Standard Lesson

Judging a Book by its Cover: The Art and Imagery of The Great Gatsby

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions, plus reading and discussion time
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Francis Cugat's 1925 cover art for The Great Gatsby and The View of Toledo by El Greco, mentioned in the final pages of the novel, are the focus of prereading and postreading activities in this lesson plan. Before reading the novel, students tap visual literacy skills as they analyze the artwork commissioned for the novel's cover. Based on their analysis, students make predictions about the plot and imagery of the novel. After completing their reading, students revisit the visual imagery and artwork and discuss how their interpretations have changed. Next, students explore allusion by analyzing an El Greco painting alluded to in the novel and discussing what the allusion means. Finally, students conclude their study by selecting images and designing their own cover for the novel.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

This lesson focuses on visual connections-both visual images related to the novel and the visual imagery included in the novel. This visual link invites students to connect with the text in ways that go beyond the typical literary analysis. In "You Gotta BE the Book": Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents, Jeffrey Wilhelm explains that "visual imaging encourages students of all backgrounds to access and apply their prior knowledge as they read, increases comprehension, and improves the ability to predict, infer, and remember what has been read. [Researchers] have also shown that the use of visual imagery while reading helps students to monitor their comprehension" (117-18). As they move from cover art to images described in the novel to their own visual representations of the novel, students tap prior knowledge, explore predictions, and increase their comprehension of the novel as a whole.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology



This video, Part 1 of 2, provides students with some help in understanding the major plot lines of The Great Gatsby.

This video, Part 2 of 2, provides students with some help in understanding the major plot lines of The Great Gatsby.  If you watch it on YouTube, take note of the "spoiler alert" for students.


Student Objectives

Students will

  • predict plot through the analysis of a book cover.

  • understand the meaning and use of allusion.

  • analyze the significance, theme, tone, symbolism, and color used in art and its relation to the novel.

  • design a new cover for the novel, based on their own interpretation.

Prereading Session

  1. Give out copies of The Great Gatsby to students or project the cover on a screen if possible.

  2. Define cover art for the class as "art that is created for use as a cover of a book and approved by the author and/or publisher."

  3. Display Celestial Eyes, the cover art designed for The Great Gatsby in 1925. Do not share the name of the painting at this point.

  4. Using details from the "Celestial Eyes-From Metamorphosis to Masterpiece" essay, discuss how Francis Cugat was commissioned to paint the cover for the first edition of The Great Gatsby.

  5. Invite students to share first responses to the cover, and note their ideas on the board or chart paper.

  6. Give students a copy of Prereading Analysis Sheet.

  7. Ask students to make a quick sketch of the cover on the back of the handout. Explain that this is just to help them look at the cover better and notice colors and details. Give them 3-5 minutes for their drawing. Students who are actually artists may have a hard time sketching so quickly. One option is to ask the artists to draw with their left hands, in order to refocus their sketching on simple representations.

  8. Remind them that no one is expected to be an artist. If desired, demonstrate how simple sketches can be. Draw something on the board that the class can recognize, but which is represented simply by stick figures or crude drawings. The purpose of this activity is not for students to show you how well they can draw.

  9. Ask students to label details and colors on the painting. Alternately, crayons, colored pencils, or markers can be used in lieu of the color labeling.

  10. Read through the questions included on the Prereading Analysis Sheet with the class.

  11. After reading the first question, display the Color Psychology entry from Wikipedia, or pass out a printout from the site. If desired, limit your handout to the table of connotations for colors, which would make a useful resource throughout students' exploration of the novel.

  12. Explore and discuss the symbolic meanings associated with colors with the class. You might ask students if they agree with the ideas and whether they would add any details to the information. Be sensitive to cultural differences in the interpretation of colors during this discussion.

  13. After reading the third question, define tone as "the attitude or feeling the author or painter is trying to convey." If students need examples, you might refer to recent movie trailers or posters that students have seen. Students will likely identify the tone of the images in this promotional movie information easily. Explain that they will look for similar information for the book cover.

  14. Arrange students in small groups, and ask them to work through questions 1, 2, and 3 together. Remind the class that there are no absolute or "right" answers. For instance, as the book has an abstract cover, students may see many different objects and many different symbols.

  15. Once groups have gathered their responses to the questions, ask the groups to share their responses and interpretations with the class.

  16. With at least fifteen minutes remaining in the session, ask students to answer the final question on the Prereading Analysis Sheet individually.

  17. After students completed their paragraphs, ask them to read their predictions to the class. Ask them to listen for similarities and differences in the way the colors and details were interpreted by the students. Ask students to consider whether they interpreted the cover literally or figuratively and discuss the reasons for their choices.

Reading and Discussion of the Novel

  1. Ask students to pay particular attention to the visual imagery in the book-to the ways that the author describes objects and people as well as his use of colors and symbols.

  2. For a focused exploration of the use of color in the novel, tap resources included in the Connotation, Character, and Color Imagery in The Great Gatsby lesson plan, which asks students to track color imagery in the novel, using a color log.

Postreading Session One

  1. Ask students to review their copies of Prereading Analysis Sheet.

  2. Give out Postreading Analysis Sheet, and ask students to freewrite a response to the first question.

  3. Ask students to share their responses with the class.

  4. Review the remaining questions with the class.

  5. To prepare students to respond to the questions, share the title of the cover art painting, Celestial Eyes, with the class, and ask students to write down the title in the space beside question 4 on the handout.

  6. If students need a review of the terms, share online definitions of connotation and denotation:

  7. Arrange students in small groups, and ask students to respond to questions 2, 3, 4, and 5 on the handout.

  8. Once groups have collected their ideas, gather the class and ask students to discuss their responses and how (whether) they changed after reading the novel.

  9. After the class has had ample opportunity to explore their analysis of the colors, details, and tone, ask students to respond to question 6 independently. Allow 8-10 minutes for students to work.

  10. Discuss students' responses as a class.

  11. Read aloud Matthew Bruccoli's discussion of the cover in the Publisher's Afterword, pages 196-197 of the 1996 Scribner Classics edition of the novel.

  12. Discuss the passage with students. Possible discussion questions include the following:

    • Does this information change the way you feel about the cover?

    • Do you agree or disagree with Dr. Bruccoli?

    • How do you like Cugat's title of Celestial Eyes? Does it seem appropriate?
  13. Using the Celestial Eyes-from Metamorphosis to Masterpiece Web site, show students Francis Cugat's pre-drawings of the cover. Look at and discuss the process and changes the artist made.

  14. For homework, ask students to respond to question 7 on the Handout, which asks students to think of a different name for the painting.

Postreading Session Two

  1. As students enter the classroom, ask them to write their new titles for the painting anonymously on the board or chart paper.

  2. Once students have all arrived, ask students to discuss the titles included on the board. Note any that repetition as well as particularly unusual titles.

  3. Define the literary term allusion as "an indirect reference." In literature, an allusion often refers to another work or literature or a work of art, but an allusion can refer to any object, person, or character.

  4. Display and read the passage mentioning El Greco from the novel, using an overhead projector or LCD projector.

  5. Ask students to identify the allusion in the passage.

  6. Identify El Greco, if the painter was not identified when you discussed this section of the novel in class earlier.

  7. Display A View of Toledo by El Greco. Explain that the painting is representative, as Fitzgerald does not make a direct allusion to a specific painting. The passage mentions only "a night scene by El Greco," and the details the speaker, Nick Carraway, shares do not directly match the details of the painting.

  8. Pass out the Analysis Sheet for A View of Toledo, and ask students to sketch the painting in the block provided, following the same directions they did when they sketched the cover of the novel. Be sure that students notice the color and symbols as they draw their sketches.

  9. Ask students to return to their small groups and to discuss and respond to questions 2, 3, and 4.

  10. As students work, circulate among groups, providing feedback and support.

  11. Once groups have had ample time to discuss the questions, ask them to share their responses with the class.

  12. Reread the Fitzgerald passage.

  13. Ask students to write a paragraph, for question 5, discussing what Nick Carraway means by his allusion to an El Greco painting. Consider the colors, details, and tone of the painting. Further questions to foster critical thinking:

    • Why do you think that Fitzgerald did not choose an El Greco painting for the cover of his novel?

    • Why do you think Fitzgerald doesn't allude to a painter or painting that was contemporary to the novel?
  14. After students have had a chance to write, discuss their responses as a class.

  15. For homework, ask students to brainstorm images that they would choose to represent the book. Ask that that gather at least 15-20 possible images.

Postreading Session Three

  1. Have students join their small groups and share the images that they brainstormed with one another.

  2. Ask the groups to choose 3-5 images to share with the class.

  3. Gather the class together, and ask groups to share the image that they have chosen. Encourage groups to share the reasons that the images that they have chosen are appropriate for the novel.

  4. Explain that each student will choose an image (or related images) and create a new book cover for the novel.

  5. Pass out the Book Cover Rubric, and discuss the expectations for the project.

  6. Demonstrate how to use the Book Cover Creator to create a new cover. Depending upon the time you can allot to the project, you can ask students to create front covers only or full dust jackets.

  7. Allow students the rest of the session to work on their covers.

  8. You may want to allow this session as a planning session using the Book Cover Planning Sheets, and have students work with the interactive tool during an additional session. The tool does not include an option to save the work, so be sure that students do enough planning that they will be able to complete their covers in one session.

  9. Circulate among students as they work on the project, providing support and feedback.

  10. Ask students to print two copies of their cover, one for you to respond to and a second to display in the classroom or library.

  11. In addition to turning in their book covers, ask students to write a reflective explanation that outlines the reasons for the images and symbols that they included in their new cover.


For more classroom resources on F. Scott Fitzgerald, see the ReadWriteThink Calendar entry for
April 10:  F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was published in 1925.

Student Assessment / Reflections

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