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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.

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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?

Other Lesson Plans 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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