, his business partner, ultimately desert and disgrace him by not attending his funeral.


Motifs and Symbols to Look for and Discuss

Overlooking Eyes (Billboard of Dr. T.J. Eckelberg)

These all-seeing eyes watch the characters in the novel and ultimately act as a judge of their deeds.


Ominous Weather

Weather is a common symbol in literature. Throughout the novel, various types of weather are used to foreshadow important events. For example, in Chapter Seven, Nick describes a heat wave that has pushed temperatures to “broiling”. This portends the “tumultuous argument” which occurs between Tom and Gatsby in the Plaza Hotel.


Ashes and Dust (The Valley of Ashes)

The Valley of Ashes is a barren wasteland that separates the Eggs from New York City. It symbolizes the moral and social decay of America, portrayed through the working class.


East vs. West

The division of East Egg from West Egg separates the newly rich from the historically wealthy families. In a way, east and west divides the upper class in two, in a sort of rivalry. East vs. West also touches on Nick's Midwestern roots, as distinct from the other characters, dividing him from their way of life.


The Green Light

The green light symbolizes many things, principally, Gatsby's quest to obtain Daisy. The color of the light could be symbolic of the envy that Gatsby has over Tom, who has Daisy, or it could represent the green of a figurative Garden of Eden in the past.


Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 9-12

Difficulty Level 5 (Advanced / Mastery)

Type of Assignment Individual or Group

Type of Activity: Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/RL/11-12/4] Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
  • [ELA-Literacy/W/9-10/1] Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/6/5] Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings


Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)



Student Instructions

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


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Great Gatsby you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for the example(s) that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



Rubric

(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)



Themes, Symbols, and Motifs (Grades 9-12)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes, symbols, and/or motifs in the story. Illustrate instances of each and write a short description that explains the example's significance.
Proficient Emerging Beginning Needs Improvement
Identification of Theme(s), Symbol(s), and/or Motif(s)
All themes are correctly identified as important recurring topics or messages in the story. Symbols are correctly identified as objects that represent something else at a higher level in the story. Motifs are correctly identified as important recurring features or ideas in the story.
Most themes are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete. Most symbols are correctly identified, but some objects are missing or incomplete. Some motifs are correctly identified, but others are missing or incomplete.
Most themes are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most symbols are missing, incomplete, or incorrect. Most motifs are missing, incomplete, or incorrect.
No themes, symbols, or motifs are correctly identified.
Examples and Descriptions
Quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are accurate to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motifs that are being identified. Descriptions mostly accurately explain the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s), and highlight their significance to the story.
Most quotes and examples are minimal, incorrect, or unrelated to the theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) that are being identified. Descriptions contain inaccuracies in their explanations, or do not highlight their significance to the story.
Examples and descriptions are missing or too minimal to score.
Depiction
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are accurate to the story and reflect time, effort, thought, and care with regard to placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are mostly accurate to the story. They reflect time and effort put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Depictions chosen for theme(s), symbol(s), and/or motif(s) are inaccurate to the story. The depictions may be rushed or show minimal effort, time, and care put into placement and creation of the scenes.
Most depictions are missing too many elements or are too minimal to score. Little time or effort has been put into placement and creation of the scenes.
English Conventions
There are no errors in spelling, grammar, or mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions reflect careful proofreading and accuracy to the story.
There are a few errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. All writing portions show accuracy to the story and some proofreading.
There are several errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics throughout the storyboard. Most writing portions do not reflect proofreading or accuracy to the story.
Errors in spelling, grammar, and mechanics in writing portions of the storyboard seriously interfere with communication.




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