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Teaching Guide

Teaching Great Expectations

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Students might have low expectations for Great Expectations. After all, Dickens isn't exactly a page turner…which is a shame because there are a lot of pages. We can help get things moving.

In this guide you will find

  • activities helping students visualize the imagery on all those pages.
  • essay questions (greatly) expecting students to analyze characters, symbols, and the book's ending.
  • pop culture connections featuring graphic novels and Gwyneth Paltrow…naturally.

You have great expectations for our teaching guides, and we're going to exceed them.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Ambition, expectation, success, and failure aren't just major themes on Wall Street. They're major themes in Dickens' novel, Great Expectations, as well. 

This assignment challenges your students to think critically about these themes by graphing the rise and fall in Pip's fortunes. They'll trace the upswings and setbacks that mark the novel's plot, and, perhaps more importantly, they'll wrestle with the question of what counts as success in the first place.

Length of Lesson: 2 class periods. One for the initial discussion and to allow students to begin their projects, which will be finished as  homework; and one (a few days later) for students to present their work.

Materials Needed: 

  • Software or apps that allow students to create their graphs; OR
  • Posterboard, markers or colored pencils, and the like

Step 1: Begin by leading a discussion on the highs and lows of Pip's fortunes in the novel, as well as how the novel defines success and achievement. Some questions to consider might include:

  1. What are the high and low points of Pip's life? 
  2. What are Pip's ambitions? 
  3. Does Dickens portray Pip's expectations and dreams as reasonable? If so, does Pip err in how he pursues them? If not, what does the novel suggest would be more appropriate ambitions?
  4. How do money and wealth affect Pip? Do they make him happier or better-off? 
  5. Does Pip ever obtain what he wants? When? If not, what is Dickens trying to suggest by having Pip's expectations frustrated so many times?
  6. How does the novel define success? How about failure? Are any characters models of success? Which characters are models of how to live? Which ones are examples of what not to do? 
  7. How does Dickens depict capitalism, the pursuit of wealth, and the possibility of social mobility in nineteenth-century England?
  8. What do you make of the ending? Has Pip obtained what he wants? Are any of his expectations fulfilled?

Step 2: Introduce the assignment to your students. Here's a prompt you can use: 

Now it's time to start sketching your graph.  When you're done, you'll have a "lifeline" of sorts for Pip, showing the highs and lows of his story like a cardiogram

Pick 10 scenes from the novel to plot along the horizontal axis (x-axis), and place them in chronological order from earliest to latest, from left to right. You can either label the 10 scenes with creative titles or use images to depict them.

Along the vertical axis (y-axis) you'll decide where each of these scenes rates in terms of the height or depths of Pip's success. The scale you use is up to you. You can use numbers (say, from 1-10) to assess his highs and lows, or you might create labels ranging from "Worst Moment Ever" to "As Good as it Gets." 

Remember, you'll have to justify "the scale" of your graphs. In other words, what criteria are you using to measure Pip's success or failure? Is wealth the determining factor? Happiness? The way Pip treats other people? How close—or hopelessly far—is he from getting Estella to notice him?

Step 3: If necessary, make students aware of apps or programs they can use to create their graphs, or distribute drawing materials. Allow students to use the rest of the class to begin plotting and sketching their graphs, and let them know they'll be finishing them for homework.

You should also make your students aware that in addition to the graph, they'll need to write brief essays. Their essays should:

  • Argue how the novel and, consequently, their graphs define success;
  • Explain why their graphs mark certain points in the novel as high or low according to that criteria; and 
  • Use quotations from the novel to support their views.

Step 4: Give students time to present their graphs in class, explaining both their criteria for success and failure, and why they chose the scenes they did.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading Standards 2.5, 3.4, 3.5,3.8, 3.9, 3.12; Writing 1.1, 1.4, 1.6, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.7, 2.2, 2.4; 11th & 12th grade Reading Standards 2.4, 2.5, 3.3, 3.8, 3.9; Writing 1.1, 1.3, 1.5, 2.2, 2.6; Listening & Speaking 2.1, 2.3, 2.4.)

Instructions for Your Students

In Great Expectations, Pip's fortunes rise and fall like the stock market, which leads us to wonder: what would it look like if Pip's experiences—his highs and lows—were plotted out like Facebook's stock price

In this activity, you'll find out when you attempt to graph the ups and downs in Pip's fortunes. First you'll have to decide how Dickens's classic novel defines success or failure, then you'll chart Pip's rollercoaster ride up and down the social ladder of Victorian England: his emotional highs and depressing lows, his success (or failure) with Estella—whichever events you choose to include in order to take the pulse of his life experience.

Step 1: Discuss with your class the swings of Pip's fortunes in the novel, as well as how the novel defines success and achievement. Some questions to consider include:

  1. What are the high and low points of Pip's life? 
  2. What are Pip's ambitions? 
  3.  Does Dickens portray Pip's expectations and dreams as reasonable? If so, does Pip err in how he pursues them? If not, what does the novel suggest would be more appropriate ambitions?
  4. How do money and wealth affect Pip? Do they make him happier or better-off? 
  5. Does Pip ever obtain what he wants? When? If not, what is Dickens trying to suggest by having Pip's expectations frustrated so many times?
  6. How does the novel define success? How about failure? Are any characters models of success? Which characters are models of how to live? Which ones are examples of what not to do? 
  7. How does Dickens depict capitalism, the pursuit of wealth, and the possibility of social mobility in nineteenth-century England?
  8. What do you make of the ending? Has Pip obtained what he wants? Are any of his expectations fulfilled?

Step 2: Now it's time to start sketching your graph.  When you're done, you'll have a "lifeline" of sorts for Pip, showing the highs and lows of his story like a cardiogram

Pick 10 scenes from the novel to plot along the horizontal axis (x-axis), and place them in chronological order from earliest to latest, from left to right. You can either label the 10 scenes with creative titles or use images to depict them.

Along the vertical axis (y-axis) you'll decide where each of these scenes rates in terms of the height or depths of Pip's success. The scale you use is up to you. You can use numbers (say, from 1-10) to assess his highs and lows, or you might create labels ranging from "Worst Moment Ever" to "As Good as it Gets." 

Remember, you'll have to justify "the scale" of your graphs. In other words, what criteria are you using to measure Pip's success or failure? Is wealth the determining factor? Happiness? The way Pip treats other people? How close—or hopelessly far—is he from getting Estella to notice him?

Step 3: Finish your graph for homework and write a short (2-3 page) essay to accompany your graph. Your essay should:

  • Argue how the novel and, consequently, your graph define success;
  • Explain why your graph marks certain points in the novel as high or low according to that criteria; and
  • Use quotations from the novel to support your views.

Step 4: In class, present your graph to the rest of your classmates. Explain what you chose as the novel's criteria for Pip's success and failure, and why you chose the scenes you did.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6

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