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Lesson Plan

Connotation, Character, and Color Imagery in The Great Gatsby

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Connotation, Character, and Color Imagery in The Great Gatsby

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Twelve 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Jacqueline Podolski

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



In this lesson, students explore the connotations of the colors associated with the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. During pre-reading activities, students first brainstorm other words for the color red, and then compare paint swatches to those color words. Students discuss the meaning of connotation and how word meanings can change based on circumstances. They work in groups to explore the cultural connotations of a particular color and present their findings to the class. Students then apply what they have learned to an analysis of the use of color in Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay." As students read The Great Gatsby, they track color imagery using a color log. After they have completed their reading, students review the observations in their color logs and use the information to write an analysis of one of the major characters in the novel.

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For many students, reading literature is like a scavenger hunt for "right" answers. From the perspective of these students, meaning is hidden and locked away, eventually to be revealed by the teacher. The students themselves typically believe that they do not know enough to unlock the meanings, so they wait for the teacher to reveal the secrets. This lesson plan models a process that shows students how to unlock such meaning on their own.

As Judith Burdan explains, we want students "to recognize the play of language with pleasure and to move forward into the analysis of literary conventions with a sense of understanding. As students learn to think about the rhetorical choices that an author makes and about the effect of those choices on them as readers, they become more perceptive and more confident as readers. They increasingly acknowledge themselves as part of the process of creating meaning through language, even the specialized language of literature, and learn to enjoy themselves along the way" (28).

Further Reading

Burdan, Judith. "‘Walk with Light': Guiding Students through the Conventions of Literary Analysis." English Journal 93.4 (March 2004): 23-28.

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